Concerns of working families and issues of income inequality has been a driving force for many voters in the runup to the Democratic nomination in this 2020 race. According to recent reports, childcare now costs more than in-state college tuition in 28 states. The average American can't afford to buy a home in 70 percent of the country. Low-income workers in the U.S. report spending one-third of their salary on health care.
So, this morning, we're going to take a look at this widening wealth gap and what government, businesses, and nonprofits are doing to ease the burden on families struggling to make ends meet.
Before we get started, I want to thank our presenting sponsor of this event, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Foundation's President, Dr. Rajiv Shah. You're going to hear from him a little bit later in the program.
I also want to thank our supporting sponsor, the University of Virginia.
In a few moments, The Washington Post's Libby Casey will talk with Congressman Ro Khanna; Atlanta Mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms; and Louisville Mayor, Greg Fischer, about federal and local proposals aimed at supporting working families in the U.S.
Again, thank you for being here.
For the People: Perspective from Federal and Local Leaders
MS. CASEY: Good morning, I'm Libby Casey, on-air reporter and anchor here covering politics and accountability in The Washington Post.
And I'm joined onstage this morning by Congressman Ro Khanna of California, welcome;
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, of Atlanta, Georgia, thank you for being here;
And Mayor Greg Fischer of Louisville, Kentucky. Thank you so much to all of you for coming and speaking with us this morning.
And we'd like you to join the conversation, if you want. You can go on Twitter and use the hashtag #PostLive in your comments or questions, and we will relay some of those questions on to our guests.
So, let's just dive right in. Congressman, you've been working on legislation called The Cost of Living Refund Act. What would it do?
REP. KHANNA: First, Libby, thank you for having me. It's an honor to be here with two dynamic and innovative mayors.
The Cost of Living Refund Act basically is a dramatic expansion of the earned income tax credit. The idea is that we want to comp--if we want to compensate the bottom 20-30 percent of income earners, you can do that by having a massive increase in the earned income tax credit, giving basically $7- to $8,000 back to people making up to $75,000.
We know this is pro-work. It incentivizes actually employers to hire and people to seek jobs, and it's been one of the biggest tools that can fight poverty. It was actually an idea that Milton Friedman had and Nixon was for. So, it's not a very radical idea.
MS. CASEY: How do you get Republicans in this modern day on board with this? What's your pitch?
REP. KHANNA: Well, it was a Republican idea. They've forgotten that. The genesis of it--and you know, now you have--I mean, even Paul Ryan was fairly decent about it. I mean, he wasn't expanding it nearly as much as it needed to be expanded, but he was at least advocating for its expansion because it came sort of as a Jack Kemp Republican.
The challenge is now that's not where the Republican Party is. I mean, I've unfortunately sat through Budget Committee hearings where they're obsessed about the quote/unquote fraud in the earned income tax credit. And then, when you ask them and push them, "What is the fraud?" They say, "Oh, a grandmother is taking the earned income tax credit for a child because she's the actual person raising the child and it's not the parents." I mean, it's arguing over trivial things, and there's no real accountability on the people who are really scamming the tax system by parking money offshore.
So, it's unfortunate that that bipartisan consensus has been strained, but my hope is that we will have more people who look at the history and see that there--this is an idea that many conservative economists propose.
MS. CASEY: Mayor Bottoms, just this month you launched a public awareness campaign to inform low-income taxpayers about the earned income tax credit. Why is that a focus for you in Atlanta?
MAYOR BOTTOMS: Well, it goes back to we don't know what we don't know. So many people just aren't informed. And so, the launch of that campaign really is just about informing people, letting them know that there is money sitting on the table.
And we looked at data from other cities, including Detroit, and we saw how much money taxpayers were able to get back when they simply asked for their earned income tax credit and what it meant for the local economy.
And so, I think it really is a great example of what we've been able to achieve in Atlanta through partnerships. We partnered with the United Way. We've gotten our transit service to donate ad space on the sides of the buses so that people can become familiar with this.
And also, even the IRS showed up with a representative. And what I said that day during a press conference is we don't often celebrate the IRS being inside of City Hall, but on this occasion, it was a positive thing.
And we've gotten radio stations to chip in, but it goes back to what we're trying to achieve in Atlanta, and it's what we call "One Atlanta," an Atlanta that's equitable, that's affordable, and that's resilient.
And we've done so many things in this city in keeping with that. We were finally able to get our minimum wage for all city employees to $15 an hour. So, it's really incredible to see this discussion on the national stage. We did it in incremental amounts. We achieved it last year.
We gave a historic pay raise for our police officers and our firefighters so that they can now afford to live in the City of Atlanta.
And also, pushing affordable housing, because Atlanta is experiencing what Washington, D.C. is experiencing and so many other cities across the country. Very data-driven metrics, 20,000 affordable housing units preserved or created by 2026; $1 billion pledged from our city. We're already 250 million in from public sources, and 3,500 units in just two years. So, we're getting there.
MS. CASEY: We'll get to Louisville in a moment, but since Mayor Bottoms brought up minimum wage, I just wanted to ask you, Congressman, should there be a federal minimum wage, and is there a concern that what works in Atlanta may not work in a city in California?
REP. KHANNA: There should be a federal minimum wage, but this is an academic question. This question should simply be asked to Mitch McConnell. I mean, the House has passed a $15 minimum wage. The House has support from it, broadly, from every part of the caucus. And the idea is that maybe there needs to be more differentiation higher than $15. I mean, $15 doesn't cut it in my district. But everyone, from every part of the region, agreed that $15 should be the floor.
MS. CASEY: Let's bring you in on this, Mayor Fischer. What do you think about a federal $15-an-hour, let's say, minimum wage?
MAYOR FISCHER: Well, there absolutely should be a minimum wage. The question is should it be indexed to cost of living. But start at $15, because as Ro said, that's not enough just to get by.
So, the question on so many of these issues is do we--are we talking about the ability for our citizens to just survive or do we want to create conditions where people can thrive. And so, we are a long way from thriving.
And when you take a look at the challenges that face the citizens of America around housing, health care, education, the systems that we're dealing with today are systems that might have worked a half-a-century ago, but they do not work today. And they stack the deck against the folks in our low-income communities to where they barely have a chance to get out.
So, the intentionality of the programs that Mayor Bottoms and I have to do in cities, we're basically trying to recreate systems that the federal government, ideally, would be implementing in a world with fast-pacing--or fast-changing technology, global economies. All these things are hitting us, but our systems are not designed for that. So, we put together the small amounts of money that we have at the local level to recreate a system of lifelong learning, for instance; or a housing system; a health care system that surrounds our most vulnerable kids with mental health services and physical health services so when they get to kindergarten they're not three years behind the most advantaged kids.
We should be investing upfront as opposed to later when we're putting in prison systems, we're putting in remedial systems. We just got this thing all upside down, and we're paying more as a result of that.
MS. CASEY: And here, you're looking at the holistic, what investments can you make now that will help down the long run.
I just want to pin you down on this question on minimum wage, though, and Republicans in your state have concerns, for example, in Kentucky about what that would mean to the cost of goods or what it might mean to small businesses.
MAYOR FISCHER: This is the beauty of a federal minimum wage: It raises everybody so there's not that competitive question. Other countries have done this. There's not damage from it. So, to me, it's just a raw political decision where you have to make this decision.
Am I representing my people because I want what's best for them, or am I concerned about what a couple big businesses are telling me I need to do?
MS. CASEY: Let's talk about gentrification, because of course, development, beautification, having tourists come to your city is very welcome from, like, the big-picture, economic profile of the city, but it comes at a real cost to city residents. So, what are you doing, Mayor Fischer, to deal with gentrification sweeping through a city like Louisville?
MAYOR FISCHER: Yeah, our goal is to regenerate without displacing. And so, the more rapidly your city is growing, the more difficult the task is. So, like, Atlanta is growing more rapidly than Louisville--we're growing.
But so, we have the opportunity to put in renter equity programs, tax moratoria, down payment assistance for folks.
Low-income folks and African-Americans in particular, when you think about the legacy of red-lining and when you take a look at the difference between wealth of white families and black families, 10 percent of black families have--why? Well, they were not able, for the most part, to be able to buy houses because they were red-lined out.
But today, in our cities, they're paying the rent, they're paying the rent, but they can't come up with the mortgage payment, down payment. So, down payment homeowner assistance is a radically effective way, relatively inexpensive, too, for black families to grow wealth.
So, we'll do that with our CDGP funds. They are declining. They should be increasing so we can help more people. We do that with some good foundation assistance that we have, as well. And then, we also do that through--if somebody is in a gentrifying area of the community and they need assistance to repair their home, we have funds to do that, as well.
So, there are systems that we can put in place at the local level to mitigate the impact of gentrification--
MS. CASEY: Mayor Bottoms--
MAYOR FISCHER: --but it's not right to, when you develop the soul of a neighborhood and then it starts gentrifying--for the people to have to move out is fundamentally wrong.
MS. CASEY: Mayor Bottoms, let's get you to weigh in on this. What can mayors do?
MAYOR BOTTOMS: Well, what we are doing in Atlanta is really combining commerce and compassion. We're very fortunate that we are home to a number of Fortune 500 companies. And these CEOs have a seat at the table in helping us address some of these challenges.
And so, one example is where the new Mercedes Benz Stadium is, it's in the heart of one of our legacy communities that's facing gentrification. We put in place a displacement-free zone. And with that funding has come an opportunity to pay rising property taxes for the next 20 years for legacy residents in that community.
We recently negotiated a deal for the redevelopment of 30 city blocks in Atlanta. It will be the largest redevelopment in the southeast in over three decades. As a part of that, we thought outside of the box. We know that property taxes will rise, residents will continue to be pushed out. So, not only did we set aside 20 percent for affordable housing, but also created our first affordable housing trust fund in the city as a part of this redevelopment incentive package.
And so, it will give us the opportunity to expand these displacement-free zones so that people can have access to money to help pay their property taxes. We're helping our legacy residents resolve title issues. That's a big problem in our gentrifying neighborhoods.
But also, just having a very real and frank conversation with our community members. I had some young men in City Hall as part of My Brother's Keeper Alliance, and I asked them what did they feel about gentrification.
