UFE exposes and challenges the deep-seated systemic causes of inequality: institutionalized racism, low wages, exorbitant CEO compensation, regressive tax policies, and more. We engage in state and federal policy debates, provide trainings and support for organizers across the nation, and publish illuminating reports. UFE’s goal is to build a vibrant economic justice movement, help people “connect the dots,” and work towards solutions that address inequality at its roots.
- UFE’s signature Economics for Everyone programs use popular education methodology to strengthen grassroots power by sharing an interactive and accessible analysis of the economy.
- Our Inclusive Economy Network brings together grassroots groups in strategic states to push for progressive and equitable public policy.
- We use creative communications to challenge popularly-held myths about wealth creation and expose the structures of power and policies that maintain extreme economic inequality.
- Our Responsible Wealth Project organizes wealthy progressives and business owners – those in the top 5% of income and assets in this country – to use their influential voices in the fight for a fair economy.
UFE believes in a broad-based movement to build power from the bottom up and unite the many voices speaking out against inequality. We seek opportunities to connect low-wage worker networks to broader state and national economic justice coalitions in support of progressive taxes and a robust public sector, critical strategies against rising inequality.
We're building a movement of movements.
ECONOMICS FOR EVERYONE: From October 2014 through September 2015, UFE led workshops and trainings for 2,329 participants in 13 states and Ontario, and 115 people from 28 states downloaded training materials from our website for use in high schools, colleges and universities and labor education programs. Our most popular workshops are “The Growing Divide” and “Closing the Racial Wealth Divide.”
Each year we offer at least two “open” Institutes, which draw a mix of organizers, social justice advocates, foundation officers, and others. This year we offered 2 open Institutes: one at the Highlander Center in Tennessee in late October 2014 and one in the Boston area in May 2015. We will be returning to Highlander this fall for an advanced training (see more below).
STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIPS: UFE educators are currently partnering with Minnesotans for a Fair Economy (MFE) and Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL), the dynamic low-wage worker movement in the Twin Cities, to help them mobilize against wage theft and other abuses by big box retailers. UFE is building the coalition’s capacity to use Popular Education methodology to strengthen and unite their various campaigns, raise consciousness, and empower stronger leaders and organizers. In November 2014, we led a “mini-institute” for MFE’s annual leadership gathering. Since then, UFE has been collaborating with MFE & CTUL to design a curriculum module on “Structural Racism and Capitalism” for their annual Workers’ Conference in December 2015, with a goal of engaging 2,000 participants.
In October 2014, we began a multi-year partnership with the renowned Highlander Center in Tennessee with an open Institute for a diverse group of 35 organizers and social justice activists from all around the country. This training was also our first to use simultaneous interpretation to create a more open and inclusive space for all participants. In October 2015, we will return to Highlander to lead “Liberation Economics,” an advanced institute for experienced facilitators. We are excited to welcome popular educators from El Salvador, Equipo Maíz, as co-facilitators.
We are also in year two of a four-year partnership with United Methodist Women (UMW), a national faith-based organization. This spring, UFE conducted a series of workshops for staff and volunteers of their Global Ministries. And leading up to UMW’s July 2015 conference in Chicago, UFE co-developed a workshop “Overworked and Undervalued: Women, Race & the Economy” and trained a cohort of 14 facilitators in popular education methodology. This cohort then led seven concurrent trainings at the conference for150 attendees.
MULTILINGUAL JUSTICE: Language is power – and the language of economics is frequently used to distort, deceive and distract. As emphasized above, UFE’s Economics for Everyone works hard to make information accessible to those who need it most. Similarly, our commitment to Multilingual Justice is derived from a language-power analysis. In the US the dominant language is English. Since colonization, documents in English have been used to control, subjugate, exploit and oppress.
Most often the burden is placed on the non-English speakers, perpetuating feelings of powerlessness and inaccessibility. At our October 2014 Training of Trainers, held at the Highlander Center in Tennessee, we implemented simultaneous interpretation (Spanish and English) with headsets for all participants. We intentionally created a space where language was no barrier to anyone, part of our ongoing dedication to confronting the language-power dynamic. Although the use of headsets was met with some resistance at first, by the end of the first day, participants reported that the experience was transformational.
In July 2015, UFE presented a workshop titled “Multilingual Justice: Going Beyond Translation” at the annual Netroots Nation Conference. Jeannette Huezo, UFE’s executive director and log-time popular educator, co-led this workshop with language justice expert, Tony Macias. We are committed, going forward, to provide simultaneous interpretation at all of our workshops and institutes.
We're grounding our work in specific states.
The Right is actively targeting states – especially in the South – working to take over statehouses and governorships, and rolling back decades of progress on progressive tax and budget reform, as well as civil and voting rights.
Recently, a number of Republican governors have been pushing to replace progressive personal and corporate income taxes with expanded – and highly regressive – consumption (sales) taxes, shifting more of the tax burden to those who can least afford it. In Kansas, this radical experiment by Governor Brownback has left the State with a serious budget shortfall estimated to be in the hundreds of millions.
Through our Inclusive Economy Network (formerly the Tax Fairness Organizing Collaborative), UFE is fighting these schemes in a few key battleground states and in states with strong potential for progressive reform. UFE has identified Tennessee and Florida as key battleground states and Massachusetts as a state with promise for progressive reform. And, in June 2015, we opened a field office in Durham, NC to be closer to our expanded program work in the South.
