Housing, a cornerstone of the "American Dream," is the largest form of privately wealth held by families across the United States. This infographic draws attention to the intersection of housing as both a globally-recognized human right and as a commodity in a global stock market controlled by the wealthy. We urge readers to acknowledge the history behind the long-standing racial wealth divide and to consider the interplay between federal housing policies and risky financial practices and their impacts on the divide.
We are releasing this infographic just days after Duke University released a new study, which found that Black and Latino homebuyers are paying more for housing than Whites. Earlier this year, shortly after the release of UFE's report on housing and racial inequality, a Brandeis University study highlighted homeownership as the number one driver of the growing racial wealth gap.
How many studies need to be published before policymakers begin treating housing like a human right and not a commodity to be gambled with on Wall Street? Perhaps more importantly, what must be done to unite and galvanize communities—of all races and classes—to push lawmakers and to take control of the situation where they're falling short? Inequality has become worse than most people think. Economic apartheid has gripped our country. But, money is no match for people power.
Learn more about what's happening on the ground with State of the Dream 2013: A Long Way From Home. Share this information and invite others to join the conversation and take part in efforts to address racial injustice in your community.
Infographic design by Design Action Collective
This amazing web video, posted by YouTube user, politizane, animates research by Michael Norton (Harvard University) and Dan Ariely (Duke University) about the dramatic differential between people's perceptions and the reality of the wealth divide in the United States. Their findings suggest that Americans overwhelmingly want to live in a more equal society—like Sweden's, specifically—but also that too many people just don't know how bad the economic situation has gotten.
Each year, we train hundreds of organizers, activists, educators, and others involved in social and economic justice work. Much of what we do is about engaging people—organizers, activists, educators, and others—in a conversation about the economy, and this video is rich with opportunities for dialogue. You can also play a role.
Share it with your online and real life networks. It's easy! Copy & paste this link everywhere: http://bit.ly/YYqIFm. Tell people why you think it's important. Ask for others' reflections. Urge them to consider the implications—social, economic, political, ecological, etc.—of an economy marked by massive wealth inequality. And, encourage them to become involved in efforts large and small to build a new economy on the principles of democracy, sustainability, and cooperation—one where everyone contributes their fair share and everyone has the same opportunity to succeed.
Youth activism is always very exciting. We were inspired by the dedication, creativity, and energy of the young people at the annual Youth Jobs Coalition (YJC) rally in Boston. The participants, thousands of Boston Public School students, spent their class recess working together to make the youth unemployment crisis more visible to the community. The YJC demonstration, staged in Boston's Financial District, publicized the connection between concentration of wealth and political power in the financial sector and budget cuts that directly affect funding for youth jobs.
The absence of job opportunities is making it difficult for young people to build skills for future success and earn money to help their families. Young people of color are experiencing the greatest struggle. Black teen unemployment, for example, is nearly twice as high as White teen unemployment, which is deepening the racial economic divide.
|Angie Auguste and Princess Mansaray led lobby day trainings for youth activists at the Massachusetts State House as a part of the YJC day of action.|
We were disappointed, though not surprised, to see that the first to comment on our posts of support were skeptics who questioned the merits of the teens' efforts. As one Facebook user opined, "maybe being on the streets applying for jobs would have been more productive."
If only it were that simple. Our reply:
In real terms, unemployment may be upwards of 80% higher than reported when we factor in underemployment. Teen unemployment is at a remarkable high, with Black teens faring worst. This should be a concern to all of us because of the many social ills connected to poverty and extreme inequality. We view the actions and continued efforts of these young people through the Youth Jobs Coalition and other groups as a sign of hope. They are making a choice to work together in peaceful demonstration to address an economic system that's falling short, with inefficient allocation of public resources driven by a concentration of wealth and power. We hope you will consider that, in addition to solid individual initiative, we'll need systemic remedies to unemployment and other economic struggles. The momentum for change won't be generated in board rooms and legislative sessions alone. To make the problems and solutions more visible, we have to get some feet on the street with a unified message.
As banal as it sounds, young people are our future. Peaceful protest has helped to generate positive change throughout U.S. history. Should we not encourage the youth community to be more engaged in this way?
Top photo c/o Steve Schnapp
Responding to the unprecedented level of outside spending in last year's election cycle, Responsible Wealth has joined a coalition of investors to step up its campaign to press companies to refrain entirely from making political contributions. The coalition, including Clean Yield Asset Management, Green Century Capital Management, Zevin Asset Management, and Harrington Investments, has filed resolutions with Chevron, Bank of America, 3M, Target, Starbucks, ExxonMobil, and the EQT Corporation. Responsible Wealth members filed at Bank of America and Target.
Because of the 2010 Citizens United ruling, so-called “independent” or outside spending in federal elections—made in support of candidates by groups with no supposed connections to their campaigns—contributions increased nearly fivefold between 2010-2012, from $300 million to $1.3 billion (Center for Responsive Politics). Just last week, Demos & the US PIRG Education Fund released a report estimating that for-profit corporations were responsible for at least $101 million in political spending in the 2012 elections, although the actual amount could be up to four times that amount due to vagaries in reporting requirements.
