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Closing the Wealth Gap: Chicago’s Moonshot

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Dear friends,

Today the Chicago Community Trust is embarking on a transformational journey that is as formidable—and challenging—as the drive to achieve space travel. Just as the Apollo missions changed the course of technological innovation in our world, we believe our journey can chart a new course of economic mobility in our region.

Our moonshot is to close the wealth gap between Latinx, Black and White households in the Chicago metropolitan area—a gap that has been on the rise for a half-century. The racial and ethnic wealth gap has bolted the door to opportunity for generations of people. It is the root of our region’s most significant challenges, from a stagnant economy to public safety to health to family well-being. It has slowed the socioeconomic progress for our entire region.

The stakes are huge; the impact enormous. According to Harvard economist Raj Chetty, Chicago ranks 50th out of the 50 largest cities in America in terms of racial disparities and upward mobility between Black and White men. Further, 65 percent of Black and Latinx households do not have enough saved to live above the poverty line for three months, compared with 28 percent of White households.

We cannot afford to postpone addressing the wealth gap. It is an issue that has divided our region and it is an issue that now threatens our ability to grow.

And we all feel the repercussions. More than a matter of dollars and cents, the wealth gap is about the loss of investment in human capital, and their potential and productivity. According to a recent McKinsey & Company report, the widening racial wealth gap will cost the U.S. economy between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion over the next decade. Meanwhile, working to reduce segregation alone would more than double our average annual GDP growth.

So far, dealing with the effects of wealth inequality has eluded the combined efforts of myriad governments and institutions. But large problems are not beyond tangible solutions. In the past two decades, we have reduced by half the number of people on earth living in extreme poverty. We have eradicated smallpox. Polio is almost gone. And we have put humans on the moon.

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy made lunar flight an explicit and imperative goal. “We choose to go to the moon,” Kennedy said, for the same reasons that humans made commitments to scale mountains or span oceans. “Not because they are easy, but because they are hard”—and because that challenge is “one that we are unwilling to postpone.”

We cannot afford to postpone addressing the wealth gap. It is an issue that has divided our region and it is an issue that now threatens our ability to grow. The lack of economic opportunity for people of color has been built into the fabric of our society over the last century. Lack of access to mortgages, contract home buying and redlining of neighborhoods limited wealth creation opportunities through home ownership. Lack of access to quality education, unequal practices in criminal justice, predatory loans and underinvestment in neighborhood services all contributed to the growing inequality we see today. Honestly and openly acknowledging and addressing the central role that racism and discrimination have played in creating wealth inequality will be critical to creating positive change.

We choose to take on this issue. Not because it is easy, but because it is necessary. It is consistent with our legacy over the past century and our vision of a thriving, equitable and connected region where all people have the opportunity to realize their potential.

Working toward this goal takes shared commitment. Solutions won’t come overnight, but rather through small wins, bigger next steps and sustained action.

There’s no real mystery as to how to go about it. We have seen communities go from poverty to prosperity before. We can advance policies and practices to increase the share of economic prosperity for Black and Latinx households. We can push for more equitable investments to be made and sustained in under-invested Black and Latinx communities. We can build the capacity of organizations serving black and brown communities. We can connect leaders, networks and coalitions that are leading grassroots change in our neighborhoods to advance community priorities and shared agendas.

Working toward this goal takes shared commitment. Solutions won’t come overnight, but rather through small wins, bigger next steps and sustained action.

This year we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the moon landing—a mission made possible not simply because of a dream, but because of political will, adequate resource allocations and a strong plan. Closing the wealth gap is our moonshot. And we are making no assumptions about this goal; it will require the same kind of political will, resources, fortitude, collective energy and time—and the same willingness to take risks—as reaching the moon.

In the months, years and decades ahead, The Chicago Community Trust will mobilize the Chicago region to choose equity. Please join us on this incredible journey. Choose our future.