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Abstract The savings rate in America has been in decline for three decades, with roughly one-third of households having no savings at all. Analyses of economic mobility explore why some people are successful in moving up the economic ladder during their lifetime while others are not. While there is much debate about the degree of opportunity in America, there is general agreement that there seem to be significant obstacles facing Americans who start out in households at the bottom end of the income spectrum. But even for those starting at the bottom, lifetime trajectories vary widely. The habit of saving is a critically important complement to education and social “capital” needed for upward mobility. But we need to recognize that there are many Americans who are not inclined to take part in traditional programs designed to build a savings habit. For these Americans, financial incentives and tools with approaches that have a more emotional appeal are a more effective way of creating a culture of savings by channeling the instinct to gamble into systematic savings. This approach, known as “prize-linked savings” employs the techniques of behavioral economics to turn a behavior pattern into a savings habit that enhances the economic mobility of a household.
I am a Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, where my work focuses on Social Security policy. Previously I held several positions within the Social Security Administration, including Deputy Commissioner for Policy and principal Deputy Commissioner. Prior to that I was a Social Security Analyst at the Cato Institute. In 2005 I worked on Social Security reform at the White House National Economic Council, and in 2001 I was on the staff of the President's Commission to Strengthen Social Security. My Bachelor's degree is from the Queen's University of Belfast, Northern Ireland. I have Master's degrees from Cambridge University and the University of London and a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics and Political Science. I can be contacted at andrew.biggs @ aei.org.