FROM THE DIRECTOR

APRIL 2020

Over the next year, philanthropy has an opportunity to lead system-change efforts and reframe public policy to assure that equity is centered in the priorities that are embraced in the recovery and rebuilding of the economy. This means active investment in advancing economic justice and equity across the many tools available to philanthropy.

AFN is committed to working with members, practitioners, and policymakers to expand opportunity and prosperity for low and middle class families. Ours is fundamentally a mission that advances equity conscious of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or disability. AFN believes that American exceptionalism includes the capability to provide living wages that can support raising a family and provide decent housing, health insurance, and identifiable disposable income to build assets that provide a better economic foundation for the next generation. That belief is anchored in understanding that the racial and gender wealth gaps that have been built up over generations by public and private policy are not just and need reinvention. We also understand that the economy for too long has not valued workers, has not afforded them economic dignity, and has instead fostered the creation of a second class of worker—the contracted, low-wage worker suffering from income volatility and required to have more than one job because they do not make a living wage, receive benefits, or obtain time off.

Yes, the pandemic has exposed economic indignity of essential and many other workers. Millions have lost their jobs, government assistance has been delayed, housing security is at risk, food and other community services have been overwhelmed. For the first time ever, many Americans find themselves forced to reach out for assistance. And many others are cut off from their support networks during their time of great anxiety and need. The racial disparities reflecting preexisting, systemic health and wealth gaps have also been exposed. Here lies a great opportunity for philanthropy.

Record deficits and rethinking public priorities, restructuring of many sectors, reexamining the economic value of the contributions by essential workers (in logistics, food supply and health), and investing in preventative community health will all be part of the recovery and rebuilding. Recovery and rebuilding will include reimaging public and private policy and priorities to avoid going back to where we were. Fairer wages reflecting productivity and value (reflecting what Dr. King referred to as the dignity of labor) coupled with targeted public policy including income supports like robust tax credits and affordable, universally available health care coverage are needed. To protect assets and health unlike the last recession, housing rent-mortgage relief will need to be crafted as part of the recovery for many workers and their families. Indeed, student loan forgiveness, universal basic income, baby bonds and publicly guaranteed jobs may all be more viable as a robust economic response in equitably rebuilding the economy.

Of course, a great risk for philanthropy and government already has been highlighted in the emergency relief phase with the rollout of CARES Act. The Payroll Protection Program (phase 1) appeared intended for small businesses and independent contractors, but was implemented by far too many banks and other stakeholders to ensure that their usual customers got in—effectively excluding those who already had been systematically disadvantaged. In emergency relief efforts, many funders worked with their existing grantees to create responses to address distressed communities and to help those entities weather the effects of the storm. I understand the instinct in both behaviors and applaud the many excellent results achieved. On the other hand, we must acknowledge that the excluded were often those already underinvested in, who might have been able to build some asset, but who are grappling with income volatility and insufficient assets without relief and new investments—in other words, excluding those who were already excluded by race, gender, immigration status, generational wealth transfer, and educational opportunity. Investment in the recovery and rebuilding requires risk taking and a desire to neither reinforce nor further institutionalize existing racist and sexist gaps.

If this happened in your community, how does your philanthropic effort actively move to embrace a more equitable economic inclusion?

Join AFN and help explore approaches among peers. We are committed to elevating strategies, fostering peer discussions, and connecting the technical, research and implementation efforts to gain a more equitable economic rebuild.

Join the conversation at AFN and help realize a new more equitable reality.