28,500 Californians Tell Senators to Stop Coddling Wall Street and Confirm CFPB Director


SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – That was the message of petitions delivered to Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office today by a delegation of Bay Area community leaders.  The petitions, which call on the Senate to confirm Richard Cordray to a full term as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, bore the signatures of more than 165,000 people, including over 28,500 Californians.

Liana Molina, Payday Campaign Organizer with the California Reinvestment Coalition, explained, “Senators have a simple choice: they can either bring his nomination to a vote, or they can continue coddling Wall Street.    With over 200,000 Californians in foreclosure in 2012, we’ve seen what happens when Congress chooses Wall Street.”

After favorable action by the Banking Committee, Cordray’s renomination goes before the full Senate. Director Cordray has earned wide and bipartisan praise for his leadership of the CFPB up to now. Unfortunately for Californians, a group of 43 Senators are threatening to block Cordray’s nomination indefinitely, unless the CFPB is first dramatically weakened.

Vivian Richardson from the community organization ACCE explained: “Every week we learn about another bank scandal.  Every day, more families lose their homes to foreclosure wrongfully. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau needs to be empowered to lead the charge in stopping Wall Street from profiting at the expense of Main Street. Congress needs to get their act together, confirm Cordray, and get down to the business of protecting consumers.”

Jon Fox, Consumer Advocate with the California Public Research Interest Group explained, “Senator Feinstein must use her position in the Senate to lead the fight for consumers. Californians need her to stand up and take the lead on this issue, and ensure that the CFPB can do its job protecting consumers.”

“For over four years, Republicans have made a historically unprecedented mockery of the filibuster. The Senate is supposed to provide “advice and consent” on presidential nominations, not use minority tricks to undo laws passed by Congress, signed by the President, and supported by large majorities of the public,” explained Rick Jacobs, founder and chair of CourageCampaign.org, a leading California-based progressive organization. “Americans stand firmly behind the CFPB, and Richard Cordray is by all accounts an ideal candidate to lead it. Senator Feinstein can help restore democracy to the Senate. We’re confident she will.”

“Under Richard Cordray, the CFPB has been a strong voice for consumers,” said Greenlining Institute Executive Director Orson Aguilar. “California consumers, and especially the communities of color that got hammered during the financial crisis, need a strong champion, because we’ve seen the devastation that predatory lending causes. Richard Cordray has been that champion.”

The California Reinvestment Coalition, the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), the California Public Research Interest Group (CALPIRG), the Greenlining Institute, Jobs with Justice, the San Francisco Labor Council, and CourageCampaign.org took part in today’s delivery. They also met with Senator Feinstein’s office to discuss the importance of Cordray’s confirmation.

The CFPB was created after the financial crisis of 2008 to end predatory lending and bring basic standards of fairness and transparency to the world of credit cards, mortgages, education loans, auto loans, debt collection, credit scoring and other financial products and practices.

The CFPB has already:

  • Returned nearly half a billion dollars to consumers cheated by credit card companies;
  • Moved to end the era of mortgages designed to rake in up-front fees before they self-destruct;
  • Targeted harmful lending practices that disproportionately harm people of color, such as predatory auto lending;
  • Stood up for students and families trapped in high-cost private education loans; and deceptive lending practices; and
  • Protected military families against illegal foreclosures and deceptive lending practices.

# # # # #

Brett Abrams : 516-841-1105 : brett@fitzgibbonmedia.com

4 Challenges That Could Hinder PPACA Success

Becker’s Healthcare
by Ayla Ellison

More than 9 million people have gained insurance coverage under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. However, due to a number of challenges, the number of insured may begin to decrease, as some people cancel or forgo renewing coverage due to frustration and lack of use of their new health plans.

Here are four challenges that could negatively affect PPACA success.

1. Health literacy. Just weeks before open enrollment for state and federal exchanges began last year, 42 percent of Americans were unable to explain a deductible and 62 percent did not know a HMO plan had greater restrictions than a PPO, according to a study by researchers at the University of Southern California’s Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics in Los Angeles. Researchers also found low-income and uninsured Americans — those most likely to benefit from the PPACA — had the least awareness of health reform.

