Last month, 220 city and community leaders from 25 cities came to Durham to discuss inclusive innovation and economic development at the invitation of Forward Cities (which Christopher runs).
During a conversation with Mayor Steve Schewel of Durham and Mayor Knox White of Greenville, S.C., a participant from Pittsburgh issued a challenge: when talking about economic inclusion we risk being too polite. We need to talk about how systemic racism and segregationist policies made this work necessary.
America’s long history of racial injustice has contributed to a vast divide in accumulated wealth, and with it a huge disparity of opportunity.
The median white family has nearly 10 times the wealth of the median black family in America — $171,000 compared to $17,600, according to the Federal Reserve. A recent report from the Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University finds that white households with bachelor or post-graduate degrees are more than three times as wealthy as black households with the same degree attainment. Whites owning homes have nearly $140,000 more in net worth than black home-owners. Furthermore, 72 percent of whites own homes while only 42 percent of black households do.
The same discrepancies plague the commercial sector. According to the Association for Enterprise Opportunity, there are 2.6 million black-owned businesses in the United States with total revenue of $150 billion, only 1.3 percent of U.S. sales. Latino-led businesses have four percent of U.S. sales and a similar share of U.S. employment. By contrast, the 19 million white-owned businesses comprise 88 percent of all sales and 86.5 percent of U.S. employment.
For a country that is expected to be majority minority in the next 25 years, this is an untenable situation for long-term economic competitiveness not to mention fairness.
To meet this challenge, many communities across North Carolina are prioritizing shared prosperity as critical to long-term community and economic welfare.
In a recent presentation to the Wake County commissioners, for instance, the Wake County Economic Development Department proposed a 35 percent tax deduction for companies investing at least $2 million and producing a minimum of 20 livable-wage jobs in economically “vulnerable” communities based on a newly developed index. To support these kinds of efforts Raleigh’s Chamber of Commerce has just hired an Equitable Economic Development Manager.
To strengthen entrepreneurship and small business growth in Southeast Raleigh, the Rotary Club of North Raleigh has partnered with Wake Tech and other partners to start Launch Raleigh. Through the program, aspiring entrepreneurs and business owners get business training, access to micro-loans, mentorship, and access to a robust regional network to help them scale their enterprises. Based on early results, the Helius Foundation brought the model to Durham this year and received more than 100 applications. The non-profit has recently announced plans to expand the program to Rocky Mount.
Stung by the ignominious recognition that it has one of worst economic upward mobility rates in the country, Charlotte has a proposed bond referendum this November to approve $50 million for affordable housing. It has also launched an Opportunity Task Force that recommends advancing early childhood education, college and career readiness, and family and child stability as key strategies to increase economic opportunity – while also recognizing the negative impact that segregation and structural racism has had and can have on this progress.
These are promising initiatives, but we can’t sugarcoat what we’re up against. We have to have an open and honest conversation about how we got here, what the real gaps are, and commit real resources and sustained effort to create a better future for all.