Finding Hope in Local Power: Advancing Racial, Gender, and Economic Justice in this Moment of Crisis

By Jhumpa Bhattacharya and Anne Price | Medium

Last week, the United States saw a staggering 3.28 million workers file for unemployment benefits, shattering the previous record of 695,000 claims filed in October of 1982. With businesses closed and people sheltering at home, there is little doubt that we are heading for a recession — and in a worst-case scenario, a steep recession followed by a sustained depression.

In an attempt to bandage this economic hemorrhage, the Federal Government passed the $2 trillion CARES package. More a relief package than an economic stimulus act, CARES provides emergency fixes, but does not go far enough. More phases to this legislation are hopefully coming as Congress dukes it out on the Hill to ensure all Americans are protected and cared for in what is an unprecedented global pandemic.

The good news is we don’t need to wait for Washington policymakers to make moves to protect Black and Brown communities and women who are facing higher levels of job loss and economic insecurity due to COVID-19. A lot can be done at the local and state levels, and localities are stepping up to fill much needed gaps to ensure racial and gender justice stays front and center in our response to the pandemic.

Read the full co-authored piece here.

Coronavirus Pandemic Gives Rise to Another Contagion — Xenophobia

By Aisa Villarosa | Medium

While issuing a proclamation of national emergency to help curb the spread of one virus, the President and other American leaders have actively promoted another contagion.

Condoned by the single most powerful figure in our government, the resurgent xenophobia tied to Covid-19 — also referred to as “Wuhan virus” and “kung-flu” by White House officials, politicians, and the media — has become weaponized and widely disseminated.

Nationwide surges in anti-Asian violence are again a norm, buttressed by harmful misinformation and further legitimized by institutions and communities. Universities have assured students that “fears about interacting with those who might be from Asia” are acceptable reactions. Many deploy the term “China virus” as if those of Chinese or Asian heritage are themselves a walking, breathing plague. Boycotts of Chinese restaurants and assaults on business owners, workers, and customers persist, driven by racist narratives of Asian food, services, and people being unclean and dangerous.

We are fighting two viruses — coronavirus and racialized hatred — and right now, one is much more relentlessly pernicious than the other. Far from isolated, this new era of “yellow peril” is the latest chapter in a deep American history marked by racism and xenophobia.

Click here to read her full piece.


28 Days of Truth Telling is Never Enough

By Anne Price

Black History Month was created in response to lies told about Black Americans.

Since its inception in 1926, Black History Month has not only served to celebrate overlooked contributions Black people have made in shaping American culture and history, but has also been a movement to correct distortions, falsehoods, and stereotypes about Black people and Black life.

In short, we get one month when it’s “okay” to talk about all the ways anti-blackness permeates our policies, programs, and practices — and that’s woefully inadequate.

We must move beyond a 28-day recognition of the extraordinary achievements of Black people by focusing on how to dismantle anti-blackness year-round. We have to continuously work to lift up the humanity of Black people, and focus on how anti-blackness maintains racial oppression and economic exclusion today, and will continue to do so without a sustained effort to address anti-blackness head on.

Click here to read Anne’s full piece.

Don’t Fixate on the Racial Wealth Gap: Focus on Undoing Its Root Causes

Inequality is a defining American issue, and perhaps no measure more accurately exemplifies the failures and injustices of historic and current-day economic decisions than the “racial wealth gap.” In the current political moment—when bold ideas to rebalance economic and political power, especially by race, are central to public debate—we have the opportunity to reevaluate how we think about racial inequality and how our current economic system has exacerbated it.

In Don’t Fixate on the Racial Wealth Gap: Focus on Undoing Its Root Causes, Insight Center for Community Economic Development President and Roosevelt Fellow Anne Price examines how focusing on the root of racial wealth inequality rather than fixating on the racial wealth gap can help us build a path toward a fairer and more sustainable economic and political system—one that will right our historical wrongs and prevent such injustices from occurring in the future.

Click here to download and share the report.

