​Income Inequality: The Ford Foundation Takes A Stand - Milken Institute Global Conference 2016

The Income Inequality Panel at the Milken Institute Global Conference 2016 sparked passion and concern on how to address the increasing income inequality problem in America. Five panelists took to the stage to debate what causes income inequality and what we can do to find a solution. The Panel included Jared Bernstein, Former Chief Economist to Vice President Joe Biden, Douglas Holtz-Eakin President of American Action Forum, Garrett Neiman, Co-Founder and CEO of CollegeSpring, Sarah Rosen Wartell, President of Urban Institute, and Darren Walker, President of The Ford Foundation, who spoke on the trials and tribulations low income African Americans face due to our inherently biased educational and criminal systems. Walker explained that The Ford Foundation’s focus is to combat income inequality, with the idea of building a healthy and productive democracy.

Who are the Drivers Behind Income Inequality?... Depends on Who you Ask

When The Ford Foundation began asking “Who are the drivers behind income inequality” they discovered something very interesting. When asking the experts, they received technical answers. That income inequality was due to automation, trade policy, technology , labor capital, etc. However, when speaking to the average joe, their answers were more about cultural narratives, persistent prejudices, and rules of the economy working against them.

How do we Fight it?

Walker's advice was to focus on “structures and systems - which aren't sexy.” He went on to explain that some systems are increasingly hardwired for inequality. “If rules are inherently biased and inherently favor and advantage other Americans, we should address that head on.” We must start with our history. For example, the two tier minimum wage law was created to exempt African Americans. Every occupation that a black held was basically exempted because the minimum wage for a tipped worker was $0. “Racism is rooted in our history,” explains Walker. He also spoke about the educational systems and how providing universal Pre-K would be a great start. He also encouraged ending legacy programs at elite private schools.

It Takes a Village

”No one wants to talk about race,” Walker stated. It’s a valid point. Is America ready for that discussion? Are we ready to embrace our history? Are we ready to have an honest conversation about race and class? Once America can address our history, we can start interventions through policy, legislation and litigation. 

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