And one of the young men said to me very frankly and honestly, he said, "I'm very happy to see that my neighborhood is changing, that it looks better. It saddens me that my cousins can't afford to live in my neighborhood, anymore. But it's also given me an opportunity to see that all white people are bad." That was his lens, because he had never lived in a diverse neighborhood. So, I think we have to take these moments of opportunity. And we see that we're bringing people together who otherwise wouldn't live in the same neighborhoods.
But our most important opportunity is for us to make sure all of our communities know that when the communities look better that it's for everyone, and not just a segment of the population.
MS. CASEY: Thank you.
So, Congressman Khanna, you're nodding your head about that. What should the federal role be there?
REP. KHANNA: Well, the federal role should be to support the work that the mayors are doing. And there is a bill that Cedric Richmond, actually, is leading in the House of Representatives that would give billions of dollars of investment to build more affordable housing.
And if you ask mayors--and I'm sure they'd chime in--one of the problems is they need more funding for schools and more funding for infrastructure. If you're going to ask to build more affordable housing, particularly near transit--and this bill would do that, and it would also provide specific assistance for down payment for communities that have faced redlining. It would provide certain assistance to pay rent before someone gets an eviction on their record.
So, the effort is there in the House. Again, the question comes to whether the Senate would pass it and the President would sign it.
MS. CASEY: Well, let's turn our attention to health care. Congressman, this is a huge concern for voters, of course, and you're the National Co-Chair of Senator Bernie Sanders Presidential Campaign.
So, the Democratic Party is divided on this question of Medicare for All, how viable it is, how would you pay for it. How would you get a divided Congress on board with it?
Republicans, on the other hand, want to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. So, how do you see a path forward?
REP. KHANNA: First of all, I would say the Democrats are 95 percent united. I mean, the media focuses on the 5 percent where we have differences.
But every Democrat that I know believes that health care is a human right. Every Democrat that I know believes we need to get to universal coverage. Every Democrat believes we need to protect the ACA and is appalled--appalled--by the Trump administration taking people's insurance away from them.
Every Democrat believes that it's crazy that you have people paying the types of deductibles and premiums that they are.
I mean, very briefly, I was back home in Newark, a city in my district, and someone on the school board came up to me and she said her son had to have emergency surgery to get his appendix out. Well, he got a bill--they got a bill for $3,500, 10-year-old son. And a couple days later, the 10-year-old son says, "Mom, I'm so sorry that I've cost you this much money."
I mean, what country are we living in? And this is--I'm living in one of the most affluent districts and she's an elected official. So, the question is, how do we get there? Now, my belief is that Medicare for All, single payer economically is the best way to make sure that we're lowering the insurance costs, lowering the drug costs, saving money, and covering everyone.
And we can debate about that issue, but I think every Democrat agrees that the system isn't working and that we need real reform.
MS. CASEY: There is agreement on a lot of items that you mentioned among the Democrats, but there's not agreement on Medicare for All. I mean, we're seeing it play out in the debates, the presidential debates.
So, how do you get there?
REP. KHANNA: Well, you talk first about the history of this party. I mean, Harry Truman was for Medicare for All, and guess what they said about him? It was for socialized medicine.
And then, you know, this was part of the Democratic platform until 1980. It was--Ted Kennedy ran on it. Jimmy Carter, by the way, ran in 1976 in Georgia for single payer national health care.
I was looking at The New York Times. I think we should take President Carter's advice when they asked him, "How are you going to pay for it?"
"I'll figure it out when I'm President." So, maybe that could be an instruction.
But the point was, this was in our platform until 1980, and the reason it was on our platform is that this is the best way of providing health care that so many other people do.
And I think when you look at that, I think the disagreement may be is it the time, is it not the time. I don't think there's a disagreement on the academic argument that providing health care would be the best through a single payer system which, by the way, would create more private sector jobs. And this is an important point: Yes, you would lose some of the insurance and administrative jobs, but you're going to have many more rural communities, many more people on health care. That's going to mean more health care provider jobs.
And you don't have to take my word for it. MIT economist Simon Johnson and others have done studies on this. It would actually increase private sector jobs.
And just one final point which drives me crazy when they say, "Oh, this is some government takeover." In our country, we have 85 percent jobs are private sector. 15 percent are in the public sector. That mix is not going to change no matter which Democratic candidate becomes President. The question we're asking is, does the government have a role to make sure everyone has basic health care, basic education, even if the delivery of that in the case of health care is private?
MS. CASEY: Let's stay on health care and talk to you, Mayor Bottoms. Georgia is ranked as one of the worst states for health care according to some recent studies that have come out.
Now, in Atlanta, you have the Centers for Disease Control Headquarters, you've got Emery University Hospital. So, how do you use that kind of medical power and potential for innovation and translate it into solutions for people in your city?
MAYOR BOTTOMS: I think you said it, "potential for innovation." So, what we have done in Atlanta is appointed a Chief Health Officer. That's important because in Atlanta our county is responsible for health.
But what we know is that we have some of the highest HIV/AIDS rates in America, specifically in the African-American community, specifically African-American women in Atlanta.
We also know that the life expectancy even in our city spans a ten-year difference depending on your ZIP Code in Atlanta. And so, it has been extremely important for us to take responsibility for ourselves. And with that, we are leveraging partnerships with the CDC and some of our health providers, but again, thinking innovatively.
There's a memo that arrived on my desk last week because I challenged our team to do an analysis to see if we could extend the benefits that we have in the City of Atlanta for our employees to all of our citizens.
Now, the memo came back with a really big price tag. So, I don't know if we will achieve that tomorrow, but it's certainly something that we can strive towards. And I think that's where we are right now as local leaders. We are having to think about and give consideration to things that we otherwise didn't have to just a few years ago. But I think it's also challenging us to think outside of the box, and we'll continue to do that in Atlanta and continue to leverage our partnerships in the best way that we can.
But I think right now it's about us meeting our communities at their point of need and working with partners like the CDC to do that.
MS. CASEY: When you saw that price tag, what were your thoughts about creative solutions or ways--is it incremental? Is it trying to find support from the federal government? Like, where do you go next?
MAYOR BOTTOMS: I don't believe in impossibilities. I think it's a matter of us just making some tough decisions to see how we get there. So, what we will likely do is not be able to extend it to all of Atlanta, but there are segmented populations that we can extend it to.
And just as we're having this national conversation, I think what comes to mind for me is this great quote from Audre Lorde, "Revolution is not a one-time event." Sometimes it takes a step here and a step there, just like we took with Obamacare. And then, we take the next step and the next step, to finally get to where we all want to be with health care that's available to everyone.
MS. CASEY: Mayor Fischer, Kentucky has been one of the hardest states hit by the opioid crisis. How is your administration continuing to address the needs of at-risk communities in Louisville?
The national media turns its attention to the crisis periodically. There's certainly reporting that continues on, but it doesn't always stay in the national spotlight. And yet, the problem, of course, persists, and you have to keep at it.
MAYOR FISCHER: Certainly, and the community has to have all types of wrap-around services to deal with that.
You know, the biggest detox center and the biggest mental health facility in most any city is the jail. And so, it's the familiar faces that come and go through the jail that we really need to provide that treatment to so that they can have a warm handoff when they go outside of the jail, when they have a detox program within the jail, which we do.
And so, we do a lot of things in our jail that we, quote, don't have to do, but we want to make sure that people are leaving the jail in a better place and that they don't have to come back through.
At the root of a lot of this, I just want to talk about trauma for a second.
When, in the mayor's office--and we say mayors are in the reality business, okay? We're not up here talking about how things should be. We have to deal with things that happen day-in and day-out in the community.
And in the mayor's office--and I'd be curious to hear what the mayor has to say about this--the majority of the things we deal with are because of poverty and the impact of poverty. So, how can you eliminate poverty in your community?
And what is one of the causes of poverty that is so prevalent is just trauma, and trauma coming back and forth.
And when we talk to our young men and boys of color in particular and you understand the multigenerational impact of trauma on them, or living in a violent neighborhood, or living in a violent household and how that triggers all these other activities, their abilities to succeed in life are very, very low.
So, now, once they've entered the system and come out of the system, and we have a program called the THRIVE Program right now where we're demonstrating that investing in young men when they come out of prison or jail with a stipend and a housing allowance and retraining, so to speak, so they can be productive citizens, is a better investment than 70-percent recidivism rate.
But I don't think people understand the amount of trauma that these guys go through. And so, you might come out--let's say us in this room, we might be dealing with one or two major personal issues--you personally or your family members. These guys are dealing with 12 to 20 major issues and they don't have the resources to deal with those financially and they haven't had the mental health care to understand how to deal with that, as well. So, as a country, this is a huge need that, largely, we do not see because it's internal, but we have to figure out how to wrap those services regularly around our young men, and some young women, for them to be able to get back on track and have a productive life.
So, it's just a huge problem when we talk about health care and expanding health care, expanding mental health care--it's starting to get more attention. It falls into the opioid and addiction area, as well, but it's an area that we really lean into in our city.
MS. CASEY: Mayor Bottoms, let's get your response.
MAYOR BOTTOMS: I think you're absolutely right. And again, using the vision we have to have as mayors to address these issues in our communities has led us to reimagine what our jail is.
So, we have a jail in the City of Atlanta, 400,000 square feet. We were housing low-level offenders. We closed our jail to ICE, we eliminated cash bail bonds. So, our jail usually now has only about 100 inmates per night, usually something like running a red light, not paying a speed ticket.
We are now looking to open our jail as an equity center where people can come in off of the street, they can get supportive housing, they can get access to mental health services, they can get GED training. There is a physical space they will be able to walk into and not think of incarceration as their first opportunity to access services but think of this as a place that says, as a city, we still believe in the people of our city.
And I think, as mayors, that's what we have to do. I would venture to say, over the last three-and-a-half years, we've had to do it on a much, much larger level. But I think it's pushed us all a little further, and I think our communities are better for it.
MS. CASEY: I have a question coming in from Twitter. Tom writes and asks, "How could a federal program like the freedom dividend proposed by the former Democratic presidential candidate, Andrew Yang, help with some of the issues that you're talking about?"
Let's get the mayors to weigh in, quick.
MAYOR FISCHER: Well, it's funny, I mean, what's the root of poverty? You don't have enough money. Okay, and so, what we have seen when people have adequate amount of money, they can take care of issues that prevent them from earning money.
