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Page 2 – Elena Botella
  • 18 states later, some reflections

    I just finished my road trip. The goal was to learn about the impact that credit cards and payday loans have in Americans’ lives. I’m now back in Washington, D.C. If you haven’t already read the previous blog posts, here were some of my reflections from Michigan and Missouri.  Now that I’ve interviewed folks in 18 states for this project (well 17 states, plus the District of Columbia which obviously should be a state!), here are themes on my mind. “Impatience” isn’t the problem In Sacramento, I talked to Kathryn, a 63-year-old woman with $60,000 in credit card debt, which she’s whittled down from a peak of $80,000. Kathryn worked…

  • Inside Maggie Walker’s financial empire

    In reviewing Shenette Garrett-Scott’s new book “Banking on Freedom: Black Women in Finance Before the New Deal,” one of the most intriguing pieces for me was exactly how St. Luke’s Bank, America’s first bank founded by black women, was able to use social information to improve their underwriting and uplift their community. When “fintech” talks about using social network information, it normally seems like a workaround for people from wealthy communities to ‘skip to the front of the line’ before they have their own track record of responsible financial behavior. But St. Luke’s Bank was closely tied to a fraternal order, the Independent Order of St. Luke, that brought together…

  • A 20 cent raise can cause Iowans to lose thousands of dollars in child care support

    Get a 20 cent raise; lose your child care

    We need to do a better job of supporting parents, whether they’re working, in school, or taking care of children full-time. At the federal minimum wage, paying for child care for one child would take the first 26 hours of wages in a 40 hour week (if it’s an infant, the first 32 hours of wages). All 50 states have some amount of federally-funded assistance to help parents afford child care, but in many states these programs have long wait lists, or have extremely limited eligibility. In Iowa, parents lose all assistance at 145% of the federal poverty line (an income of around $25,000 per year for a parent with…

  • The space between want and need

    I’m now on Day 13 on my road trip at my aunt and uncle’s farm in Blue Earth County, Minnesota — today is the first day of the planting season for corn. It’s getting a late start because of all the rain. My next stop will be in Iowa. If there’s one comment that has come up in most of my interviews with the people who wished they hadn’t borrowed money on a credit card, it’s that they used the card for things they realized they “didn’t really need.” That word “really” hints at the notion that there is actually a lot of ambiguous space in between want and need.…

  • Day 2: What is opportunity?

    I’m now on Day 9 in the Twin Cities, by way of Milwaukee, Springfield, St. Louis, South Bend, Chicago, and Cleveland, but this story will talk about Day 2, Detroit. My first stop was the Heidelberg Project, an art installation where Tyree Guyton has used a city block to reflect on time, hope, and community. Guyton grew up on Heidelberg Street, and returned to it as an adult to find vacant lots and a neighborhood where poverty is deepening. Detroit is a city whose population is only 40% of what is was at its peak. There is no way you can drive around Detroit, at least the neighborhoods where I…

  • My plan to see America. Day One: Cleveland

    I left yesterday on a cross-country road trip. I’ll be back in Washington, D.C., in mid-July for a day or two, before looping up to New England and then back down. Part of the challenge of this type of trip is knowing that you can live a place for years without understanding it. I grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, and lived there until I went to college in Durham. If you’ve seen the Hunger Games films, Charlotte is literally “The Capital,” by which I mean that’s where “The Capital” was shot. If you drive between South Charlotte where my parents live and “Uptown Charlotte” (what you would call “Downtown”…

  • What a job search custom tells us about the death of free-market egalitarianism

    In the Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith imagined a pin factory with ten workers, and predicted that capital owners would be on the factory floor doing manual labor alongside their employees. Instead, Amazon packs thousands of workers into each of its warehouses, and some of those workers reportedly pee into plastic bottles for fear of getting disciplined if they “waste time” on bathroom breaks. Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos is a millionaire, 151,000 times over. In my latest essay for The Outline, I talk about how the custom that job candidates should send thank-you notes to their interviewers fits into a long history of workers being placed socially and culturally beneath management.…

  • “The wealth continues to circulate within white cultures and white groups:” Reflections on diversity and inclusion in banking

    In last week’s episode of a Me and a Bunch of White Girls, Laura, a diversity and inclusion consultant, described how her experiences in the financial sector motivated her to tackle D&I work: America has so many problems, and this [lack of diversity] is one of them. We continuously keep these spaces so white. [….] Especially in the financial industry, there’s not enough black and brown people. The wealth continues to circulate within white cultures and white groups. Black and brown people aren’t making it into these spaces to influence where the money flows, or to get the money themselves. Obviously, those who want to dismantle capitalism itself would critique…

  • Cryptocurrencies are pointless. You should pay attention to them anyway.

    I have never been hyped up about Bitcoin, the “blockchain,” or cryptocurrencies. The basic premise behind Bitcoin is that it’s a currency you can send anywhere nearly instantly. The computing power of the millions of bitcoin “miners” is used to solve math problems which create a secure record of every Bitcoin transaction – that record of transactions is called the “ledger.” The miners get paid for keeping the system running by receiving a share of the small amount of new Bitcoins that are being continuously released. Anyone can see the code, and everything is “decentralized” — instead of a single central bank or government holding the power, lots of people participate…

  • What’s it like to make it from one rung on the economic ladder to the next?

    When we talk about economic mobility (or the lack of it) in the United States, it’s easy to get lost in the statistics — missing what life is like for those who make it from one rung of the economic ladder to the next. As you gain new opportunities, you face new conflicts — in my piece for The Outline, I talked to first-generation college graduates to understand what it’s like to bridge ‘different worlds.’ It goes without saying, but you are probably either a colleague or employer, educator or classmate of those who grew up in very different economic circumstances than you — and to create opportunity, you have…