What the Moms 4 Housing Movement Reveals About the Homelessness Crisis

By Jhumpa Bhattacharya | Ms. Magazine

In an act of civil disobedience—and out of the need to secure a safe space for their children to live—members of Moms 4 Housing, a collective of unhoused mothers in Oakland advocating for housing to be seen as a human right, had settled into a two-year vacant home in West Oakland in November of 2019 with the goal of raising national awareness of the no-end-in-sight housing and homeless epidemic in California. Last week, armed police from the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office came in the dark hours before dawn to evict and consequently arrest the single Black mothers.

The optics were chilling: men in riot gear with AK47s drawn stormed into a home where homeless Black women and their children were seeking shelter in the cold, wet winter months. The images from the scene challenge us to examine how race and gender inequality are embedded in the DNA of our homelessness epidemic.

Click here to read the full article.

Celebrating 50 Years of Impact

We are looking back at 50 years of impact with a timeline of the Insight Center’s major milestones and achievements. Half a century after our founding, we are more dedicated than ever to helping people become and remain not only economically secure, but whole – to be fully seen and treated with dignity at home, on the job, and by the government.

Together with a dynamic national cohort of partners and advocates, we look forward to the next 50 years of sparking big, bold ideas, amplifying community voices and solutions to address inequity, and leading movements to advance economic prosperity for all.

Baby Bonds: A Universal Path to Ensure the Next Generation Has the Capital to Thrive

A new report released today by the Insight Center for Community Economic Development in collaboration with The Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University explores a potential universal approach to address issues of chronically low, zero, or negative wealth through race-conscious policy: Baby Bonds.

The report, titled Baby Bonds: A Universal Path to Ensure the Next Generation Has the Capital to Thrive, focuses specifically on Cory Booker’s Opportunity Accounts policy, also known as Baby Bonds, which stands out for its goals and projected ability to address intergenerational wealth disparities and their ripple effects.

Baby Bonds highlights how our current racial wealth inequities are the result of past and present government actions and policies, versus individual actions and choices. Therefore, solutions to address racial wealth inequities must involve government action, with Baby Bonds being a promising policy to begin to alleviate such massive racial injustice.

The report shows that providing a vehicle for investment to those who have been excluded from accessing wealth, especially those who grew up without assets, to pursue education or home ownership without going into or exacerbating substantial debt, could be a step forward to decrease economic disparity.

While additional policies are needed to effectively address the $15 trillion wealth gap between Black people and white people, the report reveals that a federal-level Baby Bonds program has the potential to:

  • Considerably narrow wealth inequalities by race and that every racial group would be better off at the median with such a program.

  • Foster greater community wealth-building efforts, allowing family and community members to pool resources to acquire an asset.

  • Mitigate some of the impact of mass incarceration that disproportionately affects Black families.

The report amplifies the urgency of the intergenerational wealth gap while distinguishing and acknowledging the racial wealth gap, with a grave imperative to address both through a race-conscious, universal policy like Baby Bonds. It also provides detailed recommendations around Baby Bonds as a viable policy initiative, and identifies case studies of related programs in the U.S. and abroad.

Click here to read and download the full report (PDF).

Young group taking a selfie

New SNAP Rule Is Fueled by Anti-Blackness

By Anne Price | Medium

Last week, the Trump administration issued a punitive new rule in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) that is projected to push 700,000 of the most destitute Americans off the program. The new rule not only undermines the purpose of the SNAP program, which is to expand during economic downturns and tackle food insecurity, but also intentionally harms marginally employed Americans.

Since 1996, non-disabled adults without dependents (ages 18 through 49), commonly referred to as “able-bodied” adults, are limited to 3 months of benefits out of every 36 months if they are not working 20 hours a week or showing participation in a work training program. Governors of states with high unemployment rates, however, can ask the U.S. Department of Agriculture (the entity that runs SNAP) to waive this time limit, allowing people to receive benefits beyond the statutory time limits set for the program. Thirty-six states currently have waivers from the three-month cutoff, but beginning in April 2020 the new rule imposes stricter criteria that states must meet in order to receive a waiver.

The focus on the “able-bodied” is as old as the English poor law dating back to 1601 — this set of laws laid the groundwork for social policy in the United States — distinguishing between people who we thought should be working, and those who couldn’t work for a reason. It set the foundation for who we see as deserving and undeserving today. And how we divide people into the deserving and undeserving is deeply racialized.