“In 2012, Chevron gave $2.5 million dollars of company funds to a Super PAC—the single largest corporate donation to a Super PAC ever. Shareholders don’t want to pay for Chevron’s political preferences or contribute to the untamed spending unleashed by the Citizens United ruling. It’s time for Chevron to listen to its shareholders and stop throwing millions of dollars into the wind.” - Leslie Samuelrich, Senior Vice President of Green Century Capital Management
At the same time, we’re seeing a rise in public opposition and backlash to corporate influence in the democratic process. In February 2010, immediately following the Citizens United decision, an ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 80% of respondents opposed Citizens United, across partisan lines. Political spending and lobbying undermine the trust of the consumer.
“By the sheer volume of money involved, dollar democracy by corporations is drowning out individual political voices and undermining the essence of the American political system. ExxonMobil’s huge political donations are symptomatic of this corrosion of democracy, so as shareholders, we have a responsibility to put a stop to this dangerous behavior.” - Sonia Kowal, Director of Socially Responsible Investing at Zevin Asset Management
And contrary to conventional wisdom, campaign contributions may actually stunt the long-term growth of a company. A 2012 University of Minnesota study found that companies contributing to political action committees and other outside political groups between 1991-2004 grew more slowly than other firms, invested less, spent less on research and development, and were linked to poor corporate governance.
By changing their policies around political spending, companies have an opportunity to set a higher standard in business, raising the bar for their competitors. At Target, Bank of America, ExxonMobil, 3M, and EQT, Responsible Wealth and its partners are calling for company directors to conduct a study examining the feasibility of adopting a no-spending policy. Chevron is being asked to completely desist from political giving. And at Starbucks, the request is for a complete end to political spending while also asking the company to refrain from establishing a political action committee, a vehicle for raising and spending money from employees and shareholders.
Responsible Wealth members Marnie Thompson & Stephen Johnson (Greensboro, NC) and RW Director Mike Lapham are currently in negotiations with Target executives and are pressing the company to be more transparent about its process and reasons for engaging in political giving. If Target changes its policy around political giving, it’s possible the bar will be raised for its competitors. Only time will tell, but for now, we’re keeping the pressure on.
CLICK HERE to see the full press release.
UFE's tenth annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day report, State of the Dream 2013: A Long Way From Home, outlines the state of the racial wealth divide in the U.S. and puts forward creative solutions for addressing persistent racial inequities.
Black and Latino families continue to have far less wealth than White families and have emerged from the Great Recession more indebted and less able than White families to face the economic challenges before them.
Housing, an integral piece of the increasingly elusive American Dream, has much to do with the hemmorhaging of wealth in communities of color. This report examines the link between housing and asset-building policies, the impacts of those policies on communities of color, and urges a targeted, goal-oriented policy approach that is guided by our shared values and principles.
Fifty years ago this year, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. shared a vision for a future of equality for all people, regardless of race, in his "I Have a Dream" speech. He spent the final years of his life working with thousands of others to challenge economic inequality and racial injustice. Although their efforts made historic civil rights victories possible, much work remains to close the racial divide. We are, indeed, a long way from home.
Read the report today. Share it with your community. Start a conversation. Speak out and work together to make a new economy possible.
Public policies are intended to be a reflection of a country’s values and priorities. In reality, tax and economic policy outcomes represent the wants of the financially enriched, not the needs of the bottom 99%.
The U.S. may be a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities, but wealthy, white males comprise the vast majority of our supposedly representative legislature. Nearly half of Congressional members are millionaires. In 2010, the median net worth of U.S. Senators and Representatives was $2.63 million and $756,765, respectively, compared to a median net worth of $66,740 for U.S. households.
On the other hand, two historically marginalized groups—women and people of color—are dramatically underrepresented at the policy tables. Women account for only 16.8% of Congress (27% of them are women of color). People of color represent only 15.1% of Congress, with only four seats in the Senate.
As such, the interests of the wealthy dominate public debates while policies of particular importance for women and communities of color struggle for acknowledgement, let alone forward movement. Deficit hysteria has prompted harmfully misguided cuts to the social safety net while maintaining unnecessary tax cuts for the wealthy, painting a frightening picture of who our elected officials actually serve.
Throughout the presidential campaign, many have the criticized candidates for being “out of touch” with the majority of Americans. It can be reasonably argued that, with a few exceptions, Congress is as well. A recent report by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) points out that some legislators have been loyal advocates for the 99%, while others have not.
The report, “A Congressional Report Card for the 99%,” grades Senators and Representatives based on their voting histories on inequality-related Congressional actions. While the report’s focus is mainly on policies addressing economic inequality, it leaves room for a deeper analysis of the impacts of policies on persistent racial and gender disparities.
Nearly all of the 40 congressional actions evaluated by IPS—including bills related to taxes and the federal budget, jobs and wages, education, housing, poverty, and healthcare—have disproportionately affected communities of color and women.
