When LaToria Pierce was born, her mother was just 18 years old. She was 16 when Pierce’s older sister was born. Throughout her childhood, Pierce saw how her mother struggled financially, as she balanced work with childcare, living “a day at a time” on each paycheck. “Young, single mothers,” Pierce says, “have always had to find some way to navigate, and strategize, to survive.”
As a result of her experience, Pierce has sought throughout her career to build ways to ease people’s financial burdens, including helping to develop an income security fintech tool when she worked for the AARP. Now, Pierce is one of four entrepreneurs in the process of launching their own tech products to help cut down excess costs of poverty for low-income individuals, as part of an 18-month venture initiative, largely funded by Wells Fargo. This “Shared Prosperity Catalyst” is the brainchild of nonprofit Ideas42, which has been studying the role of behavioral science in chronic poverty, and is helping the entrepreneurs apply behavioral techniques as they build their tools. Crucially, the candidates are from low-income backgrounds, which allows them to empathize with the poor, and solve for problems they’ve experienced firsthand.
“It’s very expensive to be poor in the U.S.,” says Josh Wright, Ideas42’s executive director. Costs of essential services are higher to begin with for those with lower incomes, and budgets are destabilized even further by costs just to access services, like banking or insurance, which are paradoxically higher for the poor. Lower-income individuals also have no choice but to buy cheaper, less-reliable assets, and then pay for fixing and replacing them down the line. “The people who need the help the most are often least able to access it,” Wright says. Then, they must deal with nonfinancial costs like time, energy, and “cognitive tax”—the strain of constantly having to decide what they can and can’t afford, and making uncomfortable trade-offs for their families.