For decades lawmakers have peddled tropes of government dependency and painted the “able-bodied” as lazy and cheats as a cover to attack SNAP. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s announcement that “we’re taking action to reform our SNAP program in order to restore the dignity of work to a sizable segment of our population and be respectful of the taxpayers who fund the program,” was taken from a very old playbook. He was dog-whistling a tired, age-old trope of deservedness and race.

A similar, but much more racially explicit sentiment was echoed back in 2012, when Republican Rick Santorum was running for President and calling for SNAP reforms. “I don’t want to make Black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money,” Santorum said. “I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money and provide for themselves and their families.” Santorum was clearly articulating that he simply does not believe the government should be helping Black people, ignoring historic and current government-sponsored policies that contribute to the economic insecurity of Black people.

Click here to read Anne’s full piece.

The Power of Narrative in Economic Policy

In the summer of 2016, the Insight Center embarked on an ethnographic research project to develop a policy agenda to address economic well-being and inequality. A pioneering organization in racial wealth inequity work, we were eager to understand which bold economic policies would resonate with a cross section of Americans — rural, urban, liberal, conservative and across race.

We wanted to test how policies like baby bonds, universal childcare, federal jobs guarantee and guaranteed income — among others — held water across groups, and how they needed to be messaged to garner support. What we found was no matter what the policy platform is, our policy work could fail immensely without first tackling narrative.

Narratives — our cultural understandings, frames of reference or mental models — play a significant role in how leaders create and implement policies, and how people on the ground react to them.

More than just stories of specific people, narratives contribute to our sense of the world and helps us create order in a fairly chaotic landscape. Specific stories inform the narratives that we hold near and dear in our hearts and minds, and narratives in turn become an endless story that we build upon and continuously shape.

For example, the “Great American Pioneer” was a story that contributed to the individualistic, “pick yourself up by your own bootstraps” and “American Dream” narratives. That story has now morphed into the Silicon Valley entrepreneur, which contributes to the bootstraps and American Dream narrative. We bounce new ideas and concepts up against our deep-seated narratives, and our narratives inform who we build empathy for, and who we don’t.

What’s tremendously important to understand for those of us fighting for racial and economic justice in America, is that the narratives we hold are based on a hyper-focus on the individual versus systems, and are rooted in racism, xenophobia and sexism.

This lethal combination makes it extremely difficult to pass the policies we need to make comprehensive, transformative structural change toward economic, racial and gender justice. As Rashad Robinson says, “Narrative builds power for people.”

The question we must grapple with is, who are our current narratives building power for, and who do they purposefully leave behind?

Read the full piece on Medium here.

A “New Normal” Fuels Instability — and Inequality — in California

By Anne Price | Medium

Under a state of emergency, Californians are watching in dismay as fast-burning fires rage across the state, destroying homes and businesses, scorching tens of thousands of acres, and forcing hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate.

These fires will continue to burn hotter, longer, and bigger without a concerted, transformational effort to address climate change in California. In the meantime, the short-sighted planned power outages implemented by energy utilities are also posing potentially dire long-term consequences.

Some experts claim the economic and human costs of preemptive power outages are incalculable. Pacific Gas & Electric deems these outages as a “new normal,” necessary to prevent its equipment from sparking a catastrophic fire under high winds and dry conditions. These types of shut-offs could last a decade as the company seeks to modernize its vast network.

While the devastating effects of both fires and outages are being felt by all Californians, they are not affecting them equally.

Skyrocketing home prices along the coast have pushed lower-income, struggling residents eastward into the most fire-prone regions of the state, putting them directly in harm’s way. And even as fires strike more affluent communities near the coast, their residents flee while domestic workers and laborers find themselves in danger after showing up, unwarned, for work.

Amid pre-emptive shutoffs, those with the most wealth can independently power their homes and businesses with generators and energy-battery storage. And when disaster does strike, they can rebuild homes sometimes worth more than the ones that burned.

Those who are already struggling the most, however, may never be able to fully recover…

Click here to read and share Anne’s full letter.