It is within our power to provide an opportunity-rich childhood for all
In 1941 President Franklin Roosevelt delivered his famous Four Freedoms speech. In that speech Roosevelt proposed that all Americans should be granted the freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. In his new book, The Fifth Freedom, senior vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York David Erickson makes the case for the freedom to an open future.
The status quo in the United States is unfair and expensive. We spend too much on downstream consequences of people living in poverty rather than spending money on the upstream conditions that would guarantee an opportunity-rich childhood for all. A strong foundation in childhood is the best predictor of a healthy and productive adulthood. A commitment to the fifth freedom would save trillions on avoided chronic disease, incarceration, educational failures, and lost productivity.
The Fifth Freedom calls for place-based institutions that support growth and development—good schools, well-funded libraries, safe streets and public spaces, quality health care, spiritual homes, and well-functioning transportation that puts other essential amenities in reach, especially jobs—that work in concert with individual interventions—tutoring, counseling, and coaching. Not providing children with the resources they need is more expensive than reacting the negative consequences of not having them.
David Erickson is senior vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. He has convened thousands of experts to be speakers at conferences and authors in a series of books on how community development finance can work with other social investors to create more opportunities in low-income communities. Key to this strategy is to create new alliances with sectors that previously did not work with anti-poverty activists: health, climate adaptation, household financial wellbeing, art and artists, faith communities, and others. Throughout, he has focused on how quasi-markets can be tools to create better social outcomes—the subject of his first book, Housing Policy Revolution: Networks and Neighborhoods. Erickson has a PhD in history from the University of California, Berkeley and a BA from Dartmouth College.
Introduction: Better Policies and Improved Neighborhoods Can Secure the Fifth Freedom—an Opportunity-Rich Childhood for All
1 Evolution of the Welfare State: 150 Years of Efforts to Assist Low-Income Communities and Individuals
2 Guardrails and Airbags: Better Strategies to Improve Neighborhoods and Support Families Are the Basis for a Smarter Social Safety Net
3 Financing Guardrails and Airbags: Creating a Market That Values Health
4 Hawaii Case Study: How an Island State Can Point the Way
5 Conclusion and Next Steps
David Erickson’s new book is a must-read for anyone interested in health and social welfare. He takes square aim at the ‘know-do’ gap that has plagued efforts to improve our social safety net. Drawing upon his decades of experience, the book offers a lucid diagnosis of the problem as well as practical solutions that would advance health and social equity for millions of people.
Whether serving as a family physician for patients experiencing homelessness, as Chicago’s public health commissioner deploying policies to improve health, or as Kaiser Permanente’s Chief Health Officer implementing upstream interventions to optimize conditions for health, I know just how important reliable and sustainable investments are to the health of our communities. In The Fifth Freedom, Erickson deftly connects the dots between how strategic investment decisions – whether from private industry, the nation’s health care system, or from all levels of government—can create the conditions for health and equity we all need to truly thrive.
With empathy, precision, and deeply informed historical analysis, David Erickson issues a clarion call for America to fundamentally rethink how it serves its citizens and enables the next generation to flourish. The Fifth Freedom shows that it is possible—and necessary—to think big, to spend well, and restore hope and economic security to all people and places. An essential read for policymakers and citizens alike.
David Erickson’s provocative new book leads off with a bold premise: what if, as a society, we decided to truly invest in children’s health and well-being, ensuring that no child grows up in poverty? Drawing on a rich mix of history, social theory, evidence-based research, and promising strategies from the field, this book builds a compelling case that this premise is achievable if we’re willing to re-think our existing approaches to health and social policy.
David Erickson is not the first author to question why, in a nation as wealthy as ours, so many have so little. But The Fifth Freedom’s unique marriage of insights from history, health policy, and community development finance show in bold and concrete terms how we can guarantee the right to an “open future” for all children. Through case studies, compelling metaphors, and clear language, Erickson sows the seeds for a revolution in how America constructs its social safety net.