This blog post was excerpted from remarks by Angela Glover Blackwell, founder and CEO of PolicyLink, during the opening session of PolicyLink’s 2011 Equity Summit in Detroit, Michigan. The speech presented a new framework for creating an equitable economy. Click here for a new report from PolicyLink looking at how demographic changes and deepening inequality demand an urgent re-imagining of our economy.
This is a critical moment. The economy is in crisis. The middle class is shrinking. Inequality has come front and center in our conversation in America and we have rapidly changing demographics in which the racial and ethnic composition of the country is changing fast. This economic crisis really represents a failed growth model, one that was based on a housing bubble; one that was allowed to present itself as opportunity when it was really only credit-fueled consumption that was improving the lifestyles of people [..]
We have a moment in time in which everyone is looking up and deciding that it’s okay to talk about inequality. That we have to talk about inequality. That as we struggle and work together as a nation to find our footing again in the global economy, as we try to reverse this crisis that we’re in, we need to make it clear that we cannot be nostalgic for a time that never was, while avoiding a future that is inevitable. We cannot go back to what we had [..]
We are changing more rapidly than anybody expected that we would. Already, 46.5 percent of all children under 18 in this country are children of color. By the end of this decade, the majority of all children in this country will be children of color. By 2030, the majority of young workers under 25 will be young workers of color and by 2040, the majority of people in this nation will be people of color. This represents an incredible gift to America – an incredible gift [..] But the sad, the troubling thing, is so many of those people that represent that gift are being left behind.
We have over a third of black and Latino children who are overweight or obese. One third of all black teenage girls are obese. Serious problems in terms of what that represents. We know that our educational system is leaving millions and millions of children that are Latino and African-American behind. They’re behind when they begin school, they’re behind by 4th grade, they’re dropping out before they finish high school. They’re entering a work system that has no place for a worker that has at least a high school diploma. While we look at this gift, we know that it will not be viewed as an asset if we don’t deal with these issues.
The United States has invested in equity before. Right after World War II, California looked at its population and what it saw was a population that was very poor, with a quarter of the people there living below the official poverty level. Only half of the adults had a high school diploma. This state looked at its population – that was white – and viewed it as an asset. Under Republican Governor, Earl Warren, and Democratic governor, Pat Brown, California rolled up its sleeves and it built the best educational system in the country. It built the best healthcare system. It built the best system of roads and parks and infrastructure. By 1960, California had a 25 percent advantage in terms of growth and salaries over the rest of the nation.
That is a story about what happens when government and the private sector look at the population that it has, views that population as an asset, and steps up. We’ve got to step up as a nation [..] For all of the years that I’ve been working on equity I have felt that it was the right thing to do. The moral thing to do. That there was something immoral about a nation that systematically leaves people behind [..] It continues to be the right and moral thing to do, but it has now become an economic imperative.
This nation has no future worth mentioning [..] if it doesn’t figure out how to be competitive in the global economy, how to unleash the creativity and the entrepreneurial spirit that is here [..] That agenda, that equity agenda, has become an imperative for the nation. Equity no longer stands out there as the thing to do because it’s the right thing to do – begging and pleading for people to find a heart, find a conscience, do the right thing. Equity is the only way forward. Equity is the superior growth model for the nation. [..]
This is not a poor country. We have more wealthy people than anyone could ever think would be possible. We have more infrastructure – crumbling as it is – than most places ever dream of [..] We have the ability; we have the money to do what we need to do [..] We have a crisis, but it’s not a crisis that comes of not having any resources to address it. How should we use all that money that we do have? We need to use it to invest in the nation’s infrastructure because it’s win, win, win [..] We target the places that need it – rural communities without broadband, urban communities where people are isolated from opportunity because of the absence of transportation. We invest in the places, we invest the projects, and ultimately we invest in the people.