RESEARCH Data Dialogue: National Urban League, PolicyLink, and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies Discuss Racial, Economic, and Social Equity

On June 3, 2020, the JPMorgan Chase Institute hosted a Data Dialogue to discuss racial gaps in financial outcomes, particularly in light of the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on communities of color, and ways to promote racial justice and a more inclusive economy. The virtual discussion included a panel of experts from the National Urban League, PolicyLink, and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies who are using data to track inequities, leading efforts to advance economic and social equity, and advocating to ensure the challenges facing all communities are considered in policy decisions.

Diana Farrell, President and CEO of the JPMC Institute, opened the conversation by acknowledging the terrible events of recent weeks – tragedies we have seen all too often – and the history of racial injustice in the U.S.  Farrell also noted that all of this is taking place amidst the COVID-19 pandemic as racial and ethnic minorities bear the brunt of both the health and economic crisis.  Recent JPMC Institute research  documented large racial gaps in income and wealth. For every dollar the median White family earns, the median Black family earns just 71 cents, and the median Hispanic family earns 74 cents.  Gaps in liquid assets are twice as large.  For every dollar of liquid assets held by White families, the median Black family has just 32 cents, and the median Hispanic family just 47 cents.  These gaps have positioned Black and Hispanic families with fewer resources to weather economic shocks, even before the COVID-19 crisis hit. 

Fiona Greig, Director of Consumer Research at the JPMC Institute, moderated the panel discussion, which focused on targeted policy responses and the need to shift from conversation to action.

Clarity of purpose and a call to action

Michael McAfee, President and CEO of PolicyLink, emphasized that the persistent and growing racial gaps in the U.S. are a result of structural racism and inaction, rather than a lack of data or policy solutions, as organizations have been putting out research and policy recommendations for years. McAfee noted that we have systems of oppression and an implicit value hierarchy, but we also have leaders in various institutions who are empowered to make change – and what we need now are institutions ready to receive the policy work and put it into action. He emphasized that decision makers need to be centered on who they’re trying to help, and that a results statement and clear indicators of progress can provide accountability and allow organizations to move from conversation to action.

Jessica Fulton, Vice President at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, echoed this, sharing that when her organization came together to more precisely articulate who they’re trying to help, they centered on “Black communities” – Black workers, Black LGBTQ individuals, Black moms, Black dads, and so on. She recommended that as policy- and decision-makers strive to understand how decisions may impact the Black community, they should seek out and elevate the voices of community organizations and individuals who have lived experiences and insights to offer but may not have the same platform.

Equitable, targeted policies

Marc Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League, discussed equitable policies, stating that in order to address and undo public and private redlining, we have to target and over-invest in the communities that need it most. Morial advocated for targeted policies, including income-based, place-based, and industry-based support, noting that income-based aid would allow lower-income families to attain a sustainable or living wage and place-based polices could be targeted to neighborhoods with median incomes below a certain level. He noted that the U.S. tax code already uses these methods of targeting, so it’s not a new idea.

McAfee echoed support for targeted policies, stating that if organizations don’t target their relief efforts, they forfeit the right to talk about results. Fulton also emphasized the importance of ensuring the right people – and diverse voices – are in the room when policies are written and debated, and when decisions are ultimately made. She noted that there was a lack of diverse voices in the room during the initial COVID-19 stimulus package negotiations, and that the policy outcomes didn’t go far enough in solving the problems people are facing financially.

Leadership and shifts in organizational perspectives

When McAfee took over as President and CEO of PolicyLink, he asked himself “does our organization deserve to exist?” and stressed that he didn’t want the organization to be just another think tank putting out passive data and policy prescriptions, but rather an organization that fights for those who need it most – particularly in this moment. Importantly, McAfee put out a call to action noting that now is the time for leaders to be bold, putting in the hard work and creating change, or else their organizations should go out of business. Leaders need to be respectful but disruptive. He acknowledged that sometimes this can be intense and uncomfortable, but as he has seen in his own team, a diverse, passionate staff holds the organization accountable and puts pressure on the organization to deliver.

Fulton noted the ways in which the Joint Center is also challenging existing structures. Morial, an advisor to many of JPMorgan Chase’s philanthropic initiatives, commended the work that JPMC has done in funding and promoting Advancing Black Pathways, the JPMC Institute, and place-based initiatives, such as AdvancingCities, which is something that financial institutions were not doing 10 years ago. Greig closed by saying that there is still a lot of work to be done – at JPMC and across institutions – and that the Institute is focused on asking the tough questions and continued research in these areas.

We are grateful to the panelists for their expert insights and perspectives, which are invaluable as we all reflect on our roles in supporting change and driving towards a more equitable society.

Marc Morial

Marc Morial
President & CEO
National Urban League

Jessica Fulton

Jessica Fulton
Vice President
Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies

Michael McAfee

Michael McAfee
President & CEO
PolicyLink

This event is part of the Institute’s “Data Dialogue” engagements, an ongoing series of conversations with leading experts, policymakers, business and nonprofit leaders linking research with important policy topics of the day.