This summer, when the Pew Research Center released its sobering report on racial wealth gaps in the United States, local community developers weren't shocked. That report showed the average wealth of white Americans is now 20 times the average wealth of Hispanic Americans and 18 times the average wealth of African-Americans.
It's what my colleagues and I see every day. We've known the gap was widening fast, largely because of foreclosures that have diminished home values and ownership opportunities in recent years. We've seen first-hand how residents — especially those of color — are being forced to abandon their efforts to build financial security. The best they hope for now is economic survival.
We owe a debt to Pew for laying out the facts, and to media like MPR that are helping spur a conversation about long-term solutions. Unfortunately, those solutions — which are absolutely necessary for building equity and wealth — will take years, particularly in the kind of contentious political climate that now prevails.
But many African-American and Hispanic-American families, and the neighborhoods they live in, don't have that kind of time. They're losing their homes, draining their savings, and wondering what happened to their dreams of joining the middle class.
The Twin Cities feels the effects of these gaps even more than other regions, since we've long been one of the most racially segregated metro areas in the country. Because we have concentrations of communities of color living in certain neighborhoods, the disproportionate effect of the wealth loss on those individuals translates into whole neighborhoods that are having a hard time recovering, let alone prospering.
And what's happening today will have a cascading effect. If trends continue, African- and Hispanic-American families won't be able to transfer wealth to the next generation. They'll be unable to afford post-secondary education for their children, which could help assure higher-paying jobs and a better quality of life.
What can we do in the short term to make sure families and neighborhoods that were on the economic rise don't get stranded on a dead-end road to poverty? We can do a lot.
We can make sure that there are easily accessible centers for financial counseling and education, so struggling families aren't taken advantage of again by the next scam. Right now there are five Financial Opportunity Centers operating near hard-hit neighborhoods across Minneapolis and St. Paul. All are operated by community development organizations. A new form of bundled services, these trusted one-stop shops provide families and individuals long-term help in getting jobs, managing money and building wealth.
We can make sure that the educational opportunities for children of color in affected neighborhoods are on a par with any other neighborhood in the Twin Cities. Community developers are working with schools to try to raise the academic performance of children of color; witness the Northside Achievement Zone in Minneapolis and the Promise Neighborhood initiative in the Frogtown and Summit-University neighborhoods of St. Paul.
We can better train workers looking for a job or a promotion to ensure their advancement to living-wage employment. Many community development organizations doing this crucial work have recently stepped up their efforts. The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development just awarded a half-million dollars to the North Side Economic Opportunity Network and the FastTrac program so folks in north Minneapolis can create new businesses and become more competitive in the employment market.
Finally, we can make sure families who lost their homes and savings can find a safe, attractive, affordable place to live while they try to stabilize and rebuild. We have to redouble our affordable-housing efforts to ensure a safety net. Right now, along the Central Corridor, community developers are doing just that. Through the Big Picture Project, they're analyzing all current and planned housing projects along the new light rail corridor, and the public policies that guide them, to make sure development benefits residents living along those 11 miles. That's going to involve both new and renovated housing.
It's clear, in the short term, that comprehensive community development is going to be key in helping families build a bridge to real opportunities, economic stability, wealth and renewed hope.
Andriana Abariotes is executive director of the Twin Cities Local Initiatives Support Corporation.