"Poverty is a state of mind," said John Hope Bryant, the entrepreneur and founder of Operation HOPE.
In his book, How the Poor Can Save Capitalism, Bryant argued that improving lower-income Americans' financial literacy — and bringing them as customers into the financial services industry — will lead to a stronger U.S. economy overall.
"If you're making $50,000 a year or less in this country, you've got too much month at the end of your money," Bryant said. According to the U.S. Census, 49.5% of Americans earned $50,000 or less in 2012. Roughly half of those brought home less than $25,000.
But engaging the poor and working class as active consumers who require services such as savings accounts, mortgages and credit counseling is the best way to stabilize the American economy, contends Bryant.
"People who make $50,000 a year take 90 cents of (each) dollar and put it back in the economy because they can't afford not to," Bryant said.
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Bryant's Operation Hope aims to improve financial literacy among lower income Americans by building 1,000 local financial education centers inside neighborhood banks. The effort, called Project 5117, is supported by the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as well as the American Bankers Association, the FDIC, the Financial Services Roundtable, U.S. Small Business Administration and the Mortgage Bankers Association.