Conferences held by think tanks are par for the course in Washington, but the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies sponsored an afternoon of plenary sessions that set this effort apart from the pack.
Policy experts, scholars and leaders in business, politics and civil rights gathered at the National Press Club to take part in the Joint Center’s African-American Economic Summit. It featured discussions focusing on ways to address economic inequalities, build an equitable economy in a competitive world, and devise policy solutions so that all Americans can succeed.
Ralph B. Everett, president and CEO of the Joint Center said, “We wanted to put some solutions on the table so people would have something to be hopeful for. It doesn’t feel good to rehash how bad things are so we wanted to give people something to work toward.”
The ideas that were presented range from traditional to bold approaches.
Professor William Darity, Ph.D., Duke University, described a comprehensive federal jobs program to address the epidemic of Black unemployment. Darity said, “I recommend the creation of a national investment in employment that would ensure that every American seeking work, would have a job in good times and in bad, similar to the Works Progress Administration we spearheaded during the Great Depression.”
While the plan would be brash, there are questions about how much it would cost and how an increasingly polarized political environment would come to an agreement about supporting such an ambitious undertaking.
“Consistent and continued access to employment would yield more benefits to the economy than any hand-outs we currently give to the investment banking community,” he said.
Eliminating the achievement gap was also presented as a tactic to make jobs more accessible to the underserved. But Professor Angel Harris, Ph.D., Princeton University, believes boosting student performance is a first step in addressing economic disparities but it only scratches the surface.
He said,“People see the economic inequality that exists between Blacks and others and say it’s because we have the education gap. But studies show that if the education gap did not exist, there would still be an economic gap.”
Harris thinks that until there's a level playing in our schools, the nation cannot begin to understand how outside influences put African Americans at an economic disadvantage.
The Joint Center also used the event to announce a new Institute on Civic Engagement and Governance which will serve as a platform to focus on ways to promote information, research, and analysis on civic and political participation among Black people.
Everett said, “We know how hard communities of color have been hit by the recent economic downturn. And we are not registering to vote and turning out to the polls enough. So we have to do more to engage our democracy and ensure our voices are heard.”
(Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)