So, we see this in particular in our junior technical colleges where somebody's trying to pursue a two-year degree, a STEM degree--main disruptor of poverty is some type of post-secondary education--but their car breaks down or they need childcare services. We're talking about relatively small amounts of money, hundreds of dollars, that they don't have. So, whether or not the freedom dividend is the right way to do it or whether it's increasing the minimum wage, we have to get more money in people's pockets so that they can get through the basics of life so they can be in a position where their human potential can flourish. That's how we define compassion in Louisville, and that's one of our city's values.
MAYOR BOTTOMS: I like it on its surface. I would love to test it out in Atlanta. But my concern is we go back to talking about the affordable housing issue that we have. All of these issues are connected.
My concern is that private land owners in Atlanta will now raise their rents a thousand dollars a month because they'll know everybody now has another thousand bucks in their pocket. And we don't have the ability to control--we don't have rent control in Georgia.
And so, that's my concern: What happens on the back end? Will we then have other people accounting for somebody else's extra money?
MS. CASEY: Well, we have the presidential race, of course, in the spotlight right now, and all three of you are supporting--each of you are supporting a different Democratic presidential candidate, which is dynamic and exciting and an opportunity for us to talk about what the presidential race and its outcome would look like in--for the constituents you represent.
So, we'll start with you, Congressman. As we mentioned, you are the Co-Chair of Senator Sanders Campaign for President. Now, you represent one of the wealthiest congressional districts in the country. So, how is your support of Senator Sanders playing to your constituents?
REP. KHANNA: Very well. I mean, candidly, you have some of the workers and the engineers at the tech companies who really like him; the executives, maybe not as much. But there are a lot more of the workers who are constituents.
And what I'd say to people, though, is that what Senator Sanders is talking about, really, is a new New Deal for the 21st century. I mean, he's a New Dealer. He believes that he wants to complete the project of FDR, and that the investments and giving people health care and giving people education is what's going to allow them to be an entrepreneur.
Hard to be an entrepreneur if you are dependent on your job for health care; hard to start a company or a small business if you don't have the right education; hard to be a small business owner if you don't have child care. So, I think he's making the fundamental investments in our human capital in people that we're going to need for the 21st century.
MS. CASEY: There are a lot of concerns among moderate members of the House, some of whom just won election for the first time in the last cycle, who worry that a Senator Sanders at the top of the ticket would hurt their chances of retaining their moderate districts.
REP. KHANNA: I've spoken to many of them and I have great respect for a lot of them. I disagree that that's the case for two reasons.
One, Senator Sanders at the top of the ticket having a strong message and getting working-class young people mobilized is going to have a record turnout.
Donald Trump is going to have a record turnout. That's what he's going to do. He's going to pour $100 million into Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. They're already trying to register people. We have to match that turnout.
The second thing is people can depart and run their own district and they don't have to be a clone to Bernie Sanders. I mean, I'm his Co-Chair. As you pointed out, I represent Silicon Valley. I'm sure there are seven-eight issues where I've disagreed with him.
And the Republicans have been actually pretty good at this: They have these strong conservatives, Ronald Reagan or something, run at the top of the ticket. And then, if you're a Rockefeller Republican or a moderate district, you can depart on a particular issue. And Senator Sanders wants to build a broad coalition that allows people to do that.
MS. CASEY: I have to get your reaction to his positive comments about Fidel Castro.
What are your thoughts about how Senator Sanders fielded that question?
REP. KHANNA: My thoughts are that he didn't have a positive characterization of Castro. Here's what he said, and here's what I think the choice is of the party: There is no doubt, in my view, that Fidel Castro was a brutal dictator. In 1959, when he came to power, he had firing squads, he "hired" [phonetic] political prisoners. Some of the literacy program was indoctrination into communist ideology. No one has ever pointed to Cuba as a model.
The Senator--what he has is pointed to some of the Scandinavian countries as a model. What the Senator believes is that our choices, whether we go to President Obama's policy, which was one of engagement, having an embassy there; or do we go to Donald Trump's policy, which is basically reversing everything Obama did?
So, I think what the presidential candidate should argue about or put their position is, are you for Obama or are you for Trump? And let me tell you, Barack Obama would have carried--or would carry Florida in 2020. The demographics of that state are changing.
MS. CASEY: Let's move on to you, Mayor Bottoms. You wrote an op-ed for CNN last year about why you're endorsing Joe Biden for President.
What are your concerns about South Carolina? I mean, does he need to win that state in order to move on? And of course, Super Tuesday is right around the corner. Georgia will have its say, soon. What are you thinking?
MAYOR BOTTOMS: I was thinking about the slogan my nine-year-old said the other day who's all into the polls. He said, "Mommy, SOB." I'm like, "What?" He said, "Save our Biden."
And I mean, I think he did that for himself last night. I thought he had a fantastic performance; I would venture to say his best yet. And I think when we talk about Michigan, when we talk about Pennsylvania, when we talk about Ohio, you talk about union members who have negotiated for years for health care benefits. The thought of those health care benefits being taken away from them scares them. That's my concern about Senator Sanders.
But I think that, at the end of the day, any candidate in this field will be a much better candidate or much better President than the one who currently occupies the White House.
MS. CASEY: But does he have to win South Carolina?
MAYOR BOTTOMS: I think he needs to win South Carolina. I think he will win South Carolina. But I think that he will be very strong going into Super Tuesday, and I still believe that he is our best chance of beating Donald Trump.
MS. CASEY: Okay, with a different perspective, Mayor Fischer, you're National Co-Chair of the Bloomberg Campaign. A lot of mayors have gotten on board with Bloomberg's campaign.
You're also the President-Elect, I want to point out, of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. So, you do have your finger on the pulse of what mayors are talking about and how they're feeling.
So, we all watched the debate last night. I'm interested in how you feel he's responding to these criticisms about stop-and-frisk, about red-lining, something you yourself brought up a little while ago. Why should Democrats and working families support him?
MAYOR FISCHER: Well, I think we want to be practical on how we're going to defeat Donald Trump. I mean, Americans are just worn out. You know, not having to think about what the President is doing every 15 minutes--and we want to get back to some type of normalcy. So, mayors are practical by nature. That's why you see so many mayors supporting Mike. We know the breadth and depth of the quality of his operation.
And when you take a look at a thing like stop-and-frisk, for instance, to me, it tells a story of what you want in a leader when you play it all out.
So, when he became mayor in 2001, stop-and-frisk was the national best practice for violent crime reduction, whether it was New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, what have you; everybody was doing it.
Yes, he did it too much, he's apologized for that, reduced 95 percent. But then, the question is, what's next? So, he said, "What's the root cause of most of this crime?" It's poverty. So, he started the Young Men's Initiative. President Obama then scaled the Young Men's Initiative to My Brother's Keeper.
Mike then says, "The moms who--the moms whose kids are getting killed don't have a voice." So, he starts Moms Demand Action, which of course is a powerhouse organization.
Then, he says, "We're not doing enough to take on the NRA," so he took on the NRA with Every Town for Gun Safety, started that, and has beaten them time and time again.
So, what you see there is the arc of a leader who says, "Okay, what I thought was going to work out didn't work out. I'm sorry. Let's change, let's pivot, let's do something good." Wouldn't that be nice to have in the White House?
MS. CASEY: He defended that program just a few years ago, so--
MAYOR FISCHER: He did, and he said he was wrong. And I think we want somebody in the White House that can say, "I tried something, it didn't work. I'm wrong, I'm pivoting, and now we're doing something good as a result of that." What a refreshing leader that would be to have.
MS. CASEY: Well, unfortunately, that's all the time we have. It's been delightful to talk to all of you and really appreciate you being here. Thank you so much.
Let's go through our guests, again:
Congressman Ro Khanna, thank you;
Mayor Bottoms and Mayor Fischer, thank you so much to each off you.
MS. CASEY: And stay here, I'll be back in a few moments with another panel.
Under Pressure: Examining the Challenges Working Mothers Still Face
MS. CASEY: Hello again. I’m Libby Casey, on-air reporter and anchor here at The Washington Post. And I’m delighted to introduce my guests: Ai-Jen Poo, co-founder and executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Hello;
Kendra Brooks, newly elected member of the Philadelphia City Council, thank you for being here;
And Juliana Goldman, former correspondent for CBS News and Bloomberg News, thank you for being here.
And a reminder that if you have questions for our audience, you can jump on Twitter and use that hashtag #PostLive, and we’ll share them with our guests.
So, let’s start with you, Councilmember Brooks. So, you are a single mother of five, which is amazing. A lot of us are mothers, and five is impressive. You’re also a grandmother. So, you raised a family on your own, and now you’re a city councilwoman. How have the experiences that you’ve lived shaped your politics?
MS. BROOKS: I think number one is that I worked my way through college. I went through CCP. I was a nursing assistant. Just a persistence to break with the stereotype of a teenage mom. I had my oldest daughter at 18, and I refused to be another statistic. So, I worked my way through community college, and then I went to Temple, and then I got an MBA.
And in the process of that, I had children along the way and adopted one. So, one is not my birth child. But the importance of family and what it looks like to build a legacy for the next generation.
So, for me, education was my pathway, you know, not only to break the statistic of a teenage mom, but to be able to sustain my family in a way that would make my family proud and also to be an example for my daughters. My oldest is 29. I have a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, 15-year-old, and 11. All girls.
MS. CASEY: That’s amazing.
MS. BROOKS: Yes.
MS. BROOKS: Those who have daughters already know what that’s like, and then the young women that come with them. You know, so I think just continue to be that example. I never would have saw myself as an elected official. I’ve always been a part of movement spaces, fighting for, you know, what’s right in my community, what’s right for women, what’s right for people with disabilities, and being that voice when people felt like they couldn’t be heard. And that pathway is what led me into politics. If someone would have asked me two years ago would I be a city council person, I was like, "Oh, never." And now I’m here.
MS. CASEY: What did it to take you to make that step?
MS. BROOKS: Being--Trump.
MS. BROOKS: I’m being honest. And just being tired of, like, systems of oppression that I see hovering over my community. I live in a community that I grew up in, predominantly African-American, low-income, and just fighting for the changes that we need to see.
So, we’re talking about our schools are closing drastically in our neighborhood. We talk about underfunding of schools across the city. We talk about the effects of red-lining that eventually led to gentrification and displacement. We talk about the lack of jobs or opportunity for jobs. And all those things is kind of what pushed me to take the next step, as an activist and then as–-you know, I ask myself the question, if not me, then whom?
I have experienced a lot of these issues firsthand. And we need people in politics that are able to speak to the people, not the statistics, not the numbers, but the people that are primarily affected by these issues.
