Agencies' Diversity Efforts Have Come Far, But Not Far Enough

American Banker
by: Divya Sundar

The directors of the newly created Offices of Women and Minority Inclusion (OMWI) recently submitted their first reports to Congress. These reports show a good start, but also illustrate how much remains to be done.

In the wake of widespread reports of predatory lending in communities of color during the run-up to the financial crisis, Congress added language to the Dodd-Frank financial reform law creating OMWIs in 20 federal financial regulatory agencies. Their goal is to assure “the fair inclusion and utilization of minorities, women, and minority-owned and women-owned businesses in activities of their agency.” In so doing, Congress recognized that these communities are often the proverbial canaries in the coal mine when it comes to problems with our financial system.

Continue reading “Agencies' Diversity Efforts Have Come Far, But Not Far Enough”

Affordable Housing: A Tool to Fight Smog, Traffic

Capitol Weekly
By Ryan Wiggins and Alvaro Sanchez

We generally think it a big success when public policy successfully fixes a serious problem. Right now, smart California policies are effectively tackling three major issues at once: housing, traffic, and climate change.

Anyone not living under a rock knows that California faces an unprecedented crisis in housing affordability. Skyrocketing rents force working families to choose between spending more than half their income on housing, squeezing into inadequate or unsafe homes, or moving away from their communities. Similarly, we all see traffic get worse each year. Amazingly, our efforts to fight climate change are bringing real progress on both these issues.

Over 30 affordable housing projects have already been funded from carbon auction proceeds – from Stockton and Richmond to San Diego and Riverside.

West Sacramento resident Esther Roberts and her four children know all about housing struggles. Without access to the affordable housing development where she lives, she says, “I would probably be living with all of us in a studio apartment in some place I don’t want to be, just because that’s the only place I could afford to keep something over my head.”
But what many don’t know is that affordable homes can also make a big dent in smog, climate pollution, and traffic – if we put those homes near public transportation and include other amenities that encourage walking and biking.

Lower-income households living near transit drive less than half as many miles as wealthier households. Creating 15,000 new affordable homes near good public transportation would keep over 1.58 million metric tons of greenhouse gases (and lots of plain old smog) out of our air.

That’s why money from California’s climate program is helping build more affordable homes near public transportation in communities statewide. Under laws called AB 32 and SB 535, fees paid by polluters who put carbon into the air go into a variety of projects to help clean the air and save energy, including transit-oriented affordable homes for low- and moderate-income Californians.

One such project, West Gateway Place, now underway not far from Esther’s West Sacramento home, will provide 77 affordable homes for more families like hers. Over 30 such projects have already been funded from carbon auction proceeds – from Stockton and Richmond to San Diego and Riverside – with many more coming in future years.

And that’s just one of many ways climate funds are enhancing communities throughout the state. Sometimes we hear from people who say they don’t see these investments at work in their communities, but the truth is that over 400 projects have been awarded more than a billion dollars to strengthen public transportation, reduce energy costs through home weatherization, create urban green spaces, and more. Some projects may take a little while to build, but they’re coming – and more are on the way.

California’s climate program is making a real, positive impact on people’s lives, particularly in communities hit first and worst by pollution and economic difficulties. California’s climate investments help families find safe, affordable homes, cut traffic, reduce smog, shrink families’ energy bills, and much more – all while combating the climate crisis that threatens us all.

We’re frustrated many don’t know about these benefits, even as big oil continues to spend millions trying to weaken or kill California’s climate program. To level the playing field a bit, we’ve created several tools to help Californians understand how these policies work and how they’re uplifting our neighborhoods.

To learn more about Esther, affordable housing and climate, you can watch a short, informative video at climatebenefitsca.org/stories. You can read about Esther and other Californians already reaping the benefits of California climate policies at UpLiftCA.org. Finally, search for climate investments throughout California and see the benefits for yourself using TransForm’s searchable online map at ClimateBenefitsCA.org.