Americans began signing up for health insurance under the PPACA nine months ago, and it is becoming apparent many of them are extremely confused by the insurance plans they signed up for. Christine Barber, a senior policy analyst with Boston-based Community Catalyst, told the Washington Post that hospitals across the country are being swamped with calls from newly insured individuals who are saying “Okay, I have my card. What do I do now?”

2. Language barriers. Many of the newly insured have limited English proficiency, which creates a steep learning curve when trying to understand their policies. A recent study from the Greenlining Institute found 90 percent of Covered California enrollees speak English as their primary language, despite over half of all Californians and 40 percent of those eligible for Covered California having limited English proficiency. Although specific to California, the study’s findings indicate many people may be foregoing enrolling in insurance under the PPACA because of a language barrier.

3. Technical glitches. Some of the newly insured who purchased their insurance through the federal and state-run marketplaces still have not received their insurance cards due to technical problems. In addition to problems last fall with the federal HealthCare.gov website, many of the 14 states that created their own health insurance exchanges have dealt with malfunctioning systems. For instance, the federal government spent a total of $474 million on the development of exchanges that failed because of technical problems in Massachusetts, Maryland, Oregon and Nevada.

4. Data discrepancies. In June, the government began asking millions of people who enrolled in subsidized insurance coverage through HealthCare.gov to provide additional documents to verify information to resolve data discrepancies in their insurance applications. A data discrepancy in an application means the information the individual supplied on their application does not match the information the government has on record. Most of the inconsistencies were related to income, citizenship and immigration status.

In July, HHS’ Office of the Inspector General announced 2.6 million of the 2.9 million inconsistencies — 89.6 percent — were still unresolved. The legal status to obtain insurance coverage and the amount paid for coverage of those with discrepancies still remaining in their applications could be affected.

4 Policy Recommendations To Address Barriers Women Physicians of Color Face in U.S. Healthcare

Fierce Healthcare
by Matt Kuhrt

Women of color will be the majority of their gender by 2050, according to the Greenlining Institute. Unless policymakers take action now, however, they will continue to be severely underrepresented among active physicians in the United States.

For their study, Greenlining, a nonprofit that advocates for economic opportunity and empowerment of people of color, teamed up with Artemis Medical Society, which works to generate a supportive environment for women of color within the medical community. Their report (PDF) details findings based upon a series of interviews with women of color currently practicing as physicians, looking to explain their underrepresentation in the field.

The most recent available statistics show women of color representing only 11.7% of active M.D. physicians in the United States. Interviewees in the report described barriers ranging from active discouragement of their career aspirations to casual discrimination among medical school lecturers and residency faculty.

More than half indicated they had never met a physician who matched their racial identity.

“The lack of diversity and equity in medicine, coupled with persistent racism and sexism, denies women physicians of color and their patients fair and equitable treatment,” the report concludes. It suggests policymakers target four general areas in their efforts to level the playing field:

Improve educational support for women of color. The report recommends greater support for STEM education at all levels, along with scholarships, grants and training opportunities that community healthcare organizations, along with colleges and universities, can use to develop a more diverse “pipeline” of aspiring physicians.

Address structural discrimination throughout the healthcare sector. Casual and implicit bias exist in areas such as pay inequity, a lack of support for pregnant workers, and a general lack of diversity among healthcare leaders, per the report.

Increase diversity among medical school students and faculty., Just as cultural competence yields a better patient experience, increased diversity among medical school faculty and medical students would yield a more supportive environment for students and boost representation throughout the field. The report recommends increased recruitment activity from underserved communities as a way to address both issues of diversity and care gaps in socioeconomically challenged areas.

Improve support structures for practicing physicians. Interviewees reported an urgent need for a more diverse mentorship network to guide young physicians’ personal and professional development. The report suggests investing in robust mentorship programs will yield results by developing a more diverse set of physician leaders and increasing pressure within institutions to deal with the unique challenges faced by women of color.

