Our Story - UFE's History


Founded in 1994 as Share the Wealth, the organization in its first few years focused on getting economic inequality “on the public’s radar screen” by leading the Growing Divide workshop for a wide range of audiences. The main message was that the excessive concentration of wealth & power at the top has dire consequences for our nation, that the economy is not a force of nature but formed by rules and structures that people make, and that social movements can reduce inequality by demanding systemic change that includes changing government and corporate policy. Action components in 1995-1998 were concerned with corporate welfare, income stagnation, and the widening CEO/worker pay gap, in general focusing on issues of income disparity. 


In 1996 and 1997, we expanded our media capacity to disseminate reports, actions and campaign information. We also established a network of volunteer trainers by conducting three-day Training of Trainer Institutes (TOTs) that taught participants how to lead The Growing Divide and other UFE popular economics education workshops.


In January 1997, we launched the Responsible Wealth project, and in 1997, we convened the first Responsible Wealth conference to bring together business leaders and high net worth individuals, who agreed that “inequality hurts everyone.” We also started our shareholder work, aimed at reforming corporate behavior. Responsible Wealth launched the Tax Fairness Pledge, giving upper-income taxpayers a way to redirect their capital gains tax cuts toward tax fairness organizing efforts.


In 1998, we published The Activist Cookbook, a creative action handbook, Shifting Fortunes, focusing attention on wealth disparities, and Economic Apartheid in America, a primer on inequality published by the New Press and widely used in classrooms, and an economics curriculum guide, Teaching Economics As If People Mattered. We entered into a partnership with the Institute for Policy Studies to co-publish Executive Excess, an annual report on pay disparities.


In 2001, Chuck Collins, co-founder of UFE and Executive Director, stepped down to become the organization’s Program Director. Meizhu Lui took the helm to formalize the organization, focus our programs, and significantly expand UFE’s inclusion of the racial economic divide in all our programmatic work. The Racial Wealth Divide program was created to help our constituents look at economic inequality through a racial lens and to understand the role of asset-building in addressing racial economic disparities.


Between 2001 and 2003, UFE’s leadership in the national fight to preserve the Estate Tax drew in funding resources, media coverage and capacity to work on broader taxation issues. State budget crises provided us with a new opportunity to involve people in looking at growing inequality, and the importance of tax policy. In 2003, UFE shifted its focus on the connection between global trade policies and inequality to include the growing impact that militarism and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were having on the economy. At this time we also expanded our work with Central American immigrants, developing Spanish language workshops and materials, to help counter to the wedge being driven among our constituent groups by the demonizing of immigrants, particularly those from Latin America.


In 2004, UFE created the Tax Fairness Organizing Collaborative (TFOC) to convene a national network of state level grassroots groups educating and organizing for progressive taxation. Also in 2004, UFE issued our first State of the Dream report, exploring racial disparities of wealth and income. UFE has issued State of the Dream reports each year since, garnering media attention, highlighting persistent inequalities across the lines of race, and developing relations with racial justice groups across the country.


In 2005, UFE organized its first bilingual Training of Trainers Institute in collaboration with the Highlander Center in Tennessee. This marked a significant expansion of UFE’s popular economics education work with Spanish-speaking organizers, trainers, and teachers, and activists. Since then, we have led six bilingual or Spanish-language TOTs around the country.


In 2006, the publication of The Color of Wealth and subsequent book tour brought UFE’s message of the growing concentration of wealth and power and the systematic implementation of economic and social policies that widened the gap between white people and people of color, to a national audience, as well as to communities most effected by economic inequality.


In 2007, UFE revised and re-published our popular textbook “Teaching Economics as if People Mattered.” The previous edition (© 2000) had sold out. Also in 2007, Meizhu Lui stepped down as executive director as UFE entered an extended period of transition, including a revisiting of internal governance, along with a series of interim directors. Meanwhile, the work of UFE continued.


In December 2007, UFE launched a new website using Web 2.0 technology. As part of that upgrade, many of our popular education workshops are now available to be downloaded for free. There are an average of 170 workshop material downloads per month. The Spanish-language “Economia Justa” website, launched in late 2008, contains much of the content of our faireconomy.org website in Spanish.


Our fifth annual State of the Dream report in January 2008, analyzed the sub-prime lending debacle. This report was a timely indictment of the predatory lending practices of America’s largest banks, one of the practices that led to the financial crash and subsequent Great Recession.


In the spring and summer of 2009, UFE’s Responsible Wealth project partnered with TFOC member groups in Connecticut and New York to issue open letters signed by high-income individuals in those states calling for new state income taxes on high-income earners. In both states, this effort helped lead to passage of new top income tax brackets.


In August 2009, UFE hired a new executive director, Brian Miller, bringing to an end the extended transition period since the departure of Meizhu Lui in 2007. Most recently, Brian served as executive director of Tennesseans for Fair Taxation for 12 years, one of the state groups that has formed the core of UFE’s Tax Fairness Organizing Collaborative.


In December 2009, UFE organized a national teleconference, with Bill Gates Sr., Vanguard Founder John Bogle, and David Rockefeller, calling for Congress to not allow the estate tax to expire on January 1, 2010, and pass a robust estate tax law modeled on the McDermott bill. This press event, and subsequent op ed campaign, brought national media attention to the call for a strong estate tax. While the tax did expire on January 1, 2010, UFE continues to organize support for a permanent fix and patch that goes retroactive to January 1.


In January 2010, UFE issued the 7th annual State of the Dream report. This new report brought focus to the growing inequality amidst the Great Recession and the need for targeted jobs programs for communities hardest hit by the recession. The report led to coverage in national papers such as the New York Times and the Washington Post, along with dozens of radio stations, print media, and internet sites across the country.



In 2011, with the rise of the Occupy movement, the Popular Education team experienced a four-fold increase in requests for workshop materials. UFE”s Tax Fairness Pledge highlighted preferential treatment of capital gains and dividends. It was covered by an Associated Press story appearing in hundreds of publications. The State of the Dream report covered new government policies around shrinking taxes and cutting government programs.



In November 2012, UFE defeated a regressive ballot initiative in New Hampshire and Oregon through its Tax Fairness Organizing Collaborative (now known as the Inclusive Economy Network). On the heels of this big victory, the Responsible Wealth Project won a first increase in the federal estate tax in 28 years. Famous signees included Bill Gates, Sr, Warren Buffet, President Jimmy Carter and George Soros.



In 2013, UFE’s Racial Wealth Divide staff led a workshop at White Privilege Conference in Seattle. The Popular Economics Education team hosted a Texas Training of Trainers. In January of 2013, UFE publishes its annual State of the Dream report highlighting U.S. housing policies that deepened the racial wealth divide over the past 50 years.




At the start of 2014, UFE finished it’s strategic plan with a renewed commitment to raise up the voices of low wage workers. In October, UFE kicked off a multi-year partnership with the Highlander Institute planning to host bilingual institutes around economic justice. The State of the Dream report is published covering predatory practices of the alternative financial services sector and the lack of banking access for communities of color.



In 2015, UFE got a new Director (Jeannette Huezo) and a new website.

Read news, updates, and other highlights from 2015 here.



Read news, updates, and other highlights from 2016 here.



Read news, updates, and other highlights from 2017 here.



Read news, updates, and other highlights from 2018 here.



Read news, updates, and other highlights from 2019 here.



Read news, updates, and other highlights from 2020 here.




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Boston, MA 02110
(617) 423-2148


711 Mason Road
Durham, NC 27712

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