Ed’s Note: Ryan Wiggins is Climate Policy Manager for TransForm, and Alvaro Sanchez is Environmental Equity Director for The Greenlining Institute.

A Welcome Focus on Racial Justice

Lancaster Online
By Orson Aguilar

The 2016 presidential campaign is proving historic in many ways both good and bad. Among the good: the amount of attention being paid to the issue of racial justice.

This didn’t occur spontaneously, of course. Constant pressure from Black Lives Matter, immigration activists and others played a big role. But the degree to which some top candidates have paid attention to racial justice and adopted platforms related to the issue exceeds anything in recent memory.

On the Democratic side, both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have extensive sections on their campaign websites dedicated to racial justice. Both include detailed proposals and state explicitly what many minorities know to be true: that the American playing field is not level and works to the disadvantage of communities of color.

Clinton, for example, pledges to “end the school-to-prison pipeline” by providing funds to help school districts move away from punitive policies like suspensions, expulsions and on-campus police presences that disproportionately hurt students of color. She also takes note of pollution-related asthma rates, lead exposure and other environmental issues that disproportionately harm communities of color.

Sanders, on his website, focuses on “the five central types of violence waged against black, brown and indigenous Americans: physical, political, legal, economic and environmental.” His platform goes in-depth on improving relations between police and communities of color, promoting greater diversity, training and civilian oversight in cases of misconduct. Like Clinton, he condemns racially disproportionate rates of school suspensions and expulsions and speaks out against environmental racism.

But all that just scratches the surface. Both Democrats delve into racial injustices with far more detail than any presidential candidate I can remember, including Barack Obama in 2008. While candidates have always taken positions on issues that have racial implications, like immigration, what we’re seeing this year is unique and encouraging.

A search of presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump’s website turns up nothing regarding racial justice. The closest he gets is his get-tough stands on illegal immigration, including a border wall and ending birthright citizenship for children born in the U.S. The story is much the same for the last two GOP alternatives to drop out of the race, Ted Cruz and John Kasich.

That’s sad.

The Republican Party, after all, played a crucial role in ending slavery and putting civil rights protections into the Constitution. A century later, Republicans provided the votes needed to pass the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act. The party has a long and honorable history it should not abandon. There is no reason Democrats should own the racial justice agenda.

Still, racial justice has entered the presidential campaign in a far more detailed and nuanced way than we’ve ever seen, even during the civil rights battles of the 1960s. That’s progress, and it should be just the start.

A New ‘Too Big to Fail’ Bank for the 1 Percent

The Huffington Post
by Preeti Vissa

Remember back in 2008, when collapsing banks nearly tanked our whole economy and people had the quaint notion that maybe we shouldn’t let banks become “too big to fail”? Would you be shocked to learn that regulators may well approve creation of a new “too big to fail” bank from the ashes of one of the very institutions that crashed our economy?

Meet OneWest Bank, which is seeking to merge with CIT Group, a deal that would meet federal criteria for what’s politely termed a “systemically important financial institution” — one whose failure could imperil the financial system. OneWest is the successor to IndyMac Bank, one of the first and biggest to collapse as the financial crisis was hitting high gear in the summer of 2008.

IndyMac was a textbook case of reckless, exploitive lending often aimed at communities of color. A report from the Treasury Department’s inspector general found that IndyMac offered an “extensive array of risky option-adjustable-rate-mortgages (option ARMs), subprime loans, 80/20 loans, and other nontraditional products.”

IndyMac’s collapse cost the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation $10.7 billion. OneWest was born from the ruins when a group of wealthy investors bought the remnants of IndyMac from the FDIC.

Not only will the OneWest/CIT merger create another bank that’s worryingly large, that bank will be run by people who seem to have learned nothing from IndyMac’s collapse.

