“Paychecks help get you by. Wealth helps you get ahead.”
—Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ)
We are almost two-thirds of the way through 2020, a tumultuous, unpredictable year marked by painful challenges and too much loss. I am so eager to leave its hate, tragedy, and divisiveness behind, but I must carry its lessons forward—as must all of us.
Before COVID-19, too many people were just getting by, including many Black Americans, Latinxs,* and Native Americans. If we are not intentional, folks will be left further behind in the wake of this pandemic and economic downturn. But we have an opportunity to reimagine and build anew our communities and our society, to reshape them into something truly different and better.
Reckoning and reimagining were on my mind during my recent discussion with Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), economist Darrick Hamilton, and Urban Institute fellow Kilolo Kijakazi in our Evidence to Action series. We spoke about our country’s racial wealth gap and Baby Bonds—a proposal Senator Booker has advanced, based on work by Hamilton and others, to help close the gap. [Watch here.]
I particularly liked what Hamilton said during our conversation about the power of wealth: “The source of inequality is capital itself. We think of wealth as an outcome, but its true value is functional. Its true value is the economic security it provides and the ability to have agency in your life.”
Agency, autonomy, dignity, and respect for Black lives and communities is what activists are demanding, in all its iterations. Homeownership has brought autonomy and dignity to many Americans, and, of course, it’s just one possible way to build family assets and wealth. So it is chilling that homeownership rates are about 28 percentage points lower for Black Americans than for white Americans—lower today than before the passage of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, when housing discrimination was made illegal.
Research shows that inequalities in homeownership and wealth tend to increase in the aftermath of unexpected events, like an economic recession, and I expect a global pandemic will do the same. But allowing that consequence to follow is a choice. Our current wealth gap developed as a result of many different choices that have systemically deprived Black Americans of wealth and capital and from the choices we make each day to allow those conditions to persist. We can choose a different and better way.
The Urban Institute is choosing to better contribute to creating a society free of racism. We are reckoning with the gap between our diversity, equity, and inclusion values and the lived experienced of our Urban community. We are also reevaluating research questions, methods, and more so we can better address structural racism. And I am choosing to work toward understanding and remedying how my own management style, expectations, and assumptions have shaped or perpetuated unjust aspects of the Urban experience for our team members.
I hope you will continue to choose Urban as a trusted source of information during these waning days of summer—days of quarantine, reflection, and, I hope, change.
I also hope you remain safe, well, and inspired. And finally, I hope we will connect in person soon.
*I’m using the term “Latinx” because it may be more inclusive of the way many—but not all—people in this population identify. Language is always evolving and I, along with my Urban colleagues, will do the same.