MS. CASEY: Ai-jen, your organization advocates for the rights of domestic workers in this country, many of whom are immigrants, women of color, working class mothers. What are the biggest challenges that you hear from them that they’re facing?
MS. POO: Well, it’s interesting because as working mothers their profession is to support other working mothers. And yet some of the most important work in our entire economy, if you think about what could be more important than caring for children, ensuring that the aging population can live with dignity, right? And yet it is some of the most undervalued work, in our entire workforce. The average annual income of a homecare worker is $16,000 per year.
So, the people we’re counting on as professionals to care for us and our families can’t take care of their own on the income that they earn. And it’s work that doesn’t have access to a safety net, no benefits, no job security, and oftentimes no training or career pathways. So, it’s a really tough situation.
And we’re also looking at jobs that are really going to be a large share of the jobs in the future, because these are jobs that are not going to be outsourced--right?--and they’re not going to be automated. They’ve been trying to build a robot to fold a towel in a lab in L.A. for 11 years, and they still haven’t been successful. So, for the foreseeable future we’re going to need humans doing this work, and right now it is poverty-wage work where you can’t survive. And that’s the opportunity, is to transform them, right? The way that manufacturing jobs were once dangerous poverty-wage jobs and they became the pathway to the American Dream; we can do that for caregiving and low-wage service jobs today.
MS. CASEY: And we’ll be talking more about that, certainly.
I want to bring Juliana into the conversation. So, you wrote a piece for The Atlantic back in 2018 that went viral, and it was about your story about being a working mom and trying to balance that, like the mom part of it, with a high-demand profession. What do you think you tapped into?
MS. GOLDMAN: You know, it’s interesting. So, that piece actually coincidentally was published the day after my daughter was born. So, a lot of the incoming and the reaction to it, I took in from my hospital bed. So, I’ve gone back and looked at some of that now.
And, you know, I set out to interview and look into anti-mom bias, the motherhood penalty that struck a chord with me as I was weighing whether or not to stay on in TV news. And so, the piece focused on television news. But I heard from women across local news, producers, and then other industries, law, consulting, medicine. And you know, the struggle is real. The work-life balance is something that mothers deal with day in and day out.
I mean, we came here this morning. This is our second shift for many of us. We already had the mom shift this morning. And so, I think people, you know, across sectors, across industry feel as though they worked really hard but they are being let down at the corporate and at the government level.
MS. CASEY: What did you feel like you were weighing personally in your questions of, like, how much you could lean into your career and what was realistic and practical given the demands of family?
MS. GOLDMAN: Right. So, I felt like I had spent 15 years leaning into my career so that, by the time I came back from maternity leave and had a child and this whole other life, that I had had some more leverage or currency to be able to ask for some accommodations. And I found--
MS. CASEY: And accommodations being--and I encourage you to go read Juliana’s piece, but TV correspondents travel all the time, but there are jobs in TV news where you can be home-based, you can have a more regular schedule and not get that call to say, "You’ve got to be on a plane in an hour."
MS. GOLDMAN: Well, that’s right. And so, I was a general assignment correspondent, which meant covering anything and everything under the sun. You know, you could get a call at 3:00 in the morning saying you needed to be in Baltimore for a 7:00 a.m. live shot for the morning show, or you’d be at the office in the middle of the day and you would have to run out and be somewhere, you know, on location for that night’s evening news. And that meant trying to figure out, you know, who was going to take care of my child in the evening.
And I was looking for something that had just a little more predictability, a little more flexibility. For me it was so difficult because I felt like my--like I didn’t have any less ambition professionally, but that sacrifice of being away from my child, it had to feel like it was worth it. And I didn’t feel like signing another three years as a general assignment correspondent matched that.
And it was difficult. You know, I wondered whether or not I was just not cut out for television news, or whether there were institutional biases that were forcing me out. And again, this was about the time of MeToo and so there were more conversations about the motherhood penalty and anti-mom bias. And, you know, it’s not black and white. It’s very difficult to put your finger on that, but it exists. There are unique circumstances in TV news, but then that also apply across industries.
MS. CASEY: Let’s stay with this for a moment and talk about employers and what employers can do to sort of ease that burden and make both working and being a parent viable.
MS. GOLDMAN: So, there are many different roads we can go down on this. I think, one, it takes having women in leadership positions at companies. I think it takes them setting a tone, a culture where women can come in--and men for that matter--and that they’re able to talk about very openly, you know, the lives that they also have. You shouldn’t feel like you’re in a job where you have to work like you don’t have any children. And so, there should be an openness and transparency there.
You know, there is also an interesting piece in Harvard Business Review that’s come out over the last few days in this latest issue. And the authors, they tested this long-held truth that women are derailed from their careers and they don’t advance because they can’t handle the competing demands of the work-life balance. And what they found is that, like most things in life, it’s way more nuanced than that.
And both men and women suffer from, you know, an over-work culture of this 24-hour a day, 7-day-a-week lifestyle of needing to be on-call all the time, and that in this one particular company that they studied, you know, the company offered accommodations, more women took advantage of those accommodations than men, and what they ended up finding was that the women were then derailed from their careers, they lost economic advancement, and so forth. And so, their conclusion is that overall there just needs to be a general change in this 24-hour, seven-day-a-week overwork culture, and that that will alleviate a lot of the burden that families face.
MS. CASEY: Councilmember Brooks, let’s talk about paid maternity leave, paid parental leave. Let’s broaden it out that way. How are you looking at that now through the lens of someone who will be helping to shape policy?
MS. BROOKS: Yes, so we just introduced some legislation around paid sick leave, and it’s connected to FMLA. It’s 12 weeks’ pay, male or female, to ensure that people have the right to, you know, raise families, adopt children, take care of loved ones, because we see a severe--to what Juliana said--we see that the hustle and bustle of life is preventing people from being good caretakers, or even just taking care of themselves.
So, our goal is to put in and introduce--we introduced this legislation and that it would scale down from large businesses into mid-size businesses into smaller businesses over a series of time to make sure that, you know, workers have the right to take care of their families.
And I want to, like, lean into domestic workers and the work of, you know, childcare providers and elder care providers. For the first 12 weeks of any illness or after having a child, you really don’t want to just leave your loved ones with anyone. And we need to make sure that we’re providing workers the quality of life. That’s a quality of life issue. You can’t work well if you don’t feel that the things that are most important to you are secure. So, I’m hopeful this legislation goes through and we’ll be able to kind of set a new trend for Philadelphia and hopefully eventually the nation.
MS. CASEY: Ai-jen.
MS. POO: Well, Philadelphia, I just want to shout-out Philadelphia because they just passed--thank you, Councilmember Brooks--a domestic workers’ bill of rights that granted portable paid time off to 16,000 domestic workers for the first time in the country.
MS. POO: Really a huge breakthrough. And I think what we’re speaking to is just a much larger challenge, which is that we, American families, especially working families, are in a totally different environment than when we were when our safety net was put into place and our existing policy framework.
So right now, there really isn’t a care infrastructure to support working families. It used to be our default infrastructure was that women would stay home and take care of family members. That hasn’t been our reality for decades. And people are living longer than ever before because of advances in healthcare and technology, and the boomers are aging at a rate of 10,000 people per day turning 70.
And so, we’ve added an entire generation onto our family lifespans, and none of our policies are designed for that. So, you have this new phenomenon of the sandwich generation caregivers who are panini-ed between the pressures of caring for their aging loved ones and their children, and they have no support in place. So, we need childcare. We need universal access to family care, childcare, long-term care, paid family leave as a new starting point for families in the 21st century.
MS. CASEY: I want you to talk more about this, this panini effect, rather than just sandwich but really being squeezed. And you wrote a book called “The Age of Dignity” about caregiving in America.
MS. POO: Yeah.
MS. CASEY: What are some of the solutions, as you’re identifying, all of you are identifying some of the problems that are hurting families?
MS. POO: Absolutely. So, I think everything from the kind of paid family leave legislation that Councilmember Brooks talked about to universal childcare, universal long-term care.
Washington State just passed the Washington State Long-Term Care Trust Act, which is the first social insurance-based long-term care bill in the country. And our vision is that one day we should have universal family care, the idea that we should all be contributing to a public fund that we can all benefit from that helps us afford childcare, long-term care, and paid family leave.
MS. CASEY: This question of how to help moms and families doesn’t just start when the baby is born. There’s also of course the concern about maternal mortality and making sure that there’s adequate healthcare for people as they’re becoming moms and as they’re going into the healthcare system.
So, Councilmember Brooks, you know, as we look at this, you know, I think it’s fair to say a crisis in maternal mortality among African-American women in this country who are dying at a rate of three or four times of the rate of white mothers, what can we do as a society to tackle this?
MS. BROOKS: The number one thing that I would push is we need universal healthcare. You know, we keep in mind that, you know, access to quality healthcare is important for all women, especially women of color, and definitely get our prejudice and bias and racist behavior within healthcare--is very important because some of the child birth mortality issues we see around African-Americans is grounded in racism. And we had to call that out and continue to work on parameters to end that.
And, you know, in Philadelphia we are looking at some reproductive justice initiative to roll out over the next year. And I think that that would be the first step to making sure that we’re addressing the issue of mortality around black women and making sure that it becomes a high-priority issue moving forward.
MS. CASEY: So, you know, as we look at the women who are doing the caretaking of so many families in this country, what are the other ways to raise the visibility and not just help with wages and healthcare, but also just acknowledge how important this work is to families but also to society functioning?
MS. POO: I mean, I think we should have caregiver appreciation day every day. But I think there are many ways to honor the caregivers and the women who support us in our lives.
First, just recognizing the work every opportunity we get. We always start our meetings by just giving a shout-out, sending some love to the women whose work powers everything else in our economy, and I think just recognizing that this is real work.
This is not--we still refer to care work as help, right? And until we recognize that this is a profession like any other and really value it as such, I think it’s always going to be a struggle. So, each of us can play a role, I think, in treating this workforce as the professionals they are and the incredibly important part of the caregiving solutions all of our families need for the future.
MS. GOLDMAN: And I think just in conversations that women have when they talk about work-life balance and how they do it all, you know, they should also discuss not just the outward-facing but the inward-facing and acknowledge what goes on behind the scenes to allow them to work.