Advocates, including my colleagues on The Greenlining Institute’s Economic Equity team, have tried to open a dialogue with OneWest officials. We hoped that the new institution would chart a different course, working to benefit communities instead of ignoring or exploiting them. You’d think a bank growing from the ashes of one of the institutions that sparked the foreclosure crisis that ruined millions of families would make some effort to at least look like it’s moving in a new direction.

Nope.

For example, we asked OneWest to make meaningful commitments under the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), which encourages banks to invest in underserved communities. The bank revealed a so-called CRA plan in September at a meeting in Los Angeles. The plan, concocted with no community input, commits the new bank to precisely zero additional lending. OneWest CEO Joseph Otting made clear that he has no intention of negotiating a better agreement with the advocates who were leading the effort to hold his bank accountable.

Otting also make clear that nonprofits opposing the merger could forget any chance of receiving philanthropic donations from OneWest. Subtle, huh?

OneWest’s marketing and products have been geared to the wealthiest customers in its market area (primarily southern California), with only 15 percent of its branches in low and moderate income communities and no plans to build new branches in low-income areas. In addition, OneWest Bank makes only three percent of its purchases from vendors and suppliers that are minority owned — despite being based in a southern California market with over 70 percent people of color. There’s no indication that this will change. Unless federal regulators call a halt, we are literally witnessing the creation new too-big-to-fail bank for the one percent.

The Federal Reserve should reject the CIT/OneWest merger application. At the very least, regulators should stop the clock, hold public hearings and get some real community input before allowing this dangerous deal to proceed.

A Just Food System for All Californians

Al Jazeera America
by Justin Rausa

I live in Oakland, California, around the corner from a trendy bar that touts more than a dozen local beers on tap and even more craft brews by the bottle. Down the street from me is a homeless encampment under a freeway overpass, where people look for empathy, money and food. These contradictions — options galore juxtaposed with blatant, unmet need — follow me from my bike ride to my office, where I work on California food policy and daily encounter a harsh truth: In the country’s most productive agricultural state, food equity for its citizens has a long way to go. And unless the state does a better job enacting food and farming policies that benefit all Californians, especially low-income people, its ranking as the state with the highest poverty rate could become its dominant tag line.

On Nov. 4, Californians will have an opportunity at the ballot box to help rectify that imbalance. Voters in San Francisco and Berkeley will decide on soda tax proposals designed to decrease the consumption of sugary beverages. Big Soda has poured more than $10 million to label the propositions as job killers and attacks on personal choice, especially for the poor, but advocacy groups are putting up a strong fight. Statewide, there is Proposition 2, a seemingly bland policy that would require the state to prioritize debt reduction over the next 15 years and save more money each year for the next time its economy swings toward crisis. Prop 2 could improve food security — in which all people have access at all times to nutritious food — by forcing the state to maintain public program funding that supports lower-income people when the economy tanks. For example, during the Great Recession, funding for public schools fell by more than $7 billion over two years. In response, some school districts lowballed (and still do) the number of enrolled low-income students, an accounting technique that trims free and reduced-price school lunch offerings. It’s a self-defeating move for a state that should prioritize the health of its future workforce.

Prop 2 and the soda tax proposals, should they pass, are both smart moves for a state whose less-than-holistic food system policy decisions are too often removed from low-income communities.

A food policy for all

California is an alarming example of how agriculturally productive states can still have a long way to go on worker rights, food access, sustainable agricultural practices and a more diverse, less industrial food economy. In short, we need more food equity. According to the Census Bureau (PDF), from 2011 to 2013, nearly a quarter of Californians lived in poverty, struggling to feed themselves and their families. That’s almost 9 million people. My work has taken me multiple times to California’s Central Valley, where farm workers have told me that they can’t afford the fresh fruits and vegetables they pick or that they are out of range from a store where such fresh produce is sold. One woman told me that on a good day, she serves her family rice, beans and soda. Fresh fruits and vegetables are not within reach for this worker and many others like her who, just hours before, spent a long day in a lettuce field, picking produce while battling searing heat and dust.