50 Stealable Grassroots Marketing Campaigns


If you’re in advocacy, grassroots, membership or marketing, you’re undoubtedly constantly on the lookout for effective grassroots marketing campaign ideas that actually work – be it for your donation cycle, membership engagement or to create awareness.

To make it easier, we compiled a list of 50 great examples that did just that, including success metrics, and placed them all in one post for your convenience.

Greenlining Institute: 200% Increase in Twitter Followers

The Greenlining Institute is a policy, research, organizing, and leadership institute working for racial and economic justice. The organization works to bring the American Dream within reach of all, regardless of race or income.

Campaign Goal: Develop a clear vision for using social media, with intention to listen to what people were saying about the institute’s issues and build relationships as a result.

Channel(s): Twitter

Results: The organization’s original foray into social media in 2007 was disappointing because it hopped on the bandwagon without a clear vision in mind. In 2011, after hiring interns and eventually full-time staff members to focus on building and implementing a social media strategy, the institute developed goals and objectives for utilizing different tools. As a result the organization tripled its Twitter followers from a humble 500 to 1,500 in 10 months. In 2013 the institute published The Art of Listening: Social Media Toolkit for Nonprofits to help other organizations avoid their initial missteps in using social networks.

60K Enrolled Through Covered California So Far, Officials Say

California Healthline

On Wednesday, Covered California officials announced that nearly 60,000 state residents signed up for coverage through the exchange during the first six weeks of open enrollment, Kaiser Health News‘ “Capsules” reports (Gorman, “Capsules,” Kaiser Health News, 11/14).

Details of Enrollment

Exchange officials said that 30,830 state residents signed up for health coverage through the exchange during the first month of open enrollment. Another 29,000 signed up in early November (Goodnough, New York Times, 11/13).

In addition, the rate of enrollment appears to be increasing, as the number of people signing up for exchange plans increased from an average of 1,000 daily in October to an average of 2,400 daily in the first 12 days of November (Aliferis, “State of Health,” KQED, 11/13).

The state is on track to enroll about 289,000 by April 30, 2014, according to Payers & Providers.

Exchange officials also said that:

  • 203,904 exchange applications were started, representing 370,000 individuals;
  • 97,494 applications were completed, representing 177,331 individuals (Shinkman, Payers & Providers, 11/14);
  • About 4,850 residents qualified for federal exchange subsidies (New York Times, 11/13); and
  • 25,987 residents did not qualify for such subsidies (Robertson, Sacramento Business Journal, 11/13).


The exchange has not yet released demographic information on exchange enrollees, but officials indicated that those who have signed up for coverage tend to be older and have health issues.

“These are people who have been waiting for a long time to get coverage,” Lee said (“Capsules,” Kaiser Health News, 11/14).

However, he predicted that the exchange will “see that shifting in dramatic ways as we go through November and December,” adding that when younger, healthier individuals “understand how easy it is, when they understand the cost, they’re also going to be signing up.”

Detailed demographic data is expected to be presented during a meeting of the Covered California board next week (New York Times, 11/13).

Survey Results

Covered California officials also released the results of a survey of website users.

The survey found that:

  • 70% of respondents found the enrollment process “easy to complete;” and
  • 88% said they “were able to choose a health plan that is right for them” (“State of Health,” KQED, 11/13).

Comments From Exchange Officials

Peter Lee, executive director of the California exchange, said the enrollment figures are “better than encouraging” (Viebeck, “Healthwatch,” The Hill, 11/13).

Lee added that the enrollment rates “show momentum and very high consumer interest,” adding, “As anticipated, consumers spent October comparing plans and educating themselves about their health care options.”

Advocates’ Reaction

Carmella Gutierrez, executive director of Californians for Patient Care, said, “While these initial numbers fall short of enrollment goals, they are not surprising.” She agreed with Lee that consumers likely are “looking under the hood and kicking the tires before they make such an important decision” (Payers & Providers, 11/14).

Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access, said that officials expected “that the younger folks will be signing up later, just because they may feel the urgency a little bit less.”