MS. CASEY: Because there can be that look of, like, a woman’s doing it all, whether she’s in elected government or whether she’s a professional. But there is an army of people potentially behind the scenes helping them, whether they’re family or whether they are paid workers.
MS. GOLDMAN: That’s right. I mean, that army component, we need to shine a light on that. You know, influencers on Instagram and social media, you know, with millions and some followers posting pictures of their children and whatnot, I mean, they should also be showing the workers, the help that they have behind the scenes.
MS. POO: We call it the care squad, really recognizing your care squad every chance you get.
MS. GOLDMAN: Sounds like a good hashtag.
MS. BROOKS: Yeah, I think we should do it together, because men should do it as well. I think it is the expectation for women to highlight the person who is taking care of their children or helping take care of their parents and all of this. But men need to recognize all the things that help the women in their lives be successful and expose it more, because that is how we’re going to shed light on it. It’s easy for it to be a woman’s issue. We need to make this a people’s issue.
MS. POO: And to that point, this is a great
example about how gender inequality actually does a disservice to men as well, because 40 percent of all working family caregivers for the elderly in this country are men. And the fact that we’ve so devalued and made invisible caregivers is actually making all of those--and associated caregiving with women--makes all of those men invisible, right? So, this is--caregiving, our care squad in this country is men, women, workers, family members, neighbors. It’s all of us. And we have to value it differently for the 21st century.
MS. CASEY: We only have a little bit of time left, but I would love to hear a little from each of you, challenging things that you’ve faced with the family-working balance and what maybe the number-one challenge is that you’ve had to deal with.
MS. GOLDMAN: I mean, you know, I touched on it before, but just going into a job every day and not knowing whether or not you’re going to get a phone call from the assignment desk tell you that you needed to run out the door five minutes ago.
You know, my husband travels quite a bit. I have family in town. But my family is not always available. And we have a nanny, but she has a family also and she has to go home at the end of the day. So, I think understanding the whole, you know, structure that goes on behind the scenes to allow for that kind of work-life is really, really important. You know, I ultimately decided that that kind of unpredictability was not something that I wanted to continue with. So, I do think that, you know, predictability and flexibility are incredibly important for women in their professions, and mothers.
MS. CASEY: And you’ve built this question of parenting into your life now, into your career life.
MS. GOLDMAN: Yeah, so I right now am working on building a community building and wellness space for mothers. And it’s called MamaDen. And we’re going to be starting with conversations for mothers, by mothers, to discuss these very issues that we’re discussing here for moms to find this network and community of support, their mom friends, so that they don’t feel isolated and they feel like they have the support network to be able to tap into
MS. CASEY: Councilmember Brooks, what’s the biggest challenge you faced as mom doing it all, because it really seems like you really have done it all?
MS. BROOKS: Yes. I think I like the word the “panini” generation. Sandwich generation gives you a little bit more flexibility to remove some stuff. A panini is kind of smooshed together. So, with me having aging parents that live in Florida--my step-father passed away a few years ago--two sets of parents, and five children, financially it had been a struggle trying to make sure--well, my stepfather was sick, having to fly down to Florida to help my mom with his care, making sure that she is okay now that he’s deceased.
Also having children--I think when my stepfather passed, the way my 11-year-old was a newborn, so putting her on a flight; still transitioning my office into my parents’ house to be able to work remotely. And no one talks about that, I think, the financial cost of that, because none of that is covered under any work benefits. It’s just making sure you have the savings to do so.
And just imagine for families that don’t have that, you know? So financially, is, like, the cost of childcare, $250 a week? That’s a lot. The price for older care, if you want to pay your care attendants for your old elderly parents, $15 an hour if you want to be generous. You know, some people don’t pay that. But $15- to $20-an-hour to make sure your caregiver is fairly compensated, financially, it has definitely been a struggle kind of managing all this over the years of my generation of children. And I think the fact that my children are spread out is kind of a blessing now, that I have--what did you call it, a support squad?
MS. POO: A care squad.
MS. BROOKS: A care squad that belongs to me. So, I have older children and siblings that have raised--and, you know, it’s not as expensive now. But I think about, you know, my daughter and her husband, the cost of childcare and what it looks like for them. So, yeah, financially we need to continue to find ways to make caregiving affordable for working families.
MS. CASEY: Ai-jen.
MS. POO: Well, I’m a stepparent for a 9-year-old girl. And I think that a lot of our norms, they’re not adequate in terms of supporting parents, but they’re also not inclusive of all the different types of families that are Americans, that represent American families.
And so, in a household where we’ve got one child with four parents and not everybody is really seen as a parent, that also creates its own challenges. So, I would say we’ve got a lot of work to do in our culture and our policies to really reflect who we are as American families today.
MS. CASEY: Well, thank you so much all for being here. Unfortunately, that’s all the time we have for this segment.
So, thank you to Ai-jen Poo, Councilmember Kendra Brooks, and Juliana Goldman. Thank you so much.
Please stay with us. Our next program will begin in just a moment.
Rekindling and Reimagining the American Dream
MS. LIASSON: Hello. Welcome to the mini panel. I’m Mara Liasson. I’m the National Political Correspondent for National Public Radio.
And today, I have the honor of interviewing Dr. Raj Shah, who is the president of the Rockefeller Foundation, and he brings 20 years of experience in business, government, and philanthropy to the Rockefeller Foundation, which is a global institution that has a track record of success carrying out its founding mission, which is to promote the well-being of humanity around the world. Just very modest goal.
MS. LIASSON: And over its 100-year-long history, the Rockefeller Foundation has embraced scientific frontiers to lift up vulnerable children and families.
And what we’re going to be talking about today is rekindling and reimagining the American Dream, which put pretty simply is just, if you work hard, play by the rules, get your kids a good education, they should be able to do better than you.
And we know the American Dream is not working as well as it used to. Kids who were born into the baby boom generation had an 80 to 90 percent chance of doing better than their parents. That’s only about 50 percent for kids who are born today.
And the American Dream only works if American capitalism does the two things that it’s supposed to do, which is to provide broadly shared prosperity and economic mobility. And that’s what’s broken and that’s what the Rockefeller Foundation is trying to address.
So, let’s talk a little bit about what a foundation can do with investment, with advocacy, with its convening power, with its possible effect on public policy, tax reform. You just announced a $65 million investment in American working families. What is that about?
MR. SHAH: Well, first, thank you for having me. I'm a huge fan, and so it’s special to be with you.
That investment is a recognition that America’s economy is not working for most of America’s working families. And we just heard exceptional references to that from Councilwoman Brooks and others.
The reality is, 40 percent of America’s families are headed by someone working maybe one or more jobs, and simply can’t make ends meet. And when you say, well, why is that the case, the reality is, over four decades, most American workers have not gotten a raise. Wages have really been flat. And it’s not like our economy hasn’t generated wealth and productivity gains in that time. In fact, over four decades it’s been very, very successful at producing wealth and productivity gains. But there’s been this disconnect between productivity growth and economic growth and the reality for America’s working families. And that disconnect means that, on a GDP basis, corporate profits are up as a share of total GDP by about 5 percent and workers’ wages are down as a share of GDP by about 5 percent.
So, whereas in a prior era, as you were referencing, you could work about 30 weeks a year and that--you could cover your costs in about 30 weeks a year. Today to cover health care, education, childcare, all the things we just heard about, food and shelter, you’re looking at having to work 53 weeks a year.
MS. LIASSON: There’s only 52 weeks in a year. That’s a problem.
MR. SHAH: Yeah, my 9-year-old son pointed that out to me when I was going through this the other day.
MS. LIASSON: Yeah, that’s a problem.
MR. SHAH: So that’s the problem we seek to solve.
And, you know, one foundation making a sizeable investment of philanthropic resources is not going to solve that problem. But what we are able to do, is we’re able to bring people together and support innovators and doers across this country. So, we are supporting right now 8 to 10 states and supporting coalitions in those states to research, experiment, and advocate for efforts that would expand the earned income tax credit, expand access to the child tax credit, create innovations to make those programs more accessible and more effective, because we know that that program has been the single-most effective tool America has had to address poverty and to support working women in particular who are balancing all the costs and concerns we just heard about with the desire to create a brighter future for their children.
MS. LIASSON: So, the $65 million in part goes to pilot projects around the earned income tax credit? What exactly are you funding?
MR. SHAH: So about 30-plus million of it, 36 million, is to invest in expanding the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit. That involves supporting mayors to create innovation so more people can access it. It supports state-based coalitions in red states, in blue states, in purple states--we still have those--to genuinely expand access to it.
And it involves supporting a coalition of partners, researchers, academics, but also advocates and those that can inform policy makers here in Washington to ultimately expand the federal credit in a significant manner.
MS. LIASSON: Because the earned income tax credit is one of the few things I can think of that has broad bipartisan support.
MR. SHAH: Yeah, and as we heard from the first panel with Ro Khanna, it was introduced by Nixon as a negative income tax. It is a truly bipartisan effort embraced by Reagan and then Obama and Clinton.
And the truth is, it is harder to help working families afford their basic needs, and we know that that is the most effective and efficient way to do that. There is a whole body of research produced over 25 years that shows that the $3,300 a working mother might get on an annual basis from the earned income tax credit helps her send her children to childcare, helps her access her work more effectively, helps kids improve their educational attainment in school, and it’s simply the most efficient way to do that. So, our job as a foundation is to highlight and make visible things that work, practical, proven solutions.
And where they don’t exist, we’re willing to innovate to try to find those things that work. We have jumped in on a piece of legislation called the opportunity zone tax credit. And the reality is we heard from the mayors of Atlanta and Louisville, and right here in Washington, D.C. Mayors across this country, 119 mayors have asked for help in getting the private investment dollars that are going into America’s opportunity zones to be dollars that help lift up communities and working families in those communities as opposed to just going to real estate developers and investors.
And we are seeing success by partnering with community leaders, partnering with civic advocates, partnering with mayors, and making sure that they have a voice so that the project like the MLK Gateway Project here in Anacostia, Washington, D.C., creates 150 cybersecurity jobs for folks in that community and is connected to worker training programs that help local family members join that kind of opportunity.
MS. LIASSON: So, it sounds like you’re saying when it comes to the earned income tax credit, it just needs to be bigger. When it comes to opportunity zones, they need to be less of a boondoggle. They need to be reformed so they’re not just a kind of slush fund for big developers.
MR. SHAH: Well, that’s right. But I would say when it comes to the earned income tax credit, we need more innovation so that families can automatically qualify for it, it’s not so hard to qualify.