What these workers need is increased food equity. That means affordable food that is also fresh and healthy, farming and ranching practices that protect the land and the people who work on it and a living wage for food-chain workers.

Why, in such an enlightened food age, are low-income people’s voices so chronically underrepresented? The numbers are revealing: Only 25.2 percent of registered voters voted in California’s June primary this year, an all-time low, even for a midterm election year. Meanwhile, entrenched food and farming interests in California are too often trumping the common sense and evidence-based arguments for more equity in the food system. Earlier this year, for instance, the beverage industry and the California Chamber of Commerce pulled out all the stops to kill legislation that would have added health warning labels on most sugary drinks.

Research from PolicyLink and the Greenlining Institute confirm that equity is a necessary criterion for allocating resources in the 21st century. October poll results (PDF) from the Public Policy Institute of California, unfortunately, show that only 49 percent of likely voters support Proposition 2. But the local soda tax ballot measures in San Francisco and Berkeley offer some voters an opportunity to acknowledge the health cost of artificially cheap drinks — a significant driver for disproportionately higher rates of obesity and diabetes among the poor. It’s one of many steps that must take place to help ensure food equity for California’s working poor, but it could have an outsize impact in the message it sends to Big Soda.

What California gets right

That doesn’t mean that California hasn’t recently made some good decisions that have improved food access for low-income communities. Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bill 2413 two months ago, establishing the Office of Farm to Fork within the California Department of Food and Agriculture to improve communities’ access to healthy food. Moves such as this will help increase food security.

The Office of Farm to Fork will focus on securing funding and streamlining the state government’s ability to make healthier food more accessible to low-income communities in urban and rural areas, and it is a good first step. It is an encouraging sign that the state’s agriculture regulator understands that the success of small and midsize farms depends on meeting the needs of low-income workers. A financially secure and well-fed workforce is more productive, will generate more economic activity for the state and will save the state significant money as fewer people are forced to rely on its tattered social safety net.

But Assembly Bill 2413 was signed into law without designated funding, so the success of the office depends on Brown’s state budget proposal in January. To bring this election season argument full circle, the passage of Prop 2 on Nov. 4 would give the Office of Farm to Fork and its food security programs some economic stability during future recessions. The downside of Prop 2 is that less money would be available each year to expand or create public programs, making state budget negotiations — such as those that will take place in January — ever more important, especially for low-income people whose voices are least represented in Sacramento.

It’s time for California, where craft beer and homeless encampments stand side by side, to put politics to bed and take action to lift a quarter of its people out of poverty. Voters can help amplify the voices of low-income Californians by showing up at the polls in support of policies — even boring-seeming ones — that help bring healthy food to every table.

A Government Agency that Actually Listens

The San Diego Voice and Viewpoint
by Sasha Werblin and Jane Duong

It’s an old joke, made famous by President Ronald Reagan: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’” But today one federal agency  proves Reagan wrong every day, one that not only really does help people but actually listens to them – and it’s under attack for that very reason.

The agency we are talking about is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, created five years ago by the Dodd-Frank financial reform law to be a “cop on the beat” to protect consumers in their dealings with banks, credit card companies and other financial firms. In late May, we were part of a group of community advocates who met with CFPB Director Richard Cordray and top members of his staff to outline our continuing priorities and hear how CFPB is addressing the concerns of communities of color. To put it simply, we were impressed.

Understanding that the impact on consumers is felt most strongly outside of the beltway, Cordray and his colleagues came to California to meet with us, at the office of the Mission Economic Development Agency in San Francisco – a location fraught with symbolism. MEDA’s office is in the heart of what has long been a low-income neighborhood (92 percent of MEDA’s clients are low- or moderate-income) that’s now in the throes of heated battles over gentrification. In a city fast losing its black and Latino population, this is a neighborhood where you can see check cashing stores and payday lenders almost literally within shouting distance of high-end restaurants.

