Report: Government needs better policies to help narrow economic equity gap

The racial wealth and equity gaps show no signs of subsiding in America, according to a new Economic Policy Institute report. We spoke to its author.

A new report shows 60 years after the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, economic disparities continue to plague Black America due to a lack of legislation in the post-civil rights era.

The Economic Policy Institute, in its report, notes that gaps in home ownership, wealth and wages continue to keep one of the march’s goals — economic justice — out of reach for many Black people.

A new report from the Economic Policy Institute says the government needs better programs to help Black people achieve economic and social equity. (Photo: Adobe Stock)

The barriers to economic equity include “occupational segregation, discrimination, hiring and pay inequity, equitable pathways to promotion, a stagnant minimum wage and falling union coverage,” Adewale A. Maye, policy analyst in the institute’s program on race, ethnicity and the economy, told theGrio.

“Some of the things that were advocated for in 1963, we’re still asking for in 2023,” Maye maintained.

Maye authored the report titled “Chasing the Dream of Equity: How policy has shaped racial, economic disparities.” His report found: 

  • Black unemployment remains persistently high. Over the last 50 years, the jobless rate of Black workers often exceeded 10%, while the white unemployment rate has never reached those heights.
  • The racial wealth gap remains stubbornly disproportionate, as white families have, on average, eight times more wealth than Black families.
  • Federal legislation hasn’t addressed areas that could help improve the financial standing of Black Americans, including raising the federal minimum wage, protecting unions and collective bargaining, and job training assistance.

“Racial economic inequalities will persist without legislation explicitly targeting and remedying the injustices left unresolved by race-neutral policies, which disregard the challenges that specific racial or ethnic groups face,” Maye wrote in his report. 

Other reports have also found that Black Americans have made little financial progress. For example, a March Pew Research report shows the racial wealth gap isn’t closing anytime soon since Black households have a median income of $46,400, which amounts to 42% less than the overall population’s $70,784.

The March on Washington, which was held on Aug. 28, 1963, became synonymous with Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, but the march was much more than that. Its organizing manual listed 10 demands, including adopting Fair Labor Standards and Fair Employment Practices Acts and a jobs training program for all unemployed workers.

As the EPI report notes, the promises after the march did little to close the equity gap.

Maye points to a minimum wage policy that exempts certain classes of workers, like seasonal workers and babysitters. The federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour has remained unchanged since 2009.

“If we have wages that are stagnant at $7.25, but things are going to be more expensive, even the workers who are most likely to be paid the minimum wage, which happens to be Black workers, might be underemployed,” Maye said.

“They’re getting paid, they have a job, but they’re not getting the amount of money that’s able to sustain their economic security or provide for themselves and their families,” he continued. “Because of these contributing factors, the Black-white wage gap has persisted and sustained over time.”

But efforts to help Black people achieve equity have lately hit several legal roadblocks. One law firm has been sued over its fellowship program that promotes diversity. A venture capital fund has been sued for its Black women entrepreneurs program. Five employees filed a reverse discrimination lawsuit against a large newspaper chain.

Maye believes society shouldn’t pretend inequities don’t exist, and there’s no need for programs to help close the financial gap.

“When looking at numbers, we can see that disparities are quite wide,” he said. “We’re noticing these disparities, so we can’t act as if everything is equal. We cannot act as if these structural barriers don’t exist. We have to redress and recognize the long shadow of Jim Crow, slavery and, for sure, of discriminatory policies, such as housing discrimination and redlining.”

His report draws a straight line between structural racism and the economic and social disparities that plague Black America. From reconstruction to Jim Crow laws and the failed attempts at passing legislation to help create a level playing field, America has yet to address the promise of the March on Washington.

Maye believes America needs to come together as it did during the pandemic. Then, the government staved off financial disaster and kept people from dying. It will take that same sort of effort to make a dent in inequity, Maye believes.

“Sixty years later, it’s important that we face a similar moment, where we recognize that this list of demands can be used as a playbook for where we want to go from here,” he said. “How do we achieve genuine racial equity? How do we measure racial equity, and how can we make scalable strides to achieve that? That’s the most salient takeaway for me.”

TheGrio is FREE on your TV via Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku and Android TV. Also, please download theGrio mobile apps today!