The Empty Nest Egg: Creating True Economic Security in Black and Brown Communities

Historically, it has remained difficult for Black and Brown people, particularly those with low incomes, to accumulate wealth, whether through homeownership, small-business ownership or other investment. Meanwhile, many community-based organizations (CBOs) have struggled to identify consistent funding streams to serve the needs of these same communities. While individual incomes for people of color and philanthropy dollars to CBOs serving people of color have grown, there remains an underinvestment in communities largely inhabited by people of color leaving their communities under-resourced and as such unable to be sustained through generations.

At MetroMorphosis, we believe that economic security, like many critical issues facing communities of color, is complex and requires an expanded lens through which to view it. Therefore, in a society where Black and Brown men and women consistently lag behind their White counterparts in income generation and wealth accumulation, and when 83% of African- American households and 90% of Latino households are expected to have insufficient resources to live out their remaining years, economic security has to be rooted in more than financial matters. To achieve true financial security, we must move beyond individual wealth to community wealth.

More Complex Picture of Economics in Communities of Color

The traditional conceptualization of economic stability involves the individual’s ability to provide for him or herself financially. For older generations this defaults to ensuring that retirement, Social Security and other income sources add up to enough money for the elder to live comfortably.

But often the amount needed for economic stability of older generations is classified in terms of marital status (single or married) and does not take into account a growing reality for a number of Boomers and Gen Xers: households are either continuing as or returning to an intergenerational hub. For reasons shared in countless other analyses and studies, more and more adult children are sharing space with their parents and grandparents and more grandparents are the sole caregivers of their grandchildren. This means then that older adult income isn’t only used to care for themselves, nor is it simply a matter of adding up dollars from retirement plans and entitlement programs.

‘Organizations serving older populations must move away from outdated service delivery models that do not reflect the reality of the times.’

Economic security of the future—especially in communities of color where collectivism and multigenerational living is the preferred model, but also where wealth and income gaps make living alone more difficult—must be viewed through a lens that accounts for the resources shared across generations and for the communities in which they live. Inherent in this idea is that organizations serving older populations must move away from outdated service delivery models that do not reflect the reality of the times, and, older individuals have to be amenable to embracing a different construct to secure their future.

Community Wealth Building Is Key

If communities of color are to become vibrant, thriving and economically viable, ultimately, a different understanding of and approach to economic security must be advanced. As communicated above, the widely held model that holds up accumulation of private wealth as the measure of success has not served the best interest of Black and Brown people to a significant degree. This approach has often been put forth in ways that places a lesser emphasis on the basic needs of people and communities. In response to these realities, we proffer community wealth building as an important intervention.

While it is crucial to note that there is no single approach to community wealth building, there is consistency in the aim of strengthening the ability of communities and individuals to increase asset ownership, stimulate locally based jobs, build interrelated business structures, and view prosperity through a collective lens.

Perhaps the most readily accessible examples of community wealth-building strategies are Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), Community Land Trusts and Community Development Corporations (CDCs), but as noted, there are several strategies and models that are working in cities across America. This emerging momentum to stimulate outcomes on the systemic level navigates the conversation away from a strictly individual responsibility to accumulate wealth to a collective one. It also has expanded the wealth conversation to include outcomes such as increasing food security and mobility and ameliorating health disparities—demonstrating the interrelatedness of many issues impacting communities of color.

‘Elders become more economically secure as they help to build a more secure future for those that come behind them.’

To deepen and broaden the impact of community wealth building, a cadre of actors across sectors must relate to each other in different and creative ways. Catalytic partnerships, with residents as the core, to include Indigenous organizations and institutions, government agencies and philanthropic interests must be constructed. These partnerships must be centered in authentic shared aspirations and evidenced-based models of collective action, and they must advance strategies that are responsive to local needs, opportunities and ecosystems.

Such partnerships can take several forms. Here in Baton Rouge, we have implemented two forms of the Neighborhood Trust Model by establishing two community funds. The first was in response to cries to end predatory lending in our community. By bringing heads of financial institutions and a CBO that met the basic needs of residents together with community representatives well-versed in the effects of predatory lending practices, the solution of an alternative funding source emerged. This funding source became known as the Faith Fund, which is now embedded in the services of a long-standing CBO and managed by a Community Credit Union.

The second, the 10 for 10 Community Fund, allows us to invest in specific neighborhoods at the recommendation of a panel of community residents. The residents will adopt a set of criteria on which to base their recommendations and determine who receives funds as requests are made.

Both efforts are but two examples of one model and have at their core the concepts of partnerships across sectors and community-informed decision making. But beyond the structural and programmatic components of these undertakings, one other element is critical—the role of older community members. The experience, perspective and active support of the elders serve as important drivers of progress while dispelling the notion that their years entitle them to some place of unquestioned leadership. Cocreation and true collective action are absolutely necessary for the ultimate end result: elders become more economically secure as they help to build a more secure future for those that come behind them.

Given the dynamics outlined above, we are persuaded of both the need for and potential impact of community wealth building as pivotal platform in birthing a decidedly different state of economic affairs in Black and Brown communities across this country.

Raymond A. Jetson and Sherreta Harrison practice intergenerational co-leadership at MetroMorphosis, a Baton Rouge, Louisiana based social enterprise