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.

Sexual Harassment isn’t a “Women’s Issue”—It’s an Economic Epidemic

By Rakeen Mabud and Jhumpa Bhattacharya

Opera is dramatic and incisive, known for its ability to swiftly expose universal truths about human nature in just a few acts. But just as art imitates life, so too does life imitate art—and in the case of Plácido Domingo, who resigned as director of the Los Angeles Opera following multiple sexual harassment allegations last week, the line between art and reality has become increasingly blurred.

The allegations facing one of opera’s most prominent voices has exposed deep truths about power in the workplace and the compounding repercussions that women, and in turn our economy, face in the wake of workplace sexual misconduct. But we must not lose sight of the survivors of the alleged harassment.

Twenty opera singers who worked with Domingo have reported incidents of sexual harassment going back decades—including groping, unwanted physical contact and persistent contact, often late at night. In response, these women developed an “oral tradition,” as one mezzo-soprano called it, where women would warn each other about Domingo’s behavior and share tactics for how to avoid him or get out of situations alone with him. That choice often stunted their professional growth.

Read the full article here >>

1/20/18

 

Issue Brief | Latinx Families in the Golden State: When Working Hard Isn’t Enough

New Data Highlights Income and Job Inequities for California’s Largest Ethnic Group

Despite a growing economy in California, Latinx families are systematically being left behind and struggling to get by. The Insight Center report, titled Latinx Families in the Golden State: When Working Hard Isn’t Enough, shows that more than half (52%) of all Latinx households in California—or 1.6 million families—are struggling to pay for housing, put food on the table, and keep the lights on while working full-time at one or more jobs.

Latinx Families in the Golden State uses census data and Insight’s Family Needs Calculator to examine what life really looks like for the largest ethnic group in California. Among other findings, the data shows:

  • Latinx families have limited access to quality jobs and are subjected to wages far below those of other ethnic/racial groups.
  • Latinx women in particular face sexism and racism in CA’s economy and therefore face additional barriers to achieving economic security.
  • Educational attainment is not an economic equalizer for Latinx people.

The report’s findings further reveal that despite working hard:

  • The typical Latinx household has an income that is $40,000 less than their white peers.
  • 65% of Latinx families with children are not sure how they will pay all of their bills each month.
  • About 61% of Latinx immigrant households can barely make ends meet.
  • The median annual wage among the most common jobs for Latinx women is only $27,000 a year.
  • White workers with a bachelor’s degree have a median wage of $105,045, nearly $40,000 higher than Latinx people with a bachelor’s degree.

The Insight Center offers specific policy solutions to address these issues, including extending EITC expansion to ITIN filers, Universal Childcare, and Social Inheritance Accounts (Baby Bonds).

Click here to read and download the full report (PDF). Region-specific data available upon request.


Estados Unidos se enorgullece de una profunda idea arraigada en la cual a través de la determinación, el ingenio, trabajando arduo y exigiéndose a si mismos apretándose los cinturones, cualquiera puede lograrlo financieramente. Esta es una amplia creencia que se tiene alrededor de los grupos raciales y étnicos. De acuerdo a una encuesta de Pew Research en el 2018, las personas Latinxs (77%) tienen más probabilidades que el público en general (62%) que creen que la mayoría de las personas pueden salir adelante con el trabajo arduo, y que cada generación estará mejor que la anterior, eso a través de su trayectoria.1 Pero para las personas Latinxs en California, la promesa del sueño americano permanece fuera de su alcance.

Hoy, las personas Latinxs trabajan largas horas, a veces en múltiples trabajos, en la búsqueda por mantenerse a sí mismos y a sus familias. Sin embargo, muchos todavía apenas la pasan para cuidar adecuadamente a sus familias. Más de la mitad (52%) de todos los hogares Latinxs en California– ó 1.6 millones de familias – están luchando para pagar la vivienda, poner comida en la mesa y mantener las luces encendidas.

Haga clic aquí para leer y descargar el informe completo (PDF). Datos específicos de la región disponibles a pedido.

Actualizing the Potential of the 1619 Project

By Anne Price, President, and Jhumpa Bhattacharya, Vice President of Programs and Strategy

On August 18, 2019, the New York Times launched the 1619 Project. Curated by writer Nikole Hannah-Jones, the 1619 Project is a collection of essays and artwork from renowned researchers, activists, and artists brilliantly documenting the ways in which the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and anti-Blackness continue to undergird our economic and social systems and policies, and deeply impact our American culture and narrative.

Among social justice advocates, 1619 quickly became the talk of the town. Our Twitter feeds were filled with high praise and love for it.

Yes, finally, we thought. This is exactly what we need to be able to diminish the false race vs. class dichotomy. Now more than ever, our colleagues won’t shy away from talking about the impact of structural racism in economic issues. Race will become a part of our collective vernacular, and we will finally stop hesitating to talk about how anti-Blackness — the devaluing and de-humanizing of people who are Black — is deeply rooted in our economy, the criminal justice system, and public benefit programs.

Perhaps that was wishful thinking.

We are headquartered in the Bay Area, which prides itself on being a progressive bastion of justice and equity. In some ways we are, but when it comes to talking about race, we’re no gold standard. There is still a great deal of reluctance, even among the progressive minded, to talk about race specifically, to consider the Black experience as unique and foundational to shaping our nation’s economic and social policies, and to embark on a serious and sustained effort to center Blackness as a necessary condition of economic liberation for all Americans.

We continue to encounter a class focus in our work on fines and fees, government-sponsored child support debt, and the future of workers — all of which disproportionately impact Black people. Many well-intentioned advocates working in these and other spaces are still not speaking to race for fear of backlash.

The 1619 Project shows us that we can no longer shy away from talking about race when talking about justice of any kind…

Read the full letter here >>>

Preserving Black-Owned Land Is One of Our Greatest Triumphs Against Racial Wealth Inequity

Click here to read Anne’s full piece on Medium.

When “Going Back” Means Staying Put

By Jhumpa Bhattacharya | Ms. Magazine

I’ve always had a complicated relationship with the word American. I hit all the marks by definition—I was born in the United States, in the Heartland, no less; have lived here my entire life; and my career has centered on making America a country that lives up to its values of freedom, justice and dignity for all. I balk at the idea that there is just one type of American.

Yet, like many children of immigrants, there is a seed planted deep within me that sprouts hesitation when it comes to fully claiming to be an American. Watching the President tell “the squad” to “go back to their countries” reminded me why.

My Brown skin can always be seen by others as inherently un-American. That reality haunts me.

Read the full article here >>