In addition, he said the increased rate of daily enrollment suggests “a trend line that’s going up.” However, he said that the exchange needs to “redouble” its marketing efforts and train additional enrollment counselors (“State of Health,” KQED, 11/13).

Moving Forward

The current enrollment figures are far from the state’s goal of enrolling at least 500,000 residents who qualify for federal subsidies by the end of March 2014, according to the Times (New York Times, 11/13).

Carla Saporta, health policy director at the Greenlining Institute, said a statewide campaign to increase enrollment will be launched on Friday (Payers & Providers, 11/14).

8 Years Watching and Influencing Urban Transformation: Reflections From a Foundation Program Officer

The City Fix
By Margarita M. Parra

Can innovative work be achieved by a program officer in a philanthropic organization? I remember asking this question when I started at the Hewlett Foundation in 2010. In my time there, I learned that program staff at philanthropies get to focus on some of the world’s biggest problems and have the advantage of using their institution’s many resources to craft the best strategies to address them and lever innovation.

Eight years ago, no one could have imagined the revolutionary technological advances and innovation we have today. Yet these years will likely pale in comparison to the next eight as technology continues to develop.

City landscapes have and will continue to adapt to waves of innovation, such as those created by autonomous vehicles, likely leading to a complete rewiring of streets and modes of transportation. I have seen the need to “ride the wave” of new developments, look around the corner, and make the case for new policy and new approaches to advocacy that enhance the new paradigm we are entering.

The New Mobility Revolution
As part of the climate program at Hewlett, we worked to reduce emissions from the transportation of people and goods. Through years of research, analysis, and collaboration with NGOs, government, industry, and academia, we developed a two-part strategy:

Decarbonize fuels used by cars, ships, trains, and planes
Optimize the efficiency of the overall transport system – that is, move more people and more goods with fewer vehicles, producing significantly fewer carbon emissions
While this approach itself didn’t change much in the last eight years, what has changed is the urban landscape itself.

Many cities around the world have gone from a small set of transportation choices to a variety of options, aided by information technology improvements and the extensive use of smart phones. It’s hard to imagine cities without ride-sharing companies such as Uber, Lyft, Didi, and Ola, but these are all companies that emerged in the last eight years.

Bike-sharing has also become a way of life in many cities – first with physical docks, and now with the invention of dockless and electric bikes. Companies like Ofo, Jump, and Mobike have existed for only a couple of years, yet they have revolutionized urban transportation, particularly in crowded metropolises like New York, Mexico City, Washington, Beijing, San Francisco, and many others.

The emergence of ride-hailing, bike-sharing and other innovations in mobility were made possible by entrepreneurs seizing an opportunity and forward-looking policy and leadership from local governments. One of Hewlett’s grantees, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, supported officials in Mexico City to implement Ecobici. Launched in 2013, it is the largest bike-sharing system in Latin America, with over 6,000 bikes replacing many car trips through dense neighborhoods of the city.

The same year, WRI Ross Center in India ran Rickshaw Challenge, the first accelerator for new mobility business for three-wheelers, which opened the door for many other improved first and last-mile connection services across the country.

Electric Vehicles Rising
In the last eight years, we’ve also seen the dramatic rise of electric vehicles (EVs) in many countries, such as the United States, Norway, Germany, Japan, and China, and ambitious commitments by developing nations like India and Costa Rica. There are now 3 million EVs in the world, and cities like Los Angeles, London, Shenzhen, and Bangalore have committed to all-electric public bus fleets.

As a program officer, I was given the opportunity to pivot our strategy to go beyond fixing our current internal combustion engines, to pushing for the industrial transformation of zero-emissions technologies. The rapid initial adoption and expansion of electric vehicles was made possible because of strong vision from leaders at national, state, and local governments, and because of sound policy – policies such as stringent vehicle emissions standards, vehicle mandates, consumer purchase incentives, and industrial incentives. I worked with many partners in the field to support these policies, bring knowledge to every corner, overcome barriers to consumers, foster new industry allies, and bring an equity perspective locally and globally.