The Paycheck Fairness Act, for example, would have helped to ensure equal pay for equal work. This measure would have been a boon for women, who still make 77¢ to every dollar a man makes. The Senate failed to secure the 60 votes needed to advance the Act. The oppositions’ main argument—that the bill would burden small businesses—is unfounded and yet another strike in the conservative war on women.
Another bill, the Half in Ten Act, aims to cut poverty in half in the next ten years. The poorest among us, who are disproportionately people of color, were experiencing economic hardship long before the Great Recession began. Blacks and Latinos respectively make up 27.6% and 25.3% of those in poverty and would benefit greatly by this effort. The bill has 68 co-sponsors but has yet to reach a vote in the House or the Senate. Unfortunately, as politically polarized as Congress has become, even the most sensible policies, like Half in Ten, struggle to gain traction.
Moving forward, we should push lawmakers to more carefully examine the impacts of policies on those hardest hit by inequality, like women and people of color. As citizens, we must all fight to make ours a more truly representative democracy, where the voices of those with the biggest bank accounts carry no more volume than those with the smallest.
Our latest report, Born On Third Base, takes the Forbes 400 list to task for spinning a misleading tale about the self-made man and what it takes to become wealthy in America. The Forbes 400 and its extreme examples of economic mobility are the exceptions, not the rule.
In follow-up to the national political
sideshows conventions, MSNBC's Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry hosted a conversation about the Republicans' 2012 slogan, "We Built It." Small business owners discussed the role of government investments—funded by tax revenue—in bolstering entrepreneurialism and job creation by small businesses.
Click here to view because our website doesn't like MSNBC's embeddable code. :\
Virtually every speaker used the phrase, with sometimes misty-eyed stories of bootstrapping, "I did it alone" success (with no help from government). Signs featuring the phrase hung over the main stage and filled the convention center, boasting: We built it! We built it! We built it!
Meanwhile, fact checkers, writers, and progressive organizations fired back, both recounting the full quote from President Obama (his "You didn't build that" comment was referring to the roads and infrastructure, not the businesses themselves) and making the case for why businesses do, in fact, depend heavily on public investments.
This debate is only getting started. As NRP's Ron Elving wrote, "The central theme… in Tampa is about to become the party's mantra for the fall." So get used to a lot of talk about who actually built it, what they built, and why it matters. Looking beyond this one election, this is a critical debate about core values that shape our views on taxes and the role of government in our society.
In March, months before Obama's statement in Virginia, we published a book entitled The Self-Made Myth: And the Truth About How Government Helps Individuals and Businesses Succeed. In it, we contrast the "self-made myth" with the "built-together reality." Little did we know when we came up with the term "built-together," that this would become a defining theme of this election cycle.
The stories of business leaders tell a more honest and complete story of their success. Jerry Fiddler, founder of Wind River Systems (sold to Intel for $880M), talks about publicly-funded research and land-grand universities as key to his business success. Jim Sherblom, former CFO of the Genzyme, notes the importance of the SEC in providing a stable financial market. Kim Jordan, CEO of New Belgium Brewing, declares "beer is heavy" as she emphasized the importance of roads and transportation infrastructure in making her business possible.
We also investigated people like the Koch Brothers who graze their cattle on federal land and use eminent domain law for their pipelines. We examine Donald Trump, whose father constructed FHA-guaranteed homes for US naval personnel, leaving the junior Trump with a sizable inheritance. Similarly, Ross Perot's software business rode to success on the backs of the federal Medicare program.
Governmental supports and public infrastructure are an important part of any success story in America, along with a bit of luck, various head starts in life, privilege, and the contributions of others, including the many employees (The AFL-CIO responded to last weeks convention theme with an email titled, "No, WE built it"). Such an honest and more rounded assessment helps put the "self-made" narrative in perspective.
But that's not what we heard last week. We heard, "I built it," and from that bootstrapping narrative comes a host of policy implications.
If they can convince us that the successful business leaders achieve their wealth through gumption and hard work alone, then extreme inequality is simply the result from their exceptional intelligence and hard work of those at the top …and the sloth of others. Efforts to rein in that inequality are thus viewed as "punishing success." Efforts of workers to demand a fair wage are viewed as "thuggary." Taken to its logical conclusion, this frame helps to fuel an anti-tax, anti-government, and anti-worker agenda.
The business leaders we spoke with understand that their hard work was matched in many ways by the contributions of society, not to mention a good bit of luck. As such, they take a very different view on taxes and the role of government, actively speaking out for a strong estate tax and ending the Bush tax cuts for top income-earners. Many also insist on paying their workers fair wages, or even sharing ownership with their workers.
In the weeks ahead, we have an opportunity to open a more meaningful discussion about the origins of individual and business success, and in doing so, shifting the public policy debates in positive ways. We sincerely hope our book, The Self-Made Myth, is a valuable contribution to this discussion. But we also need writers, bloggers, and organizers across the nation to pick up on this message. If we're going to create a new narrative, we'll need to "build it" together.