June 29, 2016

Can you tackle poverty without taking on place?

Earlier this month, House Republicans released a new plan to fight poverty and social immobility. However, there is little mention of the role that place plays in perpetuating poverty or shaping economic opportunity. Growing research shows that geography plays a powerful role in determining life outcomes in the United States. This article from the Urban Institute discusses the importance of place on poverty and makes several policy recommendations.

By Solomon Greene, Senior Fellow at the Urban Institute and former NFG board member

Earlier this month, House Republicans released a new plan to fight poverty and help Americans move up the economic ladder. The plan begins and ends with the premise that “The American Dream is the idea that, no matter who you are or where you come from, if you work hard and give it your all, you will succeed.” In between, however, there is scant mention of the role that place (i.e., where you come from) plays in perpetuating poverty or shaping economic opportunity.

This is a glaring omission, especially in light of the plan’s insistence on grounding poverty-reduction policies in the best available evidence. The evidence shows that geography plays a powerful role in determining life outcomes in the United States. Better understanding the mechanisms by which zip codes determine destiny and identifying effective strategies to sever the connection between poverty and place should be central to any federal antipoverty plan.

The poor are increasingly concentrated in poor neighborhoods

Since 2000, poor people have become increasingly concentrated in poor neighborhoods, a trend that has accelerated since the Great Recession. According to a recent Brookings Institution study, both the number of extremely poor neighborhoods (those with at least 40 percent of residents living below the poverty line) and the share of poor people who live in them have spiked in recent years. Nationally, the number of extreme-poverty census tracts more than doubled between 2000 and 2010-2014. And concentrated poverty increased in 67 of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas since the Great Recession.

This trend coincides with a widening gap between rich and poor neighborhoods. As my colleagues Rolf Pendall and Carl Hedman recently demonstrated, the disparities between America’s most- and least-affluent neighborhoods have grown rapidly over the past two decades. They find that the rich and the poor are living farther apart geographically and in terms of neighborhood quality. These patterns concentrate poverty and privilege at the same time.

The effects of concentrated poverty are strong and lasting

Recent research also sheds light on the effects of growing up in poor neighborhoods across a broad range of life outcomes. Raj Chetty and colleagues find that children who move from a high-poverty neighborhood to a low-poverty one are far more likely to attend college and earn significantly more as adults than those who don’t move or move to another high-poverty area. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation finds that life expectancies can differ by as much as 20 years between rich and poor neighborhoods within the same city. And Patrick Sharkey’s research demonstrates how neighborhood disadvantage is passed on from generation to generation.

This recent research reinforces earlier studies on neighborhood effects that suggest that growing up in a poor neighborhood amplifies the effects of growing up poor. As a recent Vox article evocatively framed it, research shows that living in a poor neighborhood is “like breathing in bad air; the more you’re exposed to it, the more it hurts you.”

Simply put, the evidence tells us that when tackling poverty, place matters.

How federal antipoverty policies could take on place

Recognizing the tight and powerful connection between place and poverty, a federal antipoverty plan that takes on place should at least include the following three components.

  1. Remove barriers to affordable housing development in opportunity-rich neighborhoods. Local experiments—such as those in Mount Laurel, NJ, and Montgomery County, MD—have demonstrated that siting affordable housing in wealthier communities can help lift families out of poverty by giving them access to better schools and neighborhood amenities.
  2. Improve housing mobility, allowing recipients of housing assistance greater choice in where they live. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development recently proposed changing how it sets values for federal housing vouchers, a change that research suggests could help people move to neighborhoods with lower poverty rates. However, landlord discrimination against voucher holders is prevalent in many places. Federal protections against source-of-income discrimination might be necessary to realize the full potential of the voucher program to lift families out of poverty.
  3. Invest in comprehensive revitalization strategies in poor neighborhoods. The Urban Institute has documented lessons learned from decades of place-based investments by the federal government. We found that the most effective strategies work both horizontally (integrating efforts across policy domains within a neighborhood) and vertically (activating city, state, and federal policy levers and resources).

But perhaps most fundamentally, policymakers and advocates can use place as an additional lens through which to evaluate federal antipoverty policies. Are policies designed not only to lift individuals out of poverty, but also to improve the places in which poor people live? How much do new policies reverse decades of federal policies that divided the country along lines of race and class and trapped the poor in neighborhoods deprived of decent schools, healthy foods, safe streets, and quality housing?

To realize the American Dream of equal opportunity and upward mobility, this may be just the place to begin.

This article originally appeared on Urban Wire as found here

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September 3, 2019

Capitalism and Racism: Conjoined Twins

By Marjona Jones, Co-Chair of Funders for a Just Economy and Senior Program Officer at Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock

Marjona Jones speaking at a podium.

A few weeks ago, Democracy Now! aired a segment with Ibram X. Kendi, author and founding director of the Anti-Racist Research and Policy Center at American University, where he discussed white supremacy, anti-racism, and the increase in mass shootings. What struck me about the segment was his illuminating statement about the origins of capitalism. Kendi views capitalism and racism as "conjoined twins" and that “…the origins of racism cannot be separated from the origins of capitalism… the life of capitalism cannot be separated from the life of racism.”

Kendi continued by discussing how the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade allowed for the massive accumulation of wealth in Europe and the Americas. Centuries of wage theft, trading in human bondage, insurance claims on "lost" cargo, and reparations for slave owners after emancipation entrenched this capitalist system with inequities based on race built into it. Slave owners protected their concentrated wealth by shaping our socio-economic and legal systems to benefit themselves and the industry of slavery, as well as limit democracy.