The Hewlett Foundation and other philanthropic partners contributed to the electric vehicle revolution by supporting policy development and policy advocacy. First, we supported California’s pioneering efforts through the Zero Emission Vehicle Program and advocacy campaigns, such as Charge Ahead California. Composed of a strong coalition of organizations, such as Environment California, the Greenlining Institute, Natural Resource Defense Council, Coalition for Clean Air, and Communities for a Better Environment, the campaign aims to facilitate 1.5 million electric vehicles on the road by 2025 and ensure policies have an equity component, like incentivizing access and services for low-income communities.

Perhaps the most remarkable example of change that Hewlett was involved in is the New Energy Vehicle Mandate in China, one of the most ambitious countrywide policies for promoting electric vehicles in the world. If the mandate is fully implemented by 2020, China will have 4.5 million EVs. This policy benefited from collaboration across the Pacific, and organizations like the Energy Foundation China played an important part by commissioning studies and providing technical assistance.

Is It Enough?
Despite the progress on electric-friendly initiatives, we still have a long way to go. Clean vehicles are still just 2 percent of vehicles sales, and we need to get to at least at 30 percent by 2030, and close to 80 percent adoption by 2050, to ensure transport plays its role in the decarbonization of the global economy. The transportation sector is one of the largest contributors to carbon pollution and climate change; its share of emissions now constitutes 23 percent of the global share. Moreover, only a handful of countries in the Paris climate agreement – 9 percent – proposed a transport sector emission reduction target.

Likewise, new mobility services and cities need to find more ways to encourage shared rides and reduce the overall number of vehicles on urban streets. Some cities have reported that rather than reducing congestion, ride-hailing services are making things worse, for example.

I am confident that philanthropy will continue to provide space for experimentation to achieve these goals, whether through new technologies and business models, or the policies that enable the development of those innovations and steer them toward public benefits. I am excited to contribute to the next great wave of transportation innovation that ushers in both progress and opportunity for people and the planet worldwide.

A previous version of this blog appeared on Hewlett Foundation’s blog.

Margarita M. Parra was a Program Officer in the Environment Program at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation from 2010 to 2018. The Hewlett Foundation has and continues to support WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

9 Major Opportunities for Electric Buses & Trucks

Meeting of the Minds
By Joel Espino

When most people think of electric vehicles, we think of cars, like Teslas, Chevy Bolts and Nissan Leafs. But trucks and buses are going electric, too, and the impact on both our air and our economy could be huge.

In 2016, we at The Greenlining Institute joined forces with The Union of Concerned Scientists to analyze the growing electric truck and bus industry, producing the report “Delivering Opportunity: How Electric Buses and Trucks Can Create Jobs and Improve Public Health in California.” While we focused on California, where electric buses and trucks are taking off rapidly, what we found has major implications for the whole country. Especially at a time when many transit agencies across the country are committing to 100 percent electric, many states are increasing their efforts to get more electric cars, trucks, and buses on the road, and The Green New Deal is generating buzz and conversation on climate change.

Here are nine things we found.

1. Transportation is the largest contributor to global warming in California and nationwide.

Including carbon pollution from refining petroleum products, transportation accounts for more than 50 percent of global warming emissions in California, and the transportation sector recently overtook power plants as the largest contributor to climate change nationwide.

2. Trucks and buses form a major part of our air pollution problem.

Heavy-duty vehicles are the single largest source of smog-forming pollution in California. They also emit more particulate matter than all of the state’s power plants. And they make up seven percent of the state’s global warming emissions—an amount projected to increase as freight shipments grow.

3. Air pollution from transportation discriminates, hitting poor communities of color the hardest.

Poor communities suffer disproportionately from exposure to traffic-related pollution because they are more likely than wealthier neighborhoods to be near busy roads and highways. Breathing lung-damaging exhaust from vehicles on a daily basis leads to higher rates of pollution-related diseases such as cancer and heart attacks. Race matters, too: even for people in the same socioeconomic class, people of color are more likely than whites to be exposed to pollution from cars, trucks and buses.