We’re supporting an effort in Washington State to make that the first state in the country where they expand the credit in a state that doesn’t actually have a state income tax. That will open up more access to it for different communities. Minority communities, Hispanic-American communities, we have a partnership with Unidos to expand access to that community in particular.
I’d say on the opportunity zones and a host of other policies--we heard about portable benefits just now--we’re working on efforts to identify companies that are in fact paying a living wage versus those that are not. On a host of other efforts, we have to do more innovation and experimentation.
And we’re not cynics. We know that tax policy in America for four decades, especially this last tax cut, $2.3 trillion of cost by the Congressional Budget Office scoring goes to the top; 84 percent goes to the top 1 percent. So, yes, American tax policy has been deeply skewed towards wealthy people with lots of personal and corporate capital.
MS. LIASSON: Right. It’s been redistributive, but in the wrong way.
MR. SHAH: It’s been very redistributive in the wrong direction, as I shared with the earlier share of GDP component. We’re working to come up with efforts to correct that. And the EITC is an effort to correct that, an effort to use opportunity zones effectively to lift up local communities, to measure outcomes, to optimize the program and the law is an effort to correct that.
And we’re willing to identify other innovative efforts to change how this country is governed, really inspired by the example of the mayors we heard from this morning, where they’re doing practical, real things to make housing more affordable, to help people stay in their communities when gentrification happens, to help go into jails and prisons and offer social services so that you can lift up everybody. That is where our values are and that’s what our commitment is, to support them in innovating so that others can pick it up and scale access.
MS. LIASSON: So, what does the Rockefeller Foundation do? I know you don’t lobby, but what do you do to advocate on a national level for the big changes in tax policy that will have to happen if these things are going to be scaled up to the level they need to be?
MR. SHAH: Well, I’m glad you said that, because we cannot and don’t directly lobby. But the reality is, there’s so much more we can do as the Rockefeller Foundation and as philanthropy in America to be a voice for people who need a voice.
You know, a working woman who I met picking berries on the Driscoll Farm in California deserves a voice in Washington. The workers I met with at the Ford F-150 pickup truck assembly plant that said, "You know, we’ve been here 17 years, we want to be trained to be electricians. We get paid more if we do. We can’t access the training programs." They need a voice in Washington.
And the truth is, foundations can be platform that gives our grantees that voice, that gives our partners those voices, and that brings people together across left and right to listen to stories of things that are working, to read the research that we can fund and support, that demonstrates that it’s possible to make positive progress.
The EITC, opportunity zones, child tax credit, portable benefits--these are some of the parts of that portfolio, but there is so much more going on across this country. And sometimes we get too focused on the vitriol of a particular debate, or the yelling at each other in Washington. We want to give our partners a voice to really inspire people that we can live in a more fair economy, we can live in a country where people once again have broad faith that the American Dream can work. And we can lift up those communities, African-American, Hispanic-American in particular, where deeps structural racism has prevented access to that upward economic mobility. We can address that challenge as well.
MS. LIASSON: What you just described is not the conversation that’s happening in Washington right now. And you say you want to give these people a voice and these projects a voice. How do you do that on a national level?
MR. SHAH: On a national level? Well, look, some are practical. We support efforts like this to give our grantees and partners the visibility they deserve. Some are supporting coalition groups.
In states around the country, for example, we are supporting coalitions of advocates that are educating lawmakers and educating community activists about programs like the earned income tax credit, like the refundable child tax credit. In some cases, we’re supporting mayors, as I mentioned, to really experiment with and then document, research, and study the effectiveness of their efforts, like the anti-displacement fund we heard about in Atlanta that is helping people stay in their community. If that works, we want the whole country to know about it.
And frankly, we’re investing in and supporting think tanks, research organizations, and advocacy groups right here in Washington much more actively to communicate with lawmakers about what works. There is so much that Americans of every part of civic life can do to influence the way we’re governed that is shy of lobbying. And we need to believe that philanthropy in particular has a greater responsibility to use its voice to lift up those who are America’s working families and who deserve a better future.
MS. LIASSON: Is that a change for the Rockefeller Foundation, to become an advocate in this way?
MR. SHAH: It is in the sense that today we are announcing that we’re opening a Washington, D.C. office to give our partners that platform, and it is the first time in our 106-year history that we have ventured into the beltway. So, yes, that is a change in that context.
But the spirit of our institution has always been committed to equity and to fair governance. And we helped support a long time ago the creation of Social Security. We helped create institutions like the United Negro College Fund and so many others that have really been about making our country truly more equitable, and we’ve been all-in on that values-based mission for 106 years. We’re just venturing a little more deeply into the rough and tumble of Washington policymaking with this effort, but doing it really with a focus on giving our partners a voice and recognizing that, even though we don’t lobby, we can still support experimentation and highlight what works, bring a data- and science-based, evidence-based approach to governance, and try to be a voice of sanity in what is sometimes a loud and angry dialogue.
MS. LIASSON: What’s the single big piece of legislation that Congress could pass and the President can sign that would advance the goals you’re talking about?
MR. SHAH: Well, I think a doubling of the earned income tax credit coupled with dramatic adjustments to eligibility requirements so that single people--
MS. LIASSON: Single people, not just--
MR. SHAH: --can access it, coupled with efforts like what we’re supporting with Code For America, where we’re saying this whole process, if I can buy shoes on my phone in two seconds, this whole process should be easier for people to access, coupled frankly with some of the innovations we’ve seen in New York and Chicago and other cities where they do a really good job of looking at how to support people to not just get a one-time lump sum payment but to access resources more continually through the course of the year.
We can always innovate and make things better, but there are, believe it or not, bipartisan ideas that can work. We have to be more ambitious about them, and they have to squarely work at the central task we face as a nation, which is lifting up 40 percent of our population, where there are kids in households working--where someone is working one or two jobs, or three jobs, and the children are still going hungry, the children are growing up in poverty, and the children have less hopefulness about having a brighter future today than they have at any point in the last 40-50 years. That’s just wrong. We can turn it around. But it will take all of us working together.
MS. LIASSON: Can a big jump in the EITC happen without asking the wealthy to pay more in taxes?
MR. SHAH: Well, the $2.3 trillion tax cut that was just passed, that’s over 10 years. That’s a Congressional Budget Office estimate. A doubling of the earned income tax credit in a 10-year context would be about $600 billion and would put, you know, as you heard earlier today, $6,000-$7,000 targeted in the hands of working mothers in particular, who are the engine of this economy.
MS. LIASSON: So, it’s pretty small price tag. Yeah, yeah.
MR. SHAH: So relative to the tax cut that was just offered corporations and the wealthiest 1 percent of American households, it is a small expenditure.
In the context of today’s politics, you’d probably need--you know, you'd probably need to generate revenue by having a more fair tax code, and this is one small part of that enterprise.
MS. LIASSON: Thank you very much, Raj Shah. It was great to talk to you. We’re now going to turn this back over to The Washington Post.
The Wealth Gap: Addressing Economic Inequality in the U.S.
MR. SCOTT: Good morning. I am Eugene Scott. I’m a political reporter with The Fix, a political analysis blog here at The Washington Post. And we’re here to discuss the wealth gap.
This morning I have with my Ryan Bourne from the Cato Institute; Dr. Sandy Darity from Duke University; Janell Byrd, who is the Director of the Thurgood Marshall Institute at the NAACP at the Legal Defense and Education Fund; and entrepreneur and investor Melissa Bradley.
We’re here this morning to talk about this current wealth gap and the big picture of economic inequality and specifically how it relates to the 2020 presidential election.
But before we begin, I want to remind our audience to tweet your questions to me using the hashtag #PostLive, and I’ll get them here on my iPad, if we get through my questions first. But let’s certainly begin and get engaged.
And so, Ryan, why is the wealth gap growing so significantly, so dramatically in the U.S. right now?
MR. BOURNE: Well, first of all, it’s worth noting economists disagree on the scale of which wealth inequality is increasing. A lot of the work produced by economists Thomas Piketty and some economists associated with him seem to think that wealth inequality has gone up a lot over the past 30 to 40 years, nearly a doubling of the wealth share of the top 1 percent. Other economists come to a bit more sanguine conclusions that it’s increased by 6 percentage points, or whatever. I don’t think anybody, though, any economist doubts that wealth inequality has increased.
The key question is, is this a good metric by which to judge the health of an economy? And I would argue that it isn’t. And the reason for that, one reason is, if you look internationally, the level of wealth inequality in the U.S. is extraordinarily similar to the level of wealth inequality in Russia and the level of wealth inequality in Denmark--two countries that have very, very different social outcomes and in terms of quality of life and a whole range of other things in terms of how well the poor do.
In Russia, wealth inequality is high because of systemic corruption and cronyism. In the U.S., I think there’s a combination of a multitude of different issues, but some entrepreneurs are able to become incredibly wealthy through the economic system that we get providing goods and services that people need. And in Denmark, paradoxically, wealth inequality is high because there are big redistributive programs. And big redistributive programs, while closing the income inequality gap, actually tend to widen wealth inequality because they both deter saving among the middle classes and actually lessen the need to save privately.
So, we have to be very careful here when we are discussing this issue. I think wealth inequality has gone up modestly to significantly. Whether that’s the right metric for assessing the health of the economy is another matter. I’d argue that what we should be looking at instead is both opportunity and the cost of living, particularly for poor households. And that’s where my focus as a researcher has been.
MR. SCOTT: Dr. Darity, what are your thoughts about that?
MR. DARITY: So, I agree that a lot of our focus does need to be on issues concerning income disparities, but I think that wealth is actually more important, and I think it’s more important for a number of reasons.
I think first of all wealthier families are in a position to substitute for income losses in a way that less wealthy families cannot. So, you might lose income as a consequence of a loss of a job, or you might have a family that’s confronted with a medical emergency, and wealthier families are better able to cope with those kinds of circumstances.
Councilwoman Kendra Brooks was just talking about the kinds of obligations that she has for other family members at both ends of the age spectrum, and wealthier families are better able to cope with that type of circumstance. Wealthier families can provide their kids with a college education that’s debt-free. Wealthier families also have the capacity to be more engaged in the political process in a society in which money matters in the process of engaging in electoral politics.
And so, as a consequence I think wealth inequality is a very good metric of the degree of disparity that exists in the society in terms of opportunity for participation in the full scope of American life.