As a coalition of advocates for African American, Latino and Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, we laid out a series of concerns. Diversity – in both the financial industry and in the government agencies that regulate it – stood near the top of our agenda. Dodd-Frank created a mechanism to address diversity, the Offices of Minority and Women Inclusion (OMWIs), but the OMWIs’ proposed diversity standards arrived very weak and very late.  We think federal regulators can do much more to promote diversity in the banking world and to encourage financial businesses to increase their contracting with businesses owned by people of color.

We also talked a great deal about small businesses. According to the Small Business Administration, people of color own 4.1 million firms that generate $694 billion in revenues each year, employing 4.8 million people. These businesses are a major source of employment in communities of color across America. We want the federal government to adopt a model similar to California, where the Public Utilities Commission’s supplier diversity program has generated billions of dollars in business each year for minority business enterprises simply through public reporting and transparency.

Sometimes ethnic small businesses have had trouble accessing the capital they need to grow their operations. Unfortunately, no one has ever collected the data we need to know what stands in between these businesses and the loans they need. Another section in Dodd-Frank is designed to help address that, and we urged the CFPB to work with the Small Business Administration on guidelines that will give community advocates and ordinary citizens a clear picture of small business lending, with information on race/ethnicity, gender and many other factors.

Language access also topped the agenda for many of us. Given that nearly one in five residents of California identifies as being limited English proficient, we must protect consumers for whom English is not a first language. We discussed with CFPB several strategies for encouraging financial institutions to better serve the needs of these diverse communities.

Under the ground rules, I’m not able to write about everything that CFPB officials said in response to our concerns. What I can say is that they clearly listened and have considered our recommendations. They were active, engaged, and asked lots of questions. The mood was light-hearted but serious, cordial and energetic. This was not the behavior of bureaucrats just going through the motions or checking off a box on a form.

No government agency is perfect, but the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau clearly takes its job seriously. Some members of Congress who take their marching orders from Wall Street have been trying to weaken CFPB ever since it was created, but happily they haven’t succeeded. To learn more about the bureau, visit http://www.consumerfinance.gov/.

Sasha Werblin is Economic Equity director at The Greenlining Institute, greenlining.org, Jane Duong is director of programs and advocacy for the National Coalition For Asian Pacific American Community Development,www.nationalcapacd.org.

A Foreclosure Moratorium Should Be Just the Start

huffingtonpost.com
By Preeti Vissa

The good news is that recent revelations about foreclosures being finalized based on improper documentation — legal filings often not even read by the bank officials who signed hundreds or thousands of them at a time — have spurred outrage nationwide that could lead to action. The bad news is that it’s unclear whether that action will be enough.

Continue reading “A Foreclosure Moratorium Should Be Just the Start”

A Decade After Katrina, Can Philanthropy Make Black Lives Matter?

The Chronicle of Philanthropy
By Nat Chioke Williams

On Saturday, people from around the world will commemorate the 10 years since Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. Although many people will tout the city’s recovery, few people in black working-class neighborhoods will be celebrating. After all, they have been mostly left behind.

But that is hardly the only poignant and painful reminder of the inequities facing blacks in America and how far the nation still must go to end them.

On August 4, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, the crowning achievement of the civil-rights movement, which was recently gutted by the Supreme Court.

Five days later, we recognized the one-year anniversary of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., an attack that launched what is commonly known as the Black Lives Matter movement — a movement to assert the sanctity of black life, even as it is fueled by a wave of black deaths at the hands of police.

But the question for the country — and especially for all of us in philanthropy — is not, Do black lives matter?, but rather, How can we make black lives matter and provide the best opportunities for the black community to thrive? And can philanthropy help ensure we don’t squander the advances that the broader movement has made in the past year?

The answer to this question is complex, but it ultimately boils down to power.

To make black lives matter more, philanthropy needs to do all it can to ensure that the black community builds the social, institutional, and political power it needs to directly challenge and dismantle the policies and systems that enable structural racism.

The success to date of the Black Lives Matter movement is most visible in the ways it has changed how the public thinks about race, racism, and policing.

