Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. argued that the isolation experienced by people of color living "on a lonely island of poverty" is unjust in a nation blessed with a "vast ocean of material prosperity." Fifty years later, the racial wealth gap is just as stark and immoral, with families of color possessing only a few pennies for every dollar of wealth owned by white families.
Maya Rockeymoore is president of Global Policy Solutions, a Washington policy consulting firm, and coeditor of Strengthening Community: Social Insurance in a Diverse America. (Courtesy photo)The persistence of income and wealth inequality comes from years of disproportionately lower levels of earnings, employment, educational attainment, and ownership of family assets such as homes, stocks/bonds, savings accounts, and businesses. As a result, people of color have had significantly fewer opportunities to build assets over time and often lack the savings to ensure financial security throughout their lifetimes.
Meizhu Lui is director emeritus for the Insight Center for Community and Economic Development's Closing the Racial Wealth Gap initiative. (Courtesy photo)Today, some Americans still blame poverty on the people whom it victimizes. They are unaware or insensitive to the fact that until 1963 people of color were legally or practically excluded from a host of government-sponsored and tax-funded wealth-building opportunities, from giving away land through the Homestead Act to using public land for whites-only colleges to subsidizing loans so whites could buy homes and grow businesses. These assets were given away to not only help white families successfully build financial security over lifetimes but to generate inheritances over generations while investing in the prosperity of the nation.