A Tale of Race and Recovery

By Yvonne Yen Liu Sep 30, 2009

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.* The Obama administration enacted the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) back in February, the largest boon to public spending and the safety net since the New Deal, and yet economic conditions are the worst it’s ever been for people of color and single moms. Unemployment is skyrocketing close to double digits, at 9.7% for August 2009. New Census data released recently showed an increase in poverty from 12.5% to 13.2% this past year, meaning an additional 2.6 million persons now live in poverty. Certain groups experience the impact of this poverty increase more than others, according to the Economic Policy Institute: •tLatinos and Asians had marked increases in their poverty rates, by 1.6 and 1.4 points, respectively. •tOver one third of all Black children and almost one third of all Latino children lived in poverty in 2008. •tNearly a quarter of all families headed by single moms lived in poverty, or 3.6 million families, in 2008. Tracking funds from the Recovery Act has proven to be difficult because there is no centralized, authoritative source of where the money is going to and what it’s being used for. Currently, information about ARRA funds are dispersed across the federal recovery.gov website, state stimulus czars, and watchdog groups. Recipients of monies are required to report on their activities and how many jobs they’ve created because of it by October 10. But, information will only slowly trickle out to the public. Even then, there is no requirement for recipients to race or gender their data, so we have no way of knowing how much of the recovery benefits those most impacted: people of color and single moms. We have been following the recovery and its promise to stimulate the economy while protecting the planet and its peoples through the creation of green jobs. Watch this page on October 13 for the release of our Green Equity Toolkit, ideas and resources for community and labor advocates on how to create equity in the emerging green economy. If we are to follow the directive of ARRA and the subsequent Office of Management and Budget (OMB) guidance to help those most impacted by the recession, then we must make race and gender equity key in our planning and practices around green job creation. The toolkit will help us do that.
Our initial research into recovery allocations in Los Angeles County brings to light some concerns. Los Angeles County, like many in this country, is cleft by a racial wealth divide into two types of cities: poor and rich. Poor cities of the county–half of the residents of the City of Los Angeles are people of color and one in five live in poverty–are receiving a quarter of the recovery dollars per poor person, as compared to rich cities. We designate Santa Monica and Beverly Hills as rich cities in the county, where more than 70% of the population are white and the poverty rate is well below the national average. Join me today, September 30, at 1:30pm ET/10:30am PT on a telebriefing “Working for an Equitable Economic Recovery” organized by the Opportunity Agenda, where I’ll discuss some of our preliminary findings in our case study of Los Angeles and other speakers– Alan Jenkins and Juhu Thukral from The Opportunity Agenda, Chris Keeley from Common Cause NY, Maya Wiley from the Center for Social Inclusion, and Jason Reece from the Kirwan Institute–will cover strategies to advocate for equal opportunity in the economic recovery process. The session will cover the following: •tCivil rights laws that affect the distribution of economic recovery funds; •tFraming and messaging recommendations around economic recovery; •tWays to measure the impact of stimulus spending; and •tSpecific examples of how advocates are working to ensure a fair recovery. To receive call-in information, please RSVP at partners@opportunityagenda.org. This is the worst economic downturn our country has experienced since the recession of the early 1980s and flirting dangerously to parallel the Great Depression of the 1930s. What will our generation remember when we look back at this time? Did we seize the opportunity of the Great Recession to bring about a green transformation to sustain all peoples, especially those most distressed? ARC provides the tools. We must act together to demand equity in the recovery, green or otherwise. Photo taken by Jacob Ruff at the Mobilization for Climate Justice protest against Chevron in Richmond, California. * A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.