It has used social media, traditional media, strategic communications, street protests, and other activities to become part of the public conversation — and it has become a strong counter to those who deny that racism is embedded in the policies and structures of our society. There now exists a unique opportunity to win policy changes to help ensure greater police accountability and to examine and address racial discrimination across many aspects of black life.

But this movement is at risk if it doesn’t get the money it needs to build institutions that can capitalize on this social power. For far too many decades, black-led social-change organizations have received too little in donations to grow into the strong influencers on the American way life that they must be.

Research from the Greenlining Institute has found that minority-led organizations get less money from foundations than white-led organizations. And anecdotal evidence suggests that this pattern is as bad, if not worse, for social-change organizations led by blacks.

Much of the work being done to propel Black Lives Matter forward has been carried out by newly created groups with limited funds and borrowed or volunteer staff, as well as older black-led social-justice groups that are already strapped for money. Philanthropy can help make the most of this moment by ensuring that black-led social-change groups are well supported.

Some grant makers, like the North Star Fund, the Liberty Hill Fund, Resource Generation, and others, have explicitly dedicated resources to support black-led grass-roots groups organizing to push for greater police accountability and other changes that will reduce violence and improve safety. Similarly, the Hill-Snowdon Foundation recently launched the Making Black Lives Matter Initiative, a three-year project that seeks to build the kind of long-term institutional and political power that the black community needs to achieve real racial justice.
Our focus on black-led organizing groups is an essential piece of building the organizations, leaders, and activists who will not just do the work today, but will lead future efforts to push for changes that will allow all black Americans to thrive.

We are dedicating $900,000 in new funds over the next three years for grants to support black-led organizing, as well as leadership development for black organizers and in-person meetings at which black social-change leaders can strategize on next steps.

This investment is significant for our foundation and represents almost a one-percent increase in our payout for 2015 and a 20-percent increase in our grants budget over the next three years. Hill-Snowdon’s trustees believe this opportunity demonstrates exactly why foundations have endowments: so they can seize on historic moments like this.

But it’s not enough for each foundation to demonstrate the courage to spend more. We must also join forces with other philanthropies to better coordinate and align our grant making for racial justice for the black community

That’s why we are working with the Association of Black Foundation Executives to create a network of grant makers to coordinate our grant-making efforts and maximize our impact on a range of racial justice issues affecting blacks. We invite our colleagues to join us.

Philanthropy needs to do more to make black lives matter in this historic moment. This includes:

Understanding and acknowledging how structural racism limits the possibilities of those in the black community and defines many of the social, institutional, political, economic, and cultural norms of American society. This understanding will make it clear why it’s imperative to focus on changing structures — and especially to focus on ways of ensuring that blacks gain the power they need to push for substantive and lasting change.
Making a commitment to make black lives matter by adopting a racial-equity lens for grant making in black communities. Grant makers should pay attention to race while analyzing programs, seeking solutions, and defining success.
Ending the funding inequities for black-led groups, especially black-led social-change and racial-justice organizations. Some of the imbalance in grant making may stem from unconscious bias. Imbalance also may result from a Catch-22 situation: Foundations want to support high-performing organizations, but that is a tough standard to meet when black-led nonprofits have received just crumbs from the grant-making table.
The nation is at a pivotal crossroads in its centuries-long struggle to confront and eradicate structural racism. The shocking events and subsequent organizing in the past year have helped lift up the veil to expose the pernicious and persistent impact of structural racism. Philanthropy’s challenge is to not look away, but to look deeper, and to act with courage and conviction. We must cultivate a commitment to making black lives matter, so that the black community and, indeed, the entire nation can thrive.

A $1.9 Trillion Christmas Present

Huffington Post
By Preeti Vissa

How would you feel if Santa left $1.9 trillion in your Christmas stocking?