And I will say this: Regardless of whether or not you make international comparisons, the degree of wealth inequality in the United States today, where 0.1 percent of the nation’s wealth distribution possesses more than 20 percent of the nation’s wealth, is a degree of inequality that is similar to what existed during the Great Depression. And so, that’s a change that has taken place in the United States over time. It’s a restoration of the type of inequality we had in the 1930s, and that’s very dangerous.
MR. SCOTT: So, now Dr. Darity spoke about how different groups experience emergencies differently based on their wealth and their financial health. We know that people of color in the U.S. are significantly more likely to feel the financial strain of housing and lack of necessities when it comes to health insurance. They bring in less monthly income when compared to whites. When you think of this, do you think of any particular ways in which we can close the gap?
MS. BYRD-CHICHESTER: Well, yes, there are lots of things that can be done. And I think it starts with particularly when you talk about the racial wealth gap, because there is a wealth gap generally and then there is a racial wealth gap.
When you talk about, for example, the black-white racial wealth gap, we have to start with what are the origins of it and some of the key components. What drives that gap? What has driven it?
And if we look historically--we look historically and it starts with slavery and you come on up over the generations, through Jim Crow and all the practices of the 20th century. In particular, people would certainly highlight red-lining and the impacts of that and what’s happened with housing in the U.S., is a critical component of the racial wealth gap.
So we have to, I think, look hard at housing and look at housing segregation, because what red-lining drove was not only a lesser investment in black people, a lesser subsidy given from the government to black people than to white people in the housing market, but it also drove segregation.
So, we have a very segregated society, which did not occur organically. This was driven by government and state policy. We are still very segregated. And then, you layer that with wealth and income disparities, you see that we have, I would say, a gross concentration of race and poverty in the African-American community that you do not see in the white community. And so, those are significant factors in terms of what we need to look at in terms of devising strategies to try to address the wealth gap.
And then, you turn to strategies, all right? So, let’s look at what’s happening with affordable housing. Let’s look at what’s happening with public housing that’s been available, housing subsidies, housing choice vouchers, low-income housing tax credit programs. Some of these programs, the housing voucher program, the LIHTC program, these are programs which have significant ability to change some of the trajectory here, but we haven’t funded them sufficiently. So, we need to look at it. That’s just beginning to peel back. I mean, I really haven’t gotten started, but I know our time is limited. So, I’ll stop with that.
MR. SCOTT: Well, you did mention income disparities, and I wanted to talk to Melissa about that. A lot of the conversation we have coming out of government, particularly the White House right now, is touting low unemployment rates for black Americans, low unemployment rates for women. How have working people in communities of color, how have women fared in this economy that’s largely viewed as a very healthy one?
MS. BRADLEY: Well, I think to the points made earlier, health is relative depending on who the patient is. And if the patient looks like me, then I would say we’re not doing well.
And I do think that this complexity of race and class has created lots of myths around who was doing well and who isn’t, depending on what your points of comparison are.
Forty percent of Americans cannot afford an emergency of $400. Twenty-two percent would say they’re probably going to have to miss a bill over the next three months. Those are considered liquid-asset poor. So, the majority of people are struggling, and struggling at different levels. And when you add the racial lens and 57 percent of us are liquid-asset poor and tend to be more consistently. A single black woman makes a half a cent for every dollar that a white person makes. So, when I hear statistics--and certainly living here in D.C. we hear a lot of them--that says the economy is doing well, I’m very concerned for whom.
If you think about the tax cuts that were mentioned on earlier panels, the idea for those kind of strategies--and you’re thinking about interest rate cuts--is that we’re allowing dollars to be reinvested by companies into job creation. In the case of America, the majority of companies took that money and reinvested it in shareholder buyback. So, the wealthiest group got even wealthier, and those who are working hourly jobs, who have now become 1099 employees remain some of the most vulnerable.
And so, I think the issue of income inequality is extremely important for all races. But certainly, when you think about African-Americans, coupled with the fact that we already know based on stories that many outstanding publications have done, our cost of living is already higher because we don’t own homes. We had a 40-percent drop in home ownership. And rental rates are outrageous.
Just try to live anywhere in the District of Columbia. If you think about if you happen to be a homeowner, we know that vicious cycle of red-lining, that you’re spending more. And so, the reality is, is that regardless of the health and what that aggregate number says, individuals are truly struggling.
If you think about entrepreneurs, at Georgetown I have the privilege to be a professor in the Business School, and we did a study that said it costs $250,000 more at the very least, for a person of color to start the same exact business as their white male peer. So, we have to recognize that while it may seem that things are well, for individuals in certain communities, the persistence from slavery until now has allowed a lack of equity in terms of our ability to advance.
MR. SCOTT: You mentioned income. And, Ryan, I wanted to have a bit of talk about the minimum wage. Should there be a federal minimum wage? Like, should the power lay in the states? Can one size fit all here?
MR. BOURNE: Well, I think there are big risks with increase in the minimum wage to a very, very high level. Economists seem to agree these days that if a minimum wage is set modestly, the overall impact on employment doesn’t seem to be that significant, though certain groups, particularly very, very low-skill groups, young workers in particular, it can have some adverse consequences on the job opportunities that they’re going to get.
And certainly, in an age where we’re seeing investments in automation of jobs, you know, it’s not clear to me why, in effect, you’d want to kind of subsidize automation by making low-skilled labor more expensive.
To the extent that we have minimum wages, I think it makes sense for them to be set at the state and local level, where at least there’s more likelihood of politicians, regulators setting them with a view to the impact on the local labor market. But my whole work at Cato really has been trying to shift this debate.
Often, when we talk about issues to do with poverty, we focus on income and wealth all the time. And what really matters to people is how far that income and wealth can go in meeting the needs of a decent life. And I think too much focus in politics is put on the minimum wage and on redistributive spending, when actually there is a vast range of government policies from zoning and land use planning laws, from how we regulate childcare, from what we do in terms of tariffs and protections that raise the cost of food and clothing and footwear, things that disproportionally affect people on low incomes and African-American communities as part of that.
And I think we need a much bigger focus in thinking about poverty by looking at actually how far can income and wealth go in getting people to a decent life.
And if we reform those areas and had a government approach which at first did no harm, then perhaps we wouldn’t need to always think about ways to correct problems that we see through further income transfers or through raising the minimum wage. We could achieve a living wage through lowering the cost of living rather than raising the nominal wage rate.
MR. SCOTT: Speaking of meeting basic needs and the challenges of that, Dr. Darity, some argue that driving up wages can make, you know, getting these basic goods very--much more expensive. The cost will fall disproportionately on the poor or on people with low income, or workers themselves. What are your thoughts on that argument and specifically perhaps the economic impact of, like a $15 federal minimum wage?
MR. DARITY: So, let me angle into that in a slightly different way. I want to make a sharp distinction between income and wealth. And so, when we’re talking about the minimum wage, we’re talking about an income impact. We’re not talking about any significant impact on the wealth position of families or households.
So, the minimum wage is something that I think is overstated in terms of its importance, but for slightly different reasons from the reasons that you emphasized. So, if an individual doesn’t have a job at all, the effective minimum wage is zero. In addition, the minimum wage does not guarantee a sufficient number of hours of work to ensure that people will receive an adequate benefits package.
So, I’ve been a proponent of an alternative to the minimum wage as a mechanism for trying to set a floor on the compensation that workers receive in American society. I’ve been an advocate for a number of years of a federal job guarantee, which is an idea that arose in 1940s in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s economic bill of rights, which we now are talking about as an economic bill of rights for the 21st century. Federal job guarantee would mean that every American adult would be assured of having employment in the United States, and that employment would be provided by the federal government. So, any individual could turn to the federal government and say I want a job in the event that they cannot find adequate employment in the private sector.
What would this mean? The federal government would ensure that every American would have a wage that would be sufficient to put them above the poverty line and provide them with a benefits package that would be comparable to the benefits package that is available for all American civil servants at the present moment.
What would that do in terms of private sector compensation? It would require the private sector to at least match the minimum package that’s offered by the federal government. And so, it would push up the floor on the compensation for all Americans. So, we wouldn’t necessarily need a minimum wage because that would effectively compensate for that kind of strategy. And we would also be in a position to conduct a set of services for the American public that are not adequately provided today through the federal job guarantee. So, I’m a public sector employment advocate in the context of the provision of public sector opportunities for employment for every single American.
MR. SCOTT: And so, speaking of employment and public sector and the private sector, I want to talk about racial bias in the workplace.
And, Janell, how does that impact inequality between white Americans and people of color? What are some of the opportunity gaps that stem from racial bias in the workplace?
MS. BYRD-CHICHESTER: Well, I’m going to take a little liberty because there are two points I want to add to my last answer just because I didn’t get them in and I should have.
MR. SCOTT: Sure, okay.
MS. BYRD-CHICHESTER: One is, we need to enforce the Fair Housing Act and the fair housing laws. Ongoing discrimination in the housing market is alive and well. Many people probably saw the article in The New York Times a few months ago about Long Island, where there was a text done by Newsday with testers, and it just confirms what we all already know. So, I just did not want to let that slip off.
MR. DARITY: Could I throw something else in, please?
MS. BYRD-CHICHESTER: Certainly.
MR. DARITY: I just want to say there is no such thing as unskilled labor. There’s labor that is performed by people who do not have educational degrees like many of us on this stage, but that does not mean they are not skilled. And so, I just wanted to emphasize that. I don’t like that phrase unskilled labor.
MR. BOURNE: I didn’t use that phrase. I said low-skilled, but...
MR. DARITY: I don’t believe it’s low skills, okay?
MR. SCOTT: But I know the point you made about the Housing Act was important, because I feel like a lot of the conversation about red-lining that’s happening in the current presidential election implies that this is something that ended and happened once upon a time.
MS. BYRD-CHICHESTER: No.
MR. SCOTT: Yeah.
MS. BYRD-CHICHESTER: Well, redlining in the form in which it occurred through the Homeowners Loan Corporation, FHA, Veterans Administration starting in the ‘30s--it probably ended in the mid 60’s--but the effects of that red-lining are ongoing and cumulative. I mean, in a study we just did, we showed how the red-lining in New Orleans, you can track that to get the health effects by those same red-lining jurisdictions. And you can see that people who were in the areas that were designated for African-Americans are trailing by about 10 years in life expectancy and those in the white areas are exceeding, significantly, by about 10 years. And so, there’s a huge health effect as well from red-lining.
