Op-EdOpinion

POWELL/CUNNINGHAM: America is Ready for a More Equitable Economy and Society

The social ferment we’re seeing in Louisville, Kenosha and many other parts of America is fueled by more than a legitimate revulsion over systemic racism as manifested in discriminatory policing. It has broader underpinnings, led by widespread frustrations with economic inequality.

We believe a substantial portion of Americans, and not just communities of color, support stronger government efforts to narrow these inequality gaps and create a world that works for everyone. And we have survey data to prove it.

For instance, we’ve found that most Americans support guaranteeing a job for those able and willing to work; suspending rent and mortgage payments (without requiring repayment) for the remainder of this pandemic-wracked year; expanding the Child Tax Credit to provide a refund for children in all low-income families; and mandating that employers follow fair hiring practices that remove barriers to employing people with a criminal history after they have served their sentences.

These are among the findings from a nationwide survey of 1,000 adults, and an additional oversample of 400 Black adults, conducted Aug. 28-Sept 1 by Lake Research Partners. It was commissioned by the Othering & Belonging Institute at the University of California at Berkeley and Prosperity Now. The over-sampling of Blacks is needed to obtain statistically reliable results for a group typically underrepresented in surveys.

The survey found substantial support for a range of possible reforms. The idea of increasing taxes on large corporations to provide grants to Black entrepreneurs was backed by 68 percent of Black respondents, 51 percent of Latinx and 43 percent of white respondents. Also, 71 percent of Blacks support providing payments to Black Americans as restitution for slavery and generations of discriminatory policies, while 24 percent of whites do.

The survey found widespread support, across all ethnic groups, for police reforms that might avert future atrocities such as the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. It showed that nearly three-fourths of Black Americans, two-thirds of Latinxs, and three-fifths of whites said they would place a high priority on “having community-resource professionals like social workers, paramedics, or mental health workers respond alongside police officers in encounters involving homelessness, drug addiction, mental illness, or nonviolent offenses.”

Smaller majorities of these ethnic groups also supported an alternative version in which these community-resource professionals would respond to such calls instead of police officers. Roughly two-thirds of Americans, across all racial lines, would require police officers to live in the cities or towns where they work.

Clearly, our nation’s racial and economic divides won’t be resolved overnight. But this survey reveals encouraging signs, and it’s no time to let heated politics steer us away from feasible, even if partial, progress.

In short, the survey finds common ground on real solutions, as a majority of people across the United States of different racial and ethnic backgrounds support broad economic programs to help close the racial wealth divide. These include policies designed to guarantee jobs or ensure people’s ability to pay basic expenses such as housing.

Even where there’s disagreement, there is space for us to talk with each other. These are complicated issues, and it’s encouraging to see people grappling with them to find a path forward, even in these extraordinary times. In fact, rather than stymying progress it seems that the dual crisis of social unrest and COVID-19 is giving our nation an opportunity to create a new economy that serves all Americans.

A holistic approach to building an inclusive economy would require balancing solutions to the most immediate financial needs of the most vulnerable households — in particular, households of color — and the creation of and advocacy for longer-term solutions. The survey’s findings suggest the need for proactive efforts to create broader consensus around longer-term policy mechanisms as well as targeted policies to address the specific realities of the most vulnerable groups.

As this presidential campaign enters the final stretch, let’s not be distracted by repugnant political name-calling, but instead seize on the nation’s appetite for a fairer, more equitable society.

Powell is a professor of law and the director of the Othering & Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley. Cunningham is the president and CEO of Prosperity Now, a D.C.-based nonprofit focused on financial security for all Americans.

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