In fact, a recent Union of Concerned Scientists analysis that quantified pollution from on-road sources reinforces this finding.

4. Electric trucks and buses are cleaner than diesel and natural gas vehicles.

Electric vehicles have zero tailpipe emissions, meaning you won’t have to gulp pollution while waiting for the bus or walking down the street. In terms of global warming emissions, smog forming emissions, and particulate matter; electric vehicles powered by clean electricity have the lowest emissions compared to any other vehicle technology, including natural gas. The clean air benefit continues even when you look at “life cycle” emissions from electricity generation and hydrogen production.

And these clean vehicles will only get cleaner: California will get at least half of its electricity from renewable resources by 2030, has virtually no coal power in the state, and will end contracts for coal power imported from other states by 2025. California also requires that at least 33 percent of hydrogen must be produced using renewable energy, a standard the state already exceeds. Bottom line: We’re blazing a path toward clean power that other states can follow.

5. Electric trucks and buses are far more energy efficient.

Depending on the type of vehicle, electric trucks and buses are up to four times more efficient than diesel and natural gas vehicles. This means that for the same amount of energy used to power a vehicle, the electric vehicle will travel up to four times as far. This can lead to significant savings in fuel costs.

6. Electric truck and bus technology is here and ready to clean the air today.

This isn’t a pie-in-the-sky future dream. Battery-powered electric trucks and buses have ranges over 100 miles. One company recently announced a transit bus with a 350-mile range. Fuel cell trucks and buses have long had ranges over 200 miles. While these vehicles may cost more to purchase, reduced fuel and maintenance costs mean the total cost of ownership of electric trucks and buses is becoming competitive with traditional technologies. Electric trucks and buses can accelerate and climb hills as well or better than diesel and natural gas vehicles. They’re quieter, too.

7. The heavy-duty EV industry is creating good jobs.

Some of the leading electric bus and truck manufacturers in California pay assemblers $13-$20 per hour for entry level jobs, which is considerably above typical pay for assembly jobs in California. These jobs can also lead workers into higher-skilled, well-paid occupations. When we asked representatives of heavy-duty EV companies what jobs were likely to grow the most if demand for heavy-duty EVs increases, they unanimously identified assembler positions. Increased investment in this technology should spur growth of good, well-paying jobs—especially if unions and community benefits agreements like the one BYD struck are in the mix.

8. This industry can be a great source of jobs for underserved communities—if workers get the training and skills they need.

Leading electric bus and truck companies in California typically require one to three years of related experience for assemblers, a higher standard than assembly jobs in general manufacturing. Jobs in EV manufacturing, charging and maintenance require significant electrical skills. These requirements can be barriers to employment for people from low-income communities. But good, readily accessible training programs can overcome this barrier and make sure those most in need of good jobs will get a fair shot.

9. It will take conscious effort to bring workers from marginalized communities into the electric truck and bus workforce.

We don’t currently have enough training programs accessible to those who need them. Manufacturers can help fix this by partnering with workforce training organizations and community colleges to establish pathways for training and certifying workers from these communities and placing them in quality jobs. This emerging industry needs effective, equitable workplace policies, programs, and practices to ensure opportunity for all.

You may not hear much about electric trucks and buses, but they’re here and growing. We have to put the policies and actions in place now so that we can leverage the clean air and economic benefits of this technology to fight environmental injustice and give an economic boost to people most in need.

The proposed Green New Deal has already begun to stimulate new discussions of the role of transportation in fighting climate change and strengthening communities. Electrification of trucks and buses should be part of plans going forward to fight climate change, clean our air and – with help from the right policies — bring new opportunities to underserved communities.

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?”

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 Blueprint for More Equitable Transportation Planning

Next City
By Sarah Trent

Streets are among the most used public assets, but for many in Najari Smith’s Richmond, Calif., community, those streets don’t feel like the safe, accessible public infrastructure they’re meant to be.

In 2012, Smith founded Rich City Rides as a way of taking back the streets and building human infrastructure — connection, community, and safety in numbers — where the built infrastructure has failed them. The organization and their cooperatively-owned bike shop offer repair workshops, a youth earn-a-bike program, and weekly group rides.

