Closing The Racial Wealth Gap

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In order to solve a decades-old problem, a systemic obstacle that’s made “The American Dream” more difficult than it should ever be for educated, talented and hard-working families from traditionally marginalized racial groups, The Urban League of Louisiana felt it necessary to hear the plight of the people firsthand. 

Therefore, in 2019, leaders with The Urban League – an organization founded in 1938 that develops programs and does policy/advocacy work that promotes economic self-reliance for People of Color, along with equity, power, and parity – conducted a statewide ‘Listen & Learn’ Tour so that communities of color could voice the most prominent issues facing their day-to-day lives. 

“What we heard, very clearly, from communities was that the opportunity to create generational wealth was a priority,” says Judy Reese Morse, CEO and President of The Urban League of Louisiana. “One generation should be able to leave resources to the next generation to ensure future generations have the chance to live better, be better and to have stronger communities than the generation before them.”

From those face-to-face interactions came The Urban League’s SEE CHANGE initiative, a collective impact effort with civic and private entities designed to shrink the racial wealth gap in the greater New Orleans area, and Louisiana as a whole. Phase 1 of the SEE CHANGE collective began in January 2021 and was powered by quantitative and qualitative statistics and analytics generated by The Data Center, an independent resource agency that examines trends and shifts in local demographics and economics, among other factors. 

The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Louisiana is one of several SEE CHANGE partner organizations “that recognize the promise and the power of strengthening the local economy by directly addressing disparities in communities of color,” Morse says. 

“What this project has done is pinpoint the many hurdles that have made it difficult for our community, and other marginalized communities in our region, to achieve prosperity,” HCCL CEO and President Mayra Pineda says. “In order to properly outline a road map for change, you have to understand how you got to this point in time, and what barriers must be removed, which is what SEE CHANGE and The Urban League have done so well in this initiative.” 

In its recently-released SEE CHANGE Landscape Scan – which can be found on The Urban League’s website and will be the foundation of several public presentations The Urban League will conduct in the summer of 2022 – the strategists behind this data-driven, community-oriented and outcomes-focused effort diagramed a three-pronged approach toward evening the playing field for People of Color:

1. Increasing Wages & Income

2. Facilitating and Increasing Business Ownership

3. Facilitating and Increasing Home Ownership

To make those goals a reality, SEE CHANGE plans to deploy five strategies in Phase 2 of the initiative, including strategic partnerships, targeted educational programs and community engagement. Additionally, SEE CHANGE seeks to promote policies that will aid in this endeavor, as well as identify and eliminate existing practices that have hindered the economic advancement of residents of color.  

“The reason those three areas were chosen was a direct result of data,” Morse says. “This has been a data-driven effort from the beginning – starting with data collection and analysis. Our well-respected partner in this effort, The Data Center, has identified the levers that we can pull to most quickly close the racial wealth gap. The data speaks very clearly that those are the most effective and efficient areas to address, and also illustrates historically why these disparities in these three areas have persisted over time and how they’ve evolved, if at all.”

Data research printed in the SEE CHANGE Landscape Scan outlines various “system-level barriers” to wealth accumulation within Hispanic communities. For instance, generational wealth: From 2010-2019, the average inheritance of a White household with a head of household near retirement age (55-64) was nearly 10 times greater than the average inheritance of a Black household. Data also showed that a large disparity exists in non-financial assets that are inherited as well, such as vehicles, residences and business equity.

Historical obstacles that have made homeownership difficult for Hispanic people include discriminatory housing policies like urban renewal, the exclusion of non-White families from V.A. benefits for homebuyers, and the inability to enforce the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Finally, the Landscape Scan highlighted the disparities that still exist to this day regarding the percentage of non-White vs. White low-income workers (63% to 36%), barriers to advancements and promotions in the workplace (white workers are 2.4 times more likely to be promoted than Hispanic workers), and access to higher education. 

The SEE CHANGE Landscape Plan also researched similar equity initiatives formed in other cities across the United States, as well as made it perfectly clear through forecasting and projection that closing the racial wealth gap would not simply shift assets from one community to another, but would rather grow and strengthen the entire local economy substantially.  

“It’s important for people to understand that if we are able to close the racial wealth gap, the entire region can benefit to the tune of $43 billion in additional economic impact, which is an extraordinary amount,” Morse says. “That impact would strengthen the economy for everyone. Yes, it will address the gaps and shrink the disparities for African-Americans, for Hispanics and Latinos, but the benefit of closing that gap will actually strengthen the economy for us all. 

“We strongly believe that that is information all people need to be aware of so that there is a greater understanding as a region that working together and working collectively to address these long-standing issues will give us an economy that works better for everyone.”