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I did not want much for my birthday, but the below is one thing I did ask for.  A national ‘trending indicator’ report on our nation’s credit scores, and how they frame both places and locations of depressed economic energy and social strife, as well as where our nation’s new growth — and basic societal stability — will come from.

Can we solve many of our nation’s problems, not by trying to reach into some man or woman’s heart, trying to discover whether they discriminate, or worse, but rather with a straight forward math equation? Something that we — each of us — can control. It is a question worth asking, and answering. Our work here at Operation HOPE, with our growing national network of HOPE Inside locations and our HOPE 700 Credit Score Communities Initiative, tells us that we are on to something.

Is there a future Steve Jobs locked in a struggling community in say Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where I visited a few weeks ago? You bet there is. But in a state that is not only the poorest state in America, but also has the lowest overall credit score of any state in America (right around 614 on average for the entire state), and where only 2.1% of all residents of the state make $200,000 or more a year — it may be hard for hope, opportunity, role modeling (of success) and aspiration to find him or here.  And if we fail to find him or her, and to nurture them to be everything that they can be — then the entire nation suffers.  And GDP in America dies.

A special thank you to my team at Operation HOPE and the HOPE Office of Innovation, Research & Assessment for making this happen.  The first round of national data and results will be unveiled at the 2017 HOPE Global Forum Annual Meeting, April 10-12, 2017, in Atlanta.

In time, the game changing importance of this research data and study approach will become increasingly apparent.  For now, simply read below the release text and general framework for what we have planned to date:

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  • Report findings could have significant implications on policy debates around community wellbeing, safety, crime, social tension, economic growth, financial literacy and intervention strategies that could change the trajectory of the nation’s failing cities.

ATLANTA – Feb. 6, 2016 – Global financial dignity and economic empowerment nonprofit Operation HOPE, Inc. announced today a new research study to explore the relationship between consumer credit scores and community wellbeing, including safety, crime, tension, economic growth, and financial literacy. The organization posits that communities with high credit scores have lower levels of crime, fewer homicides, and fewer instances of civil unrest than communities with low credit scores.

“Do 700-credit-score communities riot? Operation HOPE believes they do not,” said John Hope Bryant, founder, chairman and CEO. “In an era where credit scores—a calculated metric of a person’s financial history—are used as a screening tool that expands well beyond consumer credit, HOPE foresees yet another application: a predictive tool for community instability, economic decline, and criminality.”

Credit scores tap into personal characteristics that surpass a person’s creditworthiness. Research has shown that human-capital characteristics, such as education, cognitive and non-cognitive skills (e.g. self-control and perseverance), are the same characteristics that underlie credit scores. In addition, HOPE theorizes that credit scores also indicate an individual’s level of hope for the future, and that communities that suffer a deficit of hope are unstable, stagnant, and potentially dangerous.

Credit scoring techniques are used by many industries to facilitate risk assessment. Companies use credit scores to price cell phone contracts and cable TV bills, to set interest rates for college loans, to tier premiums for car insurance, and to advise eligibility for employment. Health insurance and life insurance companies incorporate credit scores into predictive models of health and longevity. However, little is known around how credit scores affect communities in the aggregate. What happens if you have a high concentration of individuals who avoid risky and impulsive decisions, who plan and manage their finances and who generally organize their lives? Is that community more stable? Economically stronger? Healthier? Safer?

“Often, lists ranking American cities with the lowest average credit scores are identical to the lists ranking the most dangerous cities,” Bryant said. “Is this a coincidence? Or, do credit scores give us insight into a domain of life that potentially can predict riots, economic decline, crime, and wellbeing—or lack thereof—of a metropolitan area?”

Beyond a potentially predictive model, answers to these questions could have significant implications for policy debates around community safety, economic growth, financial literacy and intervention strategies that could change the trajectory of failing cities. Can credit scores in the aggregate be a measurement of difficult-to-observe psychological traits and personal background information and thus be a predictive index with wide application? If the above hypotheses are found to be correct, financial literacy and credit counseling programs may prove to be intervention strategies that have consequences that reach far beyond positive financial behavior and improved creditworthiness.

A team from the HOPE Office of Innovation Research and Assessment is currently exploring these theories to potentially increase understanding around the need for financial dignity empowerment for all Americans. The preliminary findings of the report, entitled, “Do 700-Credit-Score Communities Riot?” will be presented at the 2017 HOPE Global Forum, that will be held in Atlanta, April 10-12.


About Operation HOPE

Since 1992, Operation HOPE has been moving America from civil rights to “silver rights” with the mission of making free enterprise and capitalism work for the underserved. Through its core programs, the nonprofit has provided financial dignity and economic empowerment to over 2.6 million individuals worldwide, and $2 billion in economic activity for the disenfranchised—turning check cashing customers into banking customers, renters into homeowners, small business dreamers into small business owners and minimum wage workers into living wage consumers.  Project 5117 is HOPE’s multi-year four-pronged approach to combating economic inequality that aims to improve financial literacy, increase business role models and business internships for youth, and stabilize the American dream by boosting credit scores. Operation HOPE recently received its second consecutive 4-star charity rating for fiscal management and commitment to transparency and accountability by the prestigious non-profit evaluator, Charity Navigator—further establishing it as a best-in-class organization.

For more information: www.OperationHOPE.org

Follow Operation HOPE on Twitter @operationhope

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