Smith has heard his local government talk about safety in terms of fixing potholes or providing bike lanes. His community, on the other hand, talks about safety in terms of being targeted by the police, who might stop them for a minor infraction like riding without a helmet or lights, and then pat them down. There is a disconnect between his community – largely people of color in this working class city – and the officials charged with assuring everyone’s safety on the streets.

After years of working to make his voice heard by participating in various planning committees in his city and the larger Bay Area, Smith realized that sitting at those committees’ tables wasn’t enough. For years, he says, “I was allowed to weigh in on decisions that were already made. Don’t come to me with something you’ve already determined to be an issue and look to me to cosign it. That’s tokenizing. And it’s hard because you have this idea that if only I brought more people like me to the table, we’d have some equality.”

“I didn’t realize until a couple of years ago that my trouble wasn’t with there not being enough people like me at the table, the issue was that it wasn’t my table,” Smith adds. “I didn’t get to determine what was on the menu. I want to be able to say, ‘This is what I want, and I want you to cook it up for me, experts!’”

A newly published transportation planning framework provides one possible blueprint to build that table. From The Greenlining Institute, an Oakland-based multi-ethnic public policy, research and advocacy organization, the “Mobility Equity Framework” is a tool for transportation planners and community advocates to assess, compare, and make decisions on transportation projects together.

“You don’t have to be an expert to see that our transportation infrastructure is really failing,” says Hana Creger, lead author of the framework.

Transportation planning needs to prioritize people over cars, Creger says. It especially needs to consider the day-to-day needs of people over the spectacle of a showy piece of new infrastructure. In order to get to that point, she says, “we need to prioritize equity and community power in planning and decision-making, especially in communities that are marginalized.”

Creger points to recent debate over a new Bay Bridge crossing between San Francisco and Oakland as an example of how not to approach transportation planning. Citing “intolerable” traffic, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and East Bay Congressperson Mark DeSaulnier in December urged the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission to build a second crossing between the two cities.

It would be a spectacle, especially standing next to the recently completed eastern span of the existing Bay Bridge (which at $6.5 billion cost $6.25 billion more than original cost estimates). It might serve a car-centric vision for the Bay Area, “but what are the needs of people where this new freeway would be built?” Creger asks. “How would it impact their health and lives? The community knows best what meets their needs. Do they need a new BART line instead? Or bus routes? They should decide rather than policy-makers advocating for a new bridge crossing.”

The Mobility Equity Framework offers a method to assess and compare different transportation modes based on positive and negative impacts on low-income people. It’s applicable in rural and suburban environments as well as urban, the Greenlining Institute says.

It also advocates for community planning processes like participatory budgeting to ensure that planners are actually addressing community needs.

While there are many ways to budget with community input, “participatory budgeting” refers to a structured process by which community members can make recommendations and direct decisions on public spending and planning. Growing in popularity, participatory budgeting was first introduced in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and has since been used in at least 46 jurisdictions across the U.S. and Canada, including Chicago, New York City, Seattle, and the Bay Area cities of Vallejo and Oakland.

Late last year, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) opened up $25 million in planning grants to regional and local transportation authorities with the recommendation that projects include participatory budgeting as part of their planning grant proposals.

Participatory budgeting is valuable in particular because of its proven success engaging historically disenfranchised communities in planning processes. These communities disproportionately rely on public transportation, are most heavily impacted by toxic smog and other negative environmental factors, and have long been excluded from transportation planning. Without taking these community’s needs into account by engaging them in planning and decision-making processes, public infrastructure fails to serve those who need it most.

The Greenlining Institute hopes that the framework will be adopted in whole or in part by government entities and included in transportation planning guidelines across California to ensure transportation truly benefits all.

“I really do appreciate having smooth paved bike lanes to ride on,” Smith says. “But what I value more is knowing that people in the community feel like those lanes are for us, that those bike lanes are my bike lanes, and those trails are my trails. That they were made for me.”