Last Tuesday, President Obama made a major speech to set the record straight on our nation's economy and what he called the most "defining issue of our time" : restoring growth and prosperity for all Americans.
Taking aim at the alarming growth of income inequality in this country, his speech hit on many themes lifted up in the new PolicyLink framing paper, America's Tomorrow: Equity is the Superior Growth Model. The timing couldn't be more appropriate.
In the not too distant future, America's tomorrow will look very different from America's yesterday. Already, nearly half of the nation's children are of color--Latino, Black, Asian or Native American. And in just 30 short years, the majority of all Americans will be people of color.
Yet the communities that will make up America's tomorrow continue to be left behind when it comes to education, health, wealth and opportunity.
Consider this: new Census data released last week show that African Americans, Native Americans, and Latinos disproportionately live in "extreme poverty" neighborhoods, while Whites disproportionately live in low poverty neighborhoods. (Extreme poverty neighborhoods are those where at least 40 percent of residents live in poverty; low poverty neighborhoods are those where fewer than 13.8 percent of residents live in poverty.)
One in three Latinos is unemployed or underemployed. Four in every 10 African American adults are either out of work or can't find enough work. By the end of the decade, nearly half of all jobs will require at least an Associate's degree -- but only about a quarter of blacks and Latinos have that level of education. And since the late 1970s, income for poor and working class families stalled as growth in the larger economy slowed.
That's no coincidence. But it does reveal a critical truth: inequality hurts growth.
A recent study by the International Monetary Fund showed that income equality and sustained growth are "two sides of the same coin." For our nation to grow in the 21st century, we have to invest in the Americans who will make up the workforce of tomorrow.
So what are the next steps? How do our leaders create equity-driven growth?
First, we need to start now and we need to start early. Investing in education for every child is a must to compete against China, Brazil, India, and Europe. In the words of Harlem Children's Zone President and CEO Geoff Canada: "It will be a failure if our strategy of supporting children from birth through college is not applied in other devastated communities across America."
We've got to think big. America is not a poor country and we need to stop acting like one. We have the means to invest in large-scale infrastructure plans that target the people, places and projects most left behind. Now we need the public will and support to do it.
And just as important, we must embrace our diversity as an asset -- not a barrier. America's transformation into a truly global nation literally opens up a whole world of new markets and economic opportunities.
These are no longer just matters of morality or social justice. We have an economic imperative and responsibility to spark change now -- for the sake of the nation's future and that of generations to come. Such equitable investments can put us on a path to sustained prosperity for generations.
Simply put, equity is the superior growth model for America.
Follow Angela Glover Blackwell on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PolicyLink