Don’t worry — I wouldn’t know how to spend that much money either. But a $1.9 trillion boost to our economy could do amazing things, and it could actually happen. The catch is that it won’t come from Santa. We have to do it ourselves.

The good news is that we can, although it won’t be easy.

That’s the message from a new study funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and conducted by the Altarum Institute. Altarum researchers found that racial inequity costs the U.S. economy massively, and that eliminating this inequity would boost our gross domestic product by $1.9 trillion.

Altarum found that, after adjusting for age and sex, per capita earnings for people of color in the U.S. are now 30 percent below those of non-Hispanic whites. I’ll let the researchers lay out the full economic implications of that finding:

We found that, if the average incomes of minorities were raised to the average incomes of whites, total U.S. earnings would increase by 12%, representing nearly $1 trillion today. By closing the earnings gap through higher productivity, gross domestic product (GDP) would increase by a comparable percentage, for an increase of $1.9 trillion today. The earnings gain would translate into $180 billion in additional corporate profits, $290 billion in additional federal tax revenues, and a potential reduction in the federal deficit of $350 billion, or 2.3% of GDP.

Projecting farther out into the future (when Americans of color will move closer to being the new American majority), closing the earnings gap would increase U.S. GDP by 16 percent, a staggering $5 trillion per year.

The good news is that this income gap, and the accompanying racial wealth gap, did not happen by accident. They resulted from deliberate choices our society made and in many cases continues to make. We can close the wealth and earnings gaps if we make different choices.

As I said, this won’t be easy, and it’s not simple. Altarum’s report focuses on a web of intersecting, interlocking factors that I can’t help but oversimplify a bit in the space I have here. The essential point is that policies to close our racial wealth and income gaps not only don’t take anything away from anyone, they will lift the whole economy.

The study points out a number of areas where policy choices have led to inequity that better policies can change. One obvious one that I’ve discussed before is homeownership. The researchers note that in 2012, 74 percent of white families owned their own homes, compared to 57 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander families, 51 percent of Native American families, 46 percent of Latino families and 44 percent of African American families.

This difference is a major driver of the racial wealth gap. It can be traced directly to discriminatory policies that once were quite extreme (from African Americans being excluded from the 1862 Homestead Act because they weren’t considered citizens to the FHA officially promoting redlining and discriminatory lending in the 1930s and ’40s) to the more under-the-table housing discrimination that occurs today. The researchers point to a 2012 study that found continuing discrimination against Asians, blacks and Latinos seeking to rent or buy, as well as the well-documented marketing of predatory subprime loans in communities of color during the housing bubble.

Those policies promoted residential segregation, which continues today with severe negative impacts on health, education, and many other essentials for economic success. Some efforts to address these issues — such as creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to curb predatory practices — have been undertaken, but the authors note that more can and should be done.

There are many other factors that more sensible policies could change, far more than I can list here. But another that has to be mentioned is the criminal justice system. Having a criminal record can hobble your chances for getting a good job that pays a living wage.

African American and Latino males have massively higher incarceration rates than whites, and the difference cannot be explained by the rates of crimes committed by different groups. For example, official surveys consistently show African Americans using illicit drugs at the same or lower rates than whites, yet the researchers note that African American youth are a staggering ten times more likely to be arrested for drug offenses than white youth.

Please read the full study to learn the specifics that space does not allow me to list here. But the bottom line is really quite simple: Racial inequity didn’t just happen; it was a result of deliberate choices. We can reduce and eventually end this inequity by making different choices.

And in a nation where people of color are projected to be the majority by 2043, we literally can’t afford to continue on the wasteful and unfair path we’ve been on.

A "Separate But Equal" Internet?

Huff Post
by:Preeti Vissa

The phrase “knowledge is power” dates back to at least the seventeenth century, and it’s as true today as it was then. But today, technology has become the essential portal to information, and information technology has potential to be a great social and economic equalizer — but only if we preserve today’s open Internet.

That is not by any means a sure thing.

Continue reading “A "Separate But Equal" Internet?”