As I celebrate the worker movement’s victories on Labor Day this year, this segment and past conversations with grantees has triggered an important question for me: What does the notion that capitalism and racism are inextricably linked mean for our work as funders of racial and economic justice? Our grantee partners tell us how workers are implicated in the entangled web of these “conjoined twins” of racism and capitalism. Many worker-based organizations state that the best vehicle this country has in pursuit of economic justice is through organizing workers, but traditional labor hasn’t always been the best vehicle for racial justice. As Bill Fletcher Jr. and Fernando Gapasin discuss in Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice, while many unions integrated in the 1920s, some unionists decided to resist integration to ensure wins and job quality for white workers. These traditionalists understood the idea of “conjoined twins.”

Racial and economic justice movements have exposed exploitative and extractive practices within capitalism, making it less secure to accumulate wealth through those means. However, as Michelle Alexander points out in her book, The New Jim Crow, exposing capitalism for what it is forces it to transform and evolve. For example, following the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, agriculture was still the main economic engine, and free exploited labor was needed for this industry to survive. Capitalism evolved while maintaining its racist and exploitative roots through policymakers passing the Black Codes of 1865 and 1866, making it easier to imprison recently freed slaves to continue that supply of free labor.

We are catching up to the fact that capitalism was never meant to work for everyone. What will the next evolution in capitalism bring as our movements fight even harder for racial and economic justice in the face of harm to workers and marginalized communities?

Funders for a Just Economy (FJE) has created an intentional space to begin discussing what these questions mean for our work and the grantees we support. Capitalism’s origin story is a critical part of analyzing how this system operates. By acknowledging the “conjoined twins,” we acknowledge the role of race and the legacy of slavery. FJE believes that there is a renewed opportunity to support a working-class movement that builds the power of all workers, especially Black, Trans and LGBQ workers, women, and immigrants—and lift their role as the main strategists to change the system. If we believe another world is possible, then so is another system that bakes in justice, equity, and respect.


  

Join FJE for these conversations and more at the upcoming Racial Capitalism, Power and Resistance event on October 17 & 18 in Brooklyn, NY. More information and registration link here.

Stay tuned for an upcoming Power Building Study Group for Neighborhood Funders Group members, and the Disrupt the System: How Labor and Philanthropy can Build Worker Power in a New Era event co-convened by the AFL-CIO, the LIFT Fund, and FJE on December 11 in Washington, DC. More information coming soon!

 
August 15, 2019

Beyond Outrage: A Clarity of Purpose

Dimple Abichandani, Executive Director of the General Service Foundation, urges grantmakers and the philanthropic sector to take concrete actions to defend democracy and speak out against racist attacks on people of color. This post was originally published here on the foundation's website.

Dimple was part of the first Philanthropy Forward: Leadership for Change Fellowship cohort, a joint initiative of Neighborhood Funders Group and The Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions. General Service Foundation, which partners with grassroots organizations to bring about a more just and sustainable world, is a member of NFG.


  

Dimple AbichandaniWe live in dangerous times, and every passing news cycle contains another outrage, another violation of norms, another threat to our democracy, another threat to our planet.  

In the face of escalating racial attacks, (be it imprisonment of kids on the border or the racist rhetoric being tweeted from the white house) many have noted, rightly, that philanthropy as a sector has been too cautious and too quiet.  The Communications Network, in it’s recent piece, Silence Speaks Volumes, calls on foundations to use their voices in this moment.

Yes, it’s meaningful for people from all sectors of our society to condemn the Administration’s attacks on people of color.  And, for those of us working in the philanthropic sector, these times call on us to use all of our tools in defense of our inclusive, multi-racial democracy.  We are more than commentators or observers– as funders, our role is to resource a more just and equitable future. What we do in this moment will be far more important than what we say.  

As painful as this moment is, it is also a time in which the work to be done has become more clear. The vulnerability of our democracy has become more clear.  Racial anxiety and social divisions are being stoked in order to prop up a reckless system that benefits only the wealthiest. As we condemn the most recent of a long list of outrages, can we also use this moment to deepen our own clarity of purpose, and ensure that our funding will bring about a more just future? 

As funders, we can not only speak out but also take action to bolster our inclusive democracy.

  1. Support those most directly impacted by injustice. Instead of wielding of our own voice and power as a foundation, we can support those most directly impacted by injustice to build their voice, power, and leadership. They must lead the way to a more just world; it is our job to uplift and resource their visions and voices. National organizations such as Color of Change, New American Leaders, and National Domestic Workers Alliance, regional and state-based organizations such as Western States Center, Black Voters Matter and Workers Defense Project and so many others are seeding a future in which racial, gender and economic justice will be the norm.
  2. Invest in the creation and dissemination of narratives that reshape cultural attitudes around belonging in our country.  The recent escalation in the use of racist and sexist rhetoric is not happening in a vacuum– rather it builds on broader public narratives shaped by white supremacy and male dominance.  We need to normalize new narratives that humanize all of us, that value all of us. Organizations such as the Pop Culture CollaborativeReFrame, and the Culture Change Fund, for example, build capacity for narrative equity and culture shift.
  3. Question the default funding habits and practices that limit us from making a bigger impact in this moment. As funders, we sometimes have a blind spot for how our internal practices create unnecessary burdens and barriers for organizations that do the important work we support. This moment calls on us to question our practices, shift to ways of working that account for the gravity of the problems we face, and center the people who are leading the social change efforts we support. Could your foundation increase its payout, provide more general operating support, increase the length of grants, and minimize busywork for grantees? Could you shift your grant strategy to more boldly meet the moment or more directly address the imbalances of power in our society? The Trust Based Philanthropy Network has tools and stories of inspiration from foundations who have increased their impact by changing their practices.

So many of us in philanthropy are eager to do something meaningful in this tumultuous time.  Let’s challenge ourselves to use this moment to put our institutional values into practice. Let’s walk the walk as boldly as we talk the talk.