Building the Pathway for Economic Equity: How the Trust is Developing a Policy Agenda

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For decades, the disparate economic fortunes between Black, Latinx and white Americans have become a growing problem. As a young sociology student, the data that I saw in the early 1990s told the same story that we see today. The gaps in income, wealth and economic mobility across race and ethnicity remain calcified at unjust heights:

  • The wealth gap between white and Black households is larger today than in 1968, with the typical Black household having $13,000 versus $150,000 for the typical white household.
  • Latinx families have less than one-sixth the wealth of white families.
  • Only 40% of Black families own a home in comparison to 73% of white families. Latinx families fare only slightly better, with 47% owning a home.
  • On a per household basis, majority-white neighborhoods receive 6 times more market investment than majority-Black neighborhoods and 2.6 times as much as majority-Latinx neighborhoods.

These trends and statistics do not happen by accident.

Researchers like Richard Rothstein, author of The Color of Law, have documented how public policies enacted generations ago instituted and sanctioned practices that disenfranchised Black and Latinx households from earning family-supporting wages and building wealth. Most notable are federal policies like the GI Bill that were implemented in a way that excluded Black WWII veterans from home loan guarantees, student assistance, and other unemployment benefits, and municipal zoning codes that deliberately excluded people of color from building wealth and even devalued community assets.

Last year, The Chicago Community Trust launched a 10-year strategic plan to close the region’s racial and ethnic wealth gap. As a community foundation, how do we achieve this North Star goal?

While important to creating vibrant and thriving communities, grant making alone cannot lead us to the outcomes we want to see. The Trust must itself work to advocate for public policies and seek to transform systems in order to achieve meaningful, long-lasting change.

Using our voice in this way is one of the newest functions at the Trust to help us advance our strategy. Our team is developing a local, state and federal policy agenda that will create the necessary conditions for wealth-building and economic stability for Black and Latinx Chicagoans. Among the issues we are engaging in include how to reform and expand the state and federal Earned Income Tax Credit and strengthening the Community Reinvestment Act. As a philanthropic organization, we also are focused on charitable tax policy and regulation of charitable vehicles that will allow our donors to invest in our communities.

We are utilizing the many tools we have at our disposal to shape our policy approach: informing public dialogue through convenings and research; piloting interventions and developing new policy ideas; building public will through communications and narrative change efforts; funding or engaging in advocacy and coalition-building; directly lobbying on legislation; supporting the implementation of policy reforms; and holding leaders accountable for meeting community needs and objectives. We will also partner with grant recipients and community leaders who are working to advance a similar policy agenda.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the region in March, the Trust not only responded through funding efforts, we also worked with partners to engage with our Illinois delegation in Congress to push for the inclusion of relief measures in the CARES Act. While a second round of stimulus has stalled, we will continue to call on our leaders in Congress to take action to provide meaningful and extended relief measures as COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on our communities.

In October, we launched Together We Rise: For an Equitable and Just Recovery, an initiative dedicated to an equitable and just economic recovery from the pandemic. As part of this multifaceted effort, we will focus on policies that we believe will create the conditions for an equitable economic recovery that does not leave behind Black and Latinx households, who have been shut out of previous economic recoveries.

The reality is that systems and policies put in place by our government throughout our history set the contours of our lives: where we live, where we go to school, what types of jobs are available to us and under what conditions, and what financial services and access to capital we have. If we want to create a more just and equitable society, we must consider how those policies and systems have been designed, and work to make them more just and equitable for our city and region today and for generations that follow. It is our collective responsibility to hold our institutions, our elected and government officials and our fellow citizens accountable to that vision.