Despite the importance of economic empowerment, I would argue that political power plays a bigger role in wealth creation.
Political power influences public policy and legislature that address many socioeconomic issues that affect our ability to even start building a strong economic base.
Here are a few issues affecting the Black community that public policy must address right now.
1)Prison Industrial Complex
The prison industrial complex can be described as the overlapping interests of government and industry that use policing, and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social, and political problems. To fuel the growing demand for profitable prison labor, Black people, in particular, are disproportionately incarcerated and given longer sentences than any other race.
This is not new news though. Neither is the fact that there are several corporations that benefit from the mass incarceration of Black people. In many cases several of these corporations have become part of our daily lives. However, its time to cut the cord and divert our money into alternative options, preferably Black owned.
In his book, Mis-Education of the Negro, Dr. Carter G. Woodson wrote, “Blacks are the only group of people who take their most precious possessions, their children, and ask their oppressors to educate them and mold and shape their minds.”
Currently, the education system waters down our history and completely ignores many of our accomplishments. Black students all over the country also face verbal and physical abuse not only from students, but from those hired to educate and protect them.
In addition to this, many Black students are increasingly becoming victims of the “school to prison pipeline” that pushes them out of classrooms and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.
Educating Black children should involve more than teaching them math and reading skills. They must also be taught how to produce goods and services and not just be consumers. They must also be taught the skills needed to become business owners and job producers not just job seekers.
3)Lack of Affordable Housing
By affordable housing I don’t just mean Section 8 or low income housing. I literally mean housing that is affordable. Being able to afford your home or apartment is vital to the Black community’s economic strength. It provides the foundation for families and individuals to succeed in their careers or at school, as well as to thrive in retirement.
There is a epidemic of gentrification that is occurring in Black neighborhoods all over the world, causing sharp increases in rents and home values and resulting in actual or imminent displacement of residents.
There are several ways to combat gentrification using policies but in this instance I’ll suggest how to utilize economics to do so. Invest in Real Estate Investment Trusts(REIT’s). REIT’s are corporations that own and manage a collection of real estate properties and mortgages. Individually or as investment groups, we can invest or even form REIT’s that acquire and own residential homes and apartment buildings in Black neighborhoods across the country.
In many Black communities, access to grocery stores, supermarkets and other food retailers that offer affordable and nutritious food is limited. These food deserts force members of the community to be more reliant on convenience stores, fast food or similar retailers.
After almost 20 years of unsuccessful attempts to attract a corporate grocery chain to their community, The Renaissance Community Co-op of Greensboro, NC raised over $2.4 million and was able to build a grocery store that served the community and provided jobs.
We need more examples like this in other areas that are deprived of healthy food options. One could purchase a van, buy produce from Black farmers and make scheduled stops in these areas to sell healthy produce. The American Community Garden Association (ACGA) provides resources for over 18,000 community gardens in the U.S. and Canada.
5) Supporting Black Farmers
Black farmers have been facing discrimination from the USDA for decades. The National Black Farmers Association offers resources and programs that teach “the basic, sustainable practices of building and maintaining a garden.”
They offer workshops on seed and variety selection, planting practices as well as how to plan and manage your crops throughout the seasons. We listed some Black owned farms in a previous post about health and wellness.
6)The Growing Wealth Gap
“To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships.” W.E.B. Dubois – Souls of Black Folks
Pew Research Center data from 2014 states that that the wealth of white households had reached 13 times the median wealth of black households, compared with eight times the wealth in 2010.
Let’s not be fooled by reports that Black income has risen. Income does not equal wealth. According to a recent working paper, high-earning married black households have, on average, less wealth than low-earning married white households.
The ever widening wealth gap exists for several reasons including racial discrimination, tax policies that favor the (disproportionately white) rich and lack of sound financial education and practices. The wealthy get wealthier through tax cuts on investment income and inheritances, retirement accounts, home mortgages and college savings.
The Role of Elected Officials
Who creates and has the power to influence policies and legislature that affect us positively or negatively? Your elected officials do. They were elected to serve us. Therefore, we need to make sure they are doing so and not taking our votes for granted.
Ask them, “What have you done for me lately?” Hold them accountable and make sure they address the issues that are important to you.