A recent study funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts showed nearly 70 percent of Americans born in poverty never achieve upward mobility. Such data defy the mythical notion that today’s impoverished masses can somehow transform their economic lives simply by maximizing resources trickling down from market forces alone.
Evidence-based analysis suggests most Americans do not pull themselves up by their own bootstraps alone but that sustainable uplift is accomplished by multiple interventions and resources. These interventions include public and private economic stimulus.
This year, as our nation pauses to celebrate the life and ministry of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., let’s agree to unite to address contemporary issues we know King would be championing.
History documents that during the final period of his life, King was working to overcome income and wealth inequality and planned to lead a national campaign to end poverty. However, although King was clearly focused upon eradicating economic injustice and the vast racial economic divide, his work remains unfinished.
Since King’s assassination, entrenched poverty and wealth disparity in America have not been mitigated. Consider very recent data regarding the enormous racial wealth divide which exists today. According to a 2013 report by United for a Fair Economy:
The average, or mean, net worth of white families is more than six times higher than the average net worth of black families, and 5.7 times greater than the average net worth of Latino families.
White families hold far more wealth in assets that are easily accessed than do black and Latino families. White families on average have over 10 times more financial assets (held in bank accounts, stocks, and bonds) than black and Latino families.
Black and Latino families have far less saved for retirement than white families. White families on average hold over $109,000 in retirement accounts, while black and Latino families both own just slightly more than $17,000 in their retirement accounts.
The above data show about 50 years after King and the passage of landmark civil rights legislation, black and Latino Americans continue to occupy the shallow end of a vast economic divide in comparison to White Americans. Undoubtedly, King would view this information as a clarion call to action.
That’s where we come in. Current generations of admirers of King can best honor him by embracing the principles he espoused and lived by. Throughout this year, let’s celebrate our greatest civil rights leader by implementing sustainable wealth creation strategies and by removing racially discriminatory policies and practices which perpetuate the racial wealth divide.
It is likely King would be advocating policies targeting the deeply impoverished and not the contemporary approach of targeting families already rich enough to own and purchase a home. As the United For a Fair Economy Report cited above suggests, this is a way to remediate historical and systemic inequalities.
Moreover, I believe King would support alternative ownership models such as cooperatives and worker ownership of businesses to build community wealth and not just wealth for individual entrepreneurs.
So, let this be the year our nation awakens to begin to address the racial wealth divide.
Let’s join President Barack Obama in keeping the issues of wealth and income inequality front and center. To do so will require consensus on multiple strategies, since achieving wealth and income equality will not be accomplished solely through individual effort.
As we celebrate King this year, let’s resolve to close the racial wealth divide once and for all.