FLORIDA: We are working with the Rural Coalition/Caucus of the Equal Voice for Florida Families Network to use Popular Economics Education to bring tax fairness organizations together with low-wage worker networks. In January 2015, UFE led a second intensive training with this coalition. Two coalition leaders will be attending the advanced institute at the Highlander in Tennessee in October 2015 to continue to strengthen their use of popular education in their organizing campaigns.
TENNESSEE: In October 2014, UFE supported Tennesseans for Fair Taxation as they tried to defeat a Right Wing-sponsored ballot measure that would constitutionally prohibit a state income tax. Ultimately – and sadly for the working people of Tennessee – the amendment passed and now Tennessee is a model for how the Right will continue to mount their anti-tax agenda in other states.
We cannot give up on Tennessee. These campaigns embolden anti-tax zealots everywhere, even in more liberal states such as Massachusetts. Going forward, we are continuing to engage a broad coalition in a participatory storytelling and organizing campaign called “Tomorrow’s Tennessee” to put forward a vision for an economy that works for all. In early October 2015, UFE convened a “Convergence Conference” that brought together grassroots economic, social and environmental justice groups to develop a bold plan for challenging austerity and injustice in the state.
MASSACHUSETTS: UFE is part of Raise Up Massachusetts, a 3-year fair share tax and revenue campaign to fund much-needed education and transportation programs. While the Massachusetts economy has recovered since the 2009 crash, the state has high inequality, with Boston in the top 5 cities with the highest inequality. According to a recent report, 85% of the jobs that have been added since 2009 are low-paying jobs such as food and janitorial service, and home health. In addition, major tax cuts enacted between 1998 and 2001, during stronger economic times, have led to chronic state budget gaps and a reduction in funding for education and transportation.
Although widely known as a progressive state, Massachusetts actually has a regressive tax structure with a flat income tax, in which everyone pays the same rate. The wealthiest 1% pay a much smaller percentage of their income than middle and low income residents. A new fair share income tax would increase the marginal tax rate for the wealthiest individuals – those with incomes over $1 million. The first million would still be taxed at the standard rate of 5.15%. Because the state constitution only allows one rate on each type of income, this change requires an amendment to the Massachusetts constitution. United for a Fair Economy is co-designing and leading a training program, using popular education methodology, to help activists gather signatures for the first phase of this campaign.
Lean Organization, Large Impact
Our annual “State of the Dream” reports, released on Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, track the progress towards MLK’s dream of racial and economic equality. These reports challenge the “post-racial society” narrative by examining the racial wealth divide through a particular issue (housing, foreclosures, health care, etc.). “State of the Dream 2015: Underbanked and Overcharged” exposed the historic and contemporary racial aspects of the “unbanked” and “underbanked.”
Building on “State of the Dream 2015,” UFE is evaluating a potential national campaign to end exclusionary banking practices. There are over 93 million “unbanked” or “underbanked” people in the US, disproportionally in low-income communities and communities of color. Most banks fail to offer services to this population, resulting in under-regulated predatory industries that charge exorbitant fees, including payday lenders, auto title lenders, and check cashers. As a result, $103 billion is stripped each year from communities that can least afford it, further deepening the racial wealth gap.
We are considering a number of solutions to this problem. One promising idea is “Postal Banking,” which would provide publicly-owned, nonprofit, accessible banking through the 32,000 USPS branches. Post offices currently offer money orders and remittances and thus have an existing relationship with the unbanked. Implementing simple checking and savings accounts would be an extension of services already offered, without needing to pass through the gridlock of the current Congress.
UFE is also exploring the restoration of the Federal Estate Tax to pre-2000 levels and directing a portion of the revenue to a new childhood savings program. A $1,000 savings bond would be given to every child at birth with an additional matching program to a total of $2,000 per child. Such a plan would raise an additional $40 billion each year and affect only .5% of all estates in the country. This initiative has the potential to expand educational and economic opportunity for low- and moderate-income families. With approximately 4 million children born each year, such a tax would be a major investment in the future – a “pay it forward” plan for generations to come.
Another exciting and related opportunity is the national effort to enact a financial transaction tax – known as the Robin Hood Tax. The Robin Hood Tax would raise an estimated $500 billion in revenue per year to support public services, including education, infrastructure and research funding. In Europe, a financial services tax, known locally as the Tobin Tax, is already a reality in 11 nations and the movement is advancing in the EU.
New Era, New Leadership
Jeannette Huezo became UFE’s new executive director in February 2015. Originally from El Salvador, Jeannette came to the US in 1989 and has spent her life working for justice and social change. For 14 years, she has coordinated UFE’s Popular Education work and facilitated many workshops, particularly for Latino groups. In addition to her work with UFE, Jeannette currently serves on the Board of Access Strategies and the National Executive Board of United Association for Labor Education (UALE) representing community organizations, and is a member of the Expert for Color Initiative of the Insight Center for Community Economic Development.
We are proud to lift up Jeannette as a dynamic Latina who exemplifies the leadership qualities we need and who reflects the constituencies that we work with, as well as the changing demographics of the US.