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Poverty to Prosperity: Investing in People Over Place

Key Takeaways:

  • To move from poverty to prosperity, we must enable people to have power and make decisions as they relate to their lives.
  • Poverty must be prevented in the first place and the damage that has been done over the course of history has to be repaired.
  • The focus must be beyond poverty, it must also include improving the middle class. In Detroit, we must identify opportunities to grow the middle class that is already there.
  • Nothing grows without investment. Investing in people over place is essential to reparative work. Putting the focus on investing in places over people will raise value but push people out. We have to emphasize human capabilities and invest in that.
  • To move forward and create change, we must have a government that empowers its people. A government that recognizes the role of economic rights, and promotes quality housing, quality health care, and access to resources for all.
  • Housing policies and pay must be examined. There are things that can be done on the housing front in terms of pay that could restore value quickly.
  • Capital is the most direct way to address the racial wealth gap.

There are multidimensional causes that have shaped and continue to contribute to the racial wealth gap, including historic policy decisions and discriminatory practices. Day two of the 2021 Conference opened with a discussion on the impact of race and economic inequity, and the role that public and private sectors can play to create an equitable economic future for Michigan.

“The COVID-19 crisis has laid bare the racial wealth and employment disparities forcing long overdue conversations about the need for governmental intervention to address them,” said Kim Trent, deputy director of prosperity for the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity.

Trent was joined onstage by Anika Goss, chief executive officer of Detroit Future City, Darrick Hamilton, Henry Cohen Professor of Economics and Urban Policy and founding director of the Institute on Race and Political Economy for the New School Milano, and Andre M. Perry, senior fellow at Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program.

Moving from Poverty to Prosperity: What Does it Mean?

“When I think of moving from poverty to prosperity one of the things that comes to mind immediately is the idea that 54% of middle-class African Americans live outside of Detroit, which means that right now Detroit is not a place that is cultivating prosperity,” noted Goss.

Currently in Detroit, to grow your own wealth and generate opportunities you must move outside of the city. And while this is not unique to Detroit, it’s problematic since Detroit is 78% African American. By creating concentrated areas of Detroit with such deep poverty, educational attainment is impacted, which then hinders the path to achieving prosperity.

Added Hamilton, “From poverty to prosperity, I guess we would know it when someone’s race, gender, or ethnicity no longer has transactional value. When you can go into the marketplace, and you’re not diminished because you’re Black. When you can go into the marketplace and not be diminished because you’re a woman.”

An important aspect of moving from poverty to prosperity is power. If you are devoid of essential resources or don’t have power within a transaction, you become subject to exploitation.

“We have to acknowledge that poverty is a manmade disaster, and that racism is a primary tool of that disaster,” noted Perry. “When things go wrong in Black communities, we blame Black people. There is nothing wrong with Black people that ending racism can’t solve.”

Addressing the racial wealth gap requires addressing policy and investing in underappreciated assets.

Reparative Lens: What Must Be Done

“You invest in people because if you invest in place over people, you essentially will raise values and folks will be pushed out. You have to provide direct capital to people,” said Perry.

Continued Perry, it is also essential that we divest in racism which promotes practices that prevent growth from happening.

In addition, we need a government that promotes anti-racism economic rights, and provides equal access to quality housing, health care, and education.

“If we value education, then should provide it without debt for all our people. We can provide this, poverty is a political choice,” said Hamilton.

Continued Hamilton, “We need a government that empowers it’s people…human rights is incomplete if we think only about political and civil rights and don’t recognize the role of economic rights.”

The session was hosted by The Kresge Foundation.