Equity and opportunity is the key to US economic growth

Photo/Mike Lovett

Angela Glover Blackwell responds to a question from an audience member during a post-lecture question and answer session moderated by Dolores Acevedo-Garcia, director of the Institute for Child Youth and Family Policy at the Heller School.

The United States’ ongoing recovery from the Great Recession could be sped up if federal policymakers provided all Americans, regardless of their racial and ethnic backgrounds, an equal chance to contribute to the economy, said Angela Glover Blackwell, the inaugural Fred and Rita Richman Distinguished Fellow in Public Life at Brandeis University.

“If in 2011 we had closed the racial income gap, we would have had $1.2 trillion more in the GDP [gross domestic product],” said Blackwell, who spoke to an audience of students, staff, faculty and members of the public at Rapaporte Treasure Hall on March 25. “Equity is a superior growth model.”

The lecture, “All-In for an America that Works for All”, was part of a two-day visit to Brandeis, hosted by the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life on behalf of the Office of the President, in collaboration with the Heller School for Social Policy and Management.

Blackwell, founder and chief executive officer of PolicyLink, a national research and action institute advancing economic and social equity, also met with students, contributed to class and seminar discussions, spoke at a career services lunch, and participated in a panel discussion of regional equity issues with Boston area community leaders.

Brandeis Trustee Carol Richman Saivetz ’69, P ’97, P ’01 and her family established the Fred and Rita Richman Distinguished Fellow in Public Life, which provides a $25,000 honorarium, to bring individuals to campus who have had a significant impact on “improving American society, strengthening democratic institutions, advancing social justice, or increasing opportunities for all Americans to share in the benefits of this nation.”

It is named in honor of Saivetz’s parents and complements the recent conversion of the Fred and Rita Richman Distinguished Visiting Professorship to an endowed chair in politics or economics.

Blackwell said that despite showing some signs of improvement, the U.S. economy continues to face significant issues, including stalled economic mobility, a shrinking middle class, too many low-wage jobs, and limited growth.

The solution to some of these problems, she said, is to create and promote an inclusive and diverse society. This can be achieved by raising the minimum wage, creating good jobs, training the workforce, enhancing the education system, and making investments in communities, such as improvements in public transportation systems and housing.

It is also important to embrace the demographic shift currently underway in the U.S. – the majority of the country’s population is projected to be people of color by 2043.

Recent data have shown that Asian, Latino and African Americans were more than three times as likely than white Americans to start small businesses. This entrepreneurial spirit, Blackwell said, could spur economic innovation and development.

“The good news is that the demographic change is coming exactly at the moment when it is needed most, and it is bringing exactly what the country needs most to get out of the doldrums and to redesign its future. We have to develop an economy that works for all, an equity economy, in order to grow and prosper.”

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