Three Pillars of Economic Justice on Our Minds This April
This month, Prosperity Now reinforced its commitment to three key elements of economic justice: racial equity, fair housing and financial capability.
Racial Wealth Equity
April began with a momentous anniversary: 50 years ago, on April 4th, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. America’s cities were shaken by the outrage following his death. The unrest reflected a deep frustration with the persistence of racial inequality despite the promise of the civil rights movement.
At the time of his death, Dr. King, too, was frustrated. As Prosperity Now’s Dedrick Asante-Muhammad has written, the towering figure of progress was troubled by what he described as the “fantasy of self-deception and comfortable vanity” that the ending of legalized segregation and the extension of voting rights—enacted only a few years prior—would actually set America on an inevitable course towards racial equality. Dr. King observed that this narrative deluded people into thinking that more work to advance racial progress—such as undoing explicit and deeply-embedded systemic racism—was superfluous.
Sadly, Dr. King’s misgivings over the state of racial progress ring true today. That’s why Prosperity Now remains committed to bridging the racial wealth divide, the first pillar of economic equality we emphasize this month. A few weeks ago, we released a new analysis of the intersection of race and gender in our second racial wealth divide snapshot, which compares wealth and income disparities between women and men of different racial groups.
April marks another 50-year anniversary: the adoption of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (more often known as the Fair Housing Act) which passed in response to nationwide riots a week after Dr. King’s death. The legislation forbids race-based discrimination in the sale, rent and financing of housing. Not coincidentally, April is also Fair Housing Month, when we shine a light on challenges and solutions in making affordable housing a reality for all families in America.
We still have a long way to go to realize the Fair Housing Act’s vision of equitable housing. A recent piece by Prosperity Now’s David Newville and Doug Ryan explains where we are today: the homeownership rate for Black Americans is as low as it was in 1968, residential segregation persists and Black families pay a higher share of their incomes than White families for housing.
The Trump administration’s policies aren’t improving the situation. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has removed the commitment to inclusivity from its mission statement, signaling a worrying change of intent and messaging. HUD also delayed the implementation of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule for three years, slowing down municipal efforts to end segregation. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has dialed back its enforcement of fair lending practices, leaving prospective homeowners vulnerable to risky loans. And to add insult to injury, the Senate recently passed legislation with a provision that incentivizes manufactured home sellers to market predatory loans.
Given that homeownership is the bedrock of wealth creation, these signs don’t bode well for economic mobility in the United States. But we can still push back on these trends to reduce their harm. To chart a course for the future of equitable housing, we hope you’ll join us for two upcoming online discussions we’re hosting on Fair Housing at 50.
Finally, cutting across all facets of economic mobility is financial capability, which is getting special time in the spotlight this April as well. Financial capability, broadly defined, is the set of tools and strategies individuals can use to grow their savings and insulate themselves from destabilizing life events and economic shocks. As those savings grow, they enable opportunity through investments in education, housing, healthcare and other fundamental needs.
Prosperity Now is in the midst of a busy Financial Capability Month. We’re highlighting the importance of understanding the specific needs of clients to make financial capability programs successful. We’re sharing insights on how to integrate financial capability service provision into affordable housing programs. We’re taking stock of the trends financial inclusion advocates see in our field.
All told, this is a particularly active month for some of the most important elements of Prosperity Now’s mission. But rest assured—while we’re honored to give special attention to these anniversaries and commemorations over the 30 days of April, we care about these issues all year long. We’re reinvigorated to continue fighting for racial wealth equity, fair housing and financial capability for as long as it takes.