Life in a Banking Desert

By Terri Friedline and Mathieu Despard
Mar 16, 2016 5:35 PM ET

Originally published in The Atlantic

MetLife Foundation funds research that takes a deep dive into how low-income communities are becoming “banking deserts.” The project, known as “Mapping Financial Opportunity,” will provide a tool that policy makers at all levels, regulators, consumer advocates, families and others can use to search by zip code and learn more about the financial opportunity within their communities. Terri Friedline, assistant professor of social welfare and Director of Financial Inclusion in the Center on Assets, Education and Inclusion of KU’s School of Social Welfare, and Mathieu Despard, assistant professor of social work of the University of Michigan, will lead the project, funded by a $240,000 grant from MetLife Foundation.

This research project was discussed in this recent article published in The Atlantic.


A neighborhood saturated with fast-food restaurants and bodegas but lacking a grocery store would make it difficult to stick to a healthy diet. It would be similarly hard to manage finances and build wealth without a bank branch nearby. Unfortunately, that is exactly what an increasing percentage of U.S. households are being told to do: manage their finances and build wealth without access to a nearby mainstream bank branch.

Economists from the New York Fed recently investigated the increase of “banking deserts,” or communities with little to no access to mainstream banking services, in their Liberty Street Economics blog. They merged the locations of FDIC-insured bank branches with U.S. Census Bureau data on households’ income and race to determine whether lower-income communities and communities of color have disproportionately borne the burden of post-recession bank branch closures. To be quite clear: The most important take away from the New York Fed’s investigation is that lower-income communities and communities of color have historically and disproportionately limited access to mainstream banking services. These trends have implications for households’ and communities’ opportunities to leverage financial products and services to their advantage.

To continue reading the original article in The Atlantic, please click here.