Justice for All Forum Confronts Lehigh Valley Wealth Gap

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Justice for All Forum Confronts Lehigh Valley Wealth Gap

Data, Task Force Show Problems of and Remedies for Racial Inequality

 

Bethlehem, Pa. - November 21 - New research documenting wealth disparity in the Lehigh Valley and recommendations for combating it were unveiled at a community forum Friday as political, religious, non-profit and other regional leaders spoke at Northampton Community College about the effects of race on socioeconomic standing.

 

"The issue of wealth disparity is really not a new problem," said U.S. Congressman Charlie Dent. "We've always had it- the question is how much recently it's increased. There's no question that it's increased."

 

The "Justice for All" forum, organized by The Water Fountain Project task force, featured presentations on the local, state and federal implications of the wealth gap and included a roundtable discussion on the issue. It also included the release of the "Disparity in the Lehigh Valley: The Trends Across Income and Education" report.

 

"There's a sentence or more in this report for everyone to consider, to think about and to determine how you might be a part of making justice for all," said taskforce co-chair Olga Negrón.

 

The new study, conducted by the Lehigh Valley Research Consortium, found numerous racial and ethnic disparities in the region.

 

These included substantially higher values for white-owned homes than Black- or Latino-owned homes, higher mortgage rejection rates for minorities within the same income category as their white counterparts and considerably higher concentrations of poverty and lower rates of homeownership among Black and Latino individuals.

 

"Wealth disparity is a function of our values in this country and these values have been concretized into our policies and practices," said taskforce member Phyllis Alexander. "In this country we value people who have white skin more than people who have black or brown skin. The wealth gap is a reflection of those values."  

 

The report also found that schools serving areas with the highest concentrations of people of color had the lowest achievement levels. Indicators for admission into higher education, such as percentage of students taking the Scholastic Aptitude Test, similarly varied greatly by race and ethnicity. 

 

During the roundtable discussion, numerous community members spoke of