Building our personal, economic, and political power by getting educated and organized, and taking action for progressive change, that’s what we’re all about at BlackHer!
This week we were thrilled to catch up with Anne Price, president and CEO of the Insight Center for Community Economic Development. The Insight Center is “a national research and economic justice organization working to ensure that all people become and remain economically secure.”
Me: Anne, I’m so excited to connect with you. I’m so impressed with your research on the racial wealth gap. There is so much focus on income inequality in the U.S. While that is an important issue to address, why don’t we hear more about the gaping wealth gap between Black and white folks?
Anne: Part of the reason that we’ve focused on the income gap and wage disparities for so many years is that data on wages is readily available.
Unfortunately, national data on wealth is only collected from a few sources. And it’s difficult to get robust data on one of the key wealth-building tools – family transfers.
That said, wealth is the best measure of economic security. Part of the reason for this is that a family’s wealth is tied to so many other outcomes, including employment, housing, and healthcare. Also, wealth begets wealth. We can share it with others even across generations. Income is important but it’s not enough to have true security.
Me: So, what do we know about Black folks and wealth. What can we say about Black women and economic security?
Anne: We know that Black folks represent a group with very little wealth. And unfortunately, even when we look at wealth across time, we see that the numbers are getting worse.
Me: Ugh. Yes, in The Road to Zero Wealth: How the Racial Wealth Divide is Hollowing Out America’s Middle Class by Prosperity Now and Institute for Policy Studies, I was sad to see that the wealth of Blacks and Latinos is sure to hit zero if nothing changes.
Anne: It is very troubling and we need to understand what our current wealth gap will mean for Millennials and their children.
Millennials have grown up in very troubled times. They came of age during The Great Recession and Black and Brown Millennials have lived during an intense period of mass incarceration. And, many Millennials are saddled with enormous student debt.
We’ve never seen a situation like this before. What is going to happen to people with $100,000 of student debt?
We need to think about these things from a different angle. New challenges require us to ask different questions.
Me: Do you think that part of the reason we don’t hear enough or more about the crisis of wealth in Black communities is because it’s a painful message?
Anne: Yes. We’re telling an important story and people can hear it as hopeless. That’s why people want to throw tomatoes at me! But I think it can also be an empowering narrative.
Me: Say more.
Anne: We’re using data to show Black folks that the wealth gap has nothing to do with our personal or familial failings.
That narrative is wrong. In fact, it’s not born out by the data. For example, controlling for income, Black people actually save more than white folks. Frankly, it’s amazing how much we save and share with so little.
Me: So, the wealth gap is not caused by our lack of planning or financial literacy?
Anne: Correct. Also, through data, we’ve seen that when parents help their adult children in college, it can have a big payoff. When we compare white parents with much more resources who are helping their kids to pay for college to Black parents with few resources, who are extending themselves, the educational outcomes are almost equal.
Me: That’s powerful.
Anne: Dispelling myths about the causes of wealth is important. People need to understand that while it is important to increase rates of homeownership and college completion, these activities alone will not address racial wealth inequality.
If what we really want to do is to address inequality, then we need policy interventions that are bigger and bolder and more transformational.
Me: So, expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit will not get us there?
Anne: No. It won’t.
Again, if we really want to seed the next generation with the ability to build wealth, we must think much bigger.
Me: Part of my frustration these days is our lack of imagination. Where are our bold policy ideas? Conservatives don’t seem to struggle with a lack of vision. Building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico is a horrible idea but it is a big one!
Anne: Exactly. And this is the gift of this work. It is pushing us to be bolder.
I am tired of being limited by what is feasible in Congress.
Me: Amen. So, what are some of these big policy ideas?
In fact, we don’t think the mechanics of Baby Bonds are that complex.
We’d love to secure the funding to determine how it could work.
Me: It makes so much sense to invest in our children – our future.
Anne: Another opportunity is to move past what I call our Policy Laundry List – expanding the EITC, Fight for $15, reforming the Mortgage Interest Tax Deduction, etc. We need to pause to clearly define the problem we are aiming to solve.
And we need to stop approaching policy in a transactional way. That doesn’t work. We can’t disconnect our freedom of movement and dignity from our financial lives.
For example, at Insight, we’ve been focusing on the impact of fines and fees on families and communities.
These penalties aren’t just financial transactions. They have an enormous impact on kinship networks.
Most families of color don’t think about wealth as a factor of individual savings or my debt. Instead, my ability (or lack thereof) to build wealth is tied to others in my family.
Wealth occurs in an ecosystem.
So, if someone owes money, we all owe money. This is an important difference in current conceptions of wealth. We should approach our conversations in this way.
Me: That’s powerful. I hear you saying that wealth isn’t about getting what’s mine. Wealth is a communal experience and goal.
Anne: Yes. And, again, if we want to seed a generation with wealth, let’s use this lens when trying to generate solutions. Let’s ask different questions.
“What is the future of capitalism?” “What is the future of worker power?” “How do we think about the social safety net and caring for each other?” “What kind of economic life do we want for our children both young and adult?”
Me: Anne, you’re a great thinker. Who do you learn from? Who are your BlackHer Sheros?
Anne: There are so many. Devita Davidson of FoodLab Detroit is helping launch homegrown food businesses. Nwamaka Agbo, who is in Oakland, is doing some phenomenal national work on restorative economics, supporting projects that build resilient, healthy, and self-determined communities rooted in shared prosperity. Akilah Watkins-Butler is doing important work on place, race, and community development. There are incredible people with great ideas in this field.
Our challenge is that everything is so funder-driven that we don’t have time to be in community and come together across “issue-areas” without the pressure to produce predetermined outcomes.
If we could get 100 people in a room to restore ourselves and be in community with one another, it would be great. There is no shortage of amazing people who inspire me and one another.
Me: Let me ask you the Miracle Question. You go to sleep tonight and wake up in the morning and it’s July 2019. The miracle has occurred for Black women. What happened?
Anne: At some foundational level, Black women have the freedom to think and create with the resources and institutional support we need. We have some level of being who we are without so many responsibilities and worries.
That would change a lot.