And then we had the reverse red-lining that came with the housing crisis, where those same communities, which were credit poor, they were credit starved, because of discrimination. There was a shortage of available funding for those communities. And so, when the financial services industry realized that there was equity in those homes and there were folks who they actually could target for loans, they targeted those communities disproportionately with predatory loans. And these were high-cost loans to people who over 50 percent for African-Americans--over 50 percent of those who got those high-cost loans during the crisis period, in the leadup to the crisis, also qualified for prime loans, but they were targeted with these high-cost loans.
And where did that leave people? That left them in a position where when the crisis came and the economy crashed, they were at risk and they were disproportionately delinquent, defaulting, and foreclosed on. And so, they lost all their wealth because that’s where most people hold their wealth, in their homes. So, that aspect of the crisis and red-lining, the segregation and the segregation of our society is still significant and a significant component.
With respect to the job market and racial bias in the job market, as a society, we know that racial bias is alive and well, and we’ve seen in a lot of the efforts to try to affirmatively address it have been challenging. Some of it is implicit bias where people may not realize that they’re actually biased in the way in which they’re acting, hiring, assessing us, providing assignments, or paying people in their jobs.
But then, there is also overt bias as well. And so, what we see is, we still are challenged in that space, like the rest of the space that we work in and live in, whether it’s healthcare, housing, employment, policing, criminal justice system, that racial bias has a real and impactful and negative effect on the African-American community.
And the way I would say that we continue to fight against this is by bringing our society together more than we are. Living separately does mean that we don’t know who they are and what they’re doing, or maybe we don’t trust them and we don’t have the same expectations, or we don’t realize that they actually can do a good job.
And so, I think that we have to continue to enforce the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act that bars discrimination in employment, and we have to continue to push employers to do far better than they’re doing on this front. You still see gross stratification when you look at, particularly in some of the higher-wage sectors in terms of hiring of African-Americans, women, Latinos, Asians. There’s still a long way to go.
MR. SCOTT: Especially when it comes to management.
MS. BYRD-CHICHESTER: That’s what I meant, in the upper-income sectors, yes.
MR. SCOTT: Yeah. And so, Melissa, you work with a lot of women and people of color, especially at the early stages of starting their careers, particularly in the area of entrepreneurship. What are some of the biggest challenges you see black women specifically facing?
MS. BRADLEY: How much time do we have?
So, I think one is they’re starting from a negative point, not only based on the research that I found that it cost a quarter-million dollars more, but where most entrepreneurs find the assets to be able to start a business is from home ownership, or from wealth, or from stock ownership, which most black women don’t have access to because they haven’t had the income that generated the wealth that’s provided the economic security. It's an important--
MR. SCOTT: So, a lot of attention being paid to how well the stock market is doing or not doing.
MS. BRADLEY: When only 10 percent of most folks--you know, the wealthy people own stocks. The middle-class own homes. Black people own nothing. We don’t even own our own narrative most of the time.
And I think that it’s important, though, because when you have large companies taking their tax cuts and paying back their shareholders, and only 25 percent of new jobs being created in the bottom 60 percent of ZIP Codes, it speaks to just a lack of employment opportunity. The bias isn’t even allowed to happen because there are no jobs. And then you add on low education, poor education in our communities, STEM coming in as supported or subsidized, but not a real commitment.
But I think this question about entrepreneurship is extremely important, because 40 percent of white men--there’s a decline in entrepreneurship, 40 percent amongst white men. So, the savior who was going to create all these new jobs is not there. The majority of new jobs are being created by black women. African-American women are creating jobs six times their white male peers.
That’s significant because they are now the job creators. Entrepreneurship amongst black Americans is 20 percent. It is 12 percent among white Americans. The problem is, we don’t have the same amount of zeros at the end because of lack of access to capital, affordable capital. We are charged an average of one-and-a-half times more on a loan than a white person starting a business. And that’s actually allowed, which is problematic.
But what is most significant as we think about the demographic shifts and the fact that people who look like me are about to be the new majority--and I realize that scares people--if black businesses had been invested on par or in parity with white businesses, we would 570,000 new businesses by black folks, $150 billion in economic uplift. And that’s about a million new jobs. And that’s significant because black businesses hire people of color.
And so, when you think about the historic disinvestment in our communities and this demographic shift, we are about to be negative net worth because of the racism and the sexism that has existed, and the fact that as a finance person, we have underinvested in what is possibly the greatest asset in this country that is going to leave all of us asset poor and embarrassed on the world stage.
MR. SCOTT: You’re talking a bit, Melissa, about disinvestment and communities.
And, Ryan, I hope you could talk a bit here about how, like, inequality and poverty are linked and what impact that has on a community.
MR. BOURNE: Well, it’s not clear to me they are always linked. But clearly, in the sense of talking about the African-American community, nobody could deny, looking at the huge wealth gap that does exist between African-American and white household families, which is around a scale of 10 times more wealth in average white--the median white household than the median African-American household, I don’t think that anybody could deny that in part at least that is a result of historic issues of slavery and racism. I think looking at the scale of those numbers, it’s just impossible to come to any other conclusion.
But the real question is, then, well, what to do about it, because clearly this is a politically very difficult issue. I know various people have talked about the issue of reparations, a sort of very wrenching question. It throws up a huge range of questions about who should finance reparations, who should receive reparations. It’s very difficult.
So, I think in terms of political feasibility, what I would want to see is, I think we have a moral duty to actually reform and change policies in areas where we clearly can do something with a degree of political will. So, housing and zoning laws I think is absolutely key. We need to make it easier to build homes in areas where people want to live, and that will have an effect of making housing more affordable more broadly, but especially in cities that are highly productive and which are generating jobs and growth and opportunity.
I think we need further criminal justice reform. I think that’s absolutely key. School choice I think is a big issue. I think we need to liberate people from being condemned to poor public schooling in particular areas.
And we do need to make it easier--look at some of the banking regulations and things to make it easier for financial inclusion, and for poorer households, African-American households in many cases, to be able to save and invest.
If we can do all of those things, then I do think you would see a closure of that gap. Where that gap would end up and how much can be explained by these, as I regard them, policy mistakes, I’m not sure. But I think that should be the area that we’re starting from.
MR. SCOTT: Dr. Darity, you were one of the various people who talked about reparations. I’ve quoted you quite a bit in my work. When you think about ways to address the racial wealth gap, and through the lens of reparations, like what’s one of the most effective steps you think can be taken immediately?
MR. DARITY: Well, I want to thank Ryan for introducing reparations into the conversation. So, I’ve done a substantial amount of work on this topic, particularly in conjunction with my partner Kirsten Mullen. And we have a new book on reparations that will be available in April called “From Here to Equality.” In the final chapter we try to sketch how you might actually execute a reparations program.
I think one of the critical things that we have to recognize is the magnitude of the racial wealth gap. And I think we’ve talked about the racial wealth gap here, but I don’t think we’ve offered any numbers to give people a sense of the scale of that disparity. So, if you were to examine the American population as a whole, black Americans are about 13 percent of the nation’s population but black Americans possess less than 3 percent of the nation’s wealth. What that translates into, at the average, is an $800,000 differential per black and white household. That is to say, the average black household has $800,000 less in net worth than the average white household.
And I’m talking about looking at the average or the mean instead of the median, which Ryan referred to, because 94 percent of the wealth that is held by white households is held by white households who have a net worth above the white median. And so, if we’re thinking about closing the racial wealth gap, we have to think about closing it at the mean rather than at the median to absorb the full differential in the proportion of wealth that’s held by the two communities.
So, if you were to bring the black share of wealth at least to the black share of the population, it would require an additional at least $10 trillion. And so, the others kinds of programs or initiatives that we’re talking about are not going to come anywhere close to trying to eliminate or eradicate a gap at that magnitude. And so, that’s why we need to turn to something like a reparations program, which is specifically aimed at building black assets to a level that would be comparable to the level of assets that are held by white Americans on average.
MR. SCOTT: I am going to go to Twitter since we got a question there. Cheryl wants to know if working mothers should drive the economy. How has gender disparity and pay contributed to the overall wealth gap? Melissa, I feel like you since deal with gender and...
MS. BRADLEY: Well, I mean, I think, you know, the statistics are pretty obvious, right? Again, a single black woman makes a half a cent compared to a dollar. And I think that if you look at who--even in the video, I think--single women in general drive the economy, particularly the low-wage jobs that are the ones that are barely left since so much has moved up to technology.
I think what is significant is that we know 80 percent of financial decisions are made by women. So, there is no doubt that even globally women are the economic driver.
I think it’s important to be able to support that group, one, because the numbers bear it out in terms of being able to contribute to a larger, healthier economy and GDP.
I think, two, they represent a growing proportion of the economy--of the country, I am sorry, irrespective of race.
And then three, those are the ones that are actually leading, guiding, nurturing, and financially responsible for the next generation.
ProPublica did a documentary called “Left Behind” that looked at Dayton, Ohio. And it’s a unique case study, one, not just because I know somebody who is from there, but it looked at this distinction that most Americans, irrespective of race, are not doing well. But because of historical racism and segregation, there is a belief--I would argue a myth--that many white lower middle-class have they are doing better than they are. And there’s an aspirational goal to do better than a black person, when the reality is, is that if you actually focus on single parents, you would actually help uplift the entire economy since that consists of many of the communities, particularly those in the rust belt that are completely overlooked.
And particularly, the last thing I would say is that--and it’s not just proactively supporting them because of the contributions they can make. That again, historical disinvestment has caused significant trauma to those communities, both in terms of housing loss, ongoing discrimination, but as someone mentioned in the earlier panel, the opioid crisis, the heroin addiction, the fact that there is a program in Ohio to this day that is spending 25 times--because babies are being born in withdrawal. And so, we have to own that there are clearly issues in this country that are perpetuated and exacerbated because of race, but the majority of this country is not doing well, and the blindness because of race is actually allowing all of us to only fall farther behind, except for that very lucky 10 percent.
MR. SCOTT: We touched on some of these issues very briefly, and the presidential debate last night, specifically reparations and the gaps in terms of the haves and have-nots in different parts of the region, and gender and race. And here’s hoping we’ll talk more about it moving forward here at Post Live and beyond.
And so, I want to thank you all for spending time with us today, and we thank you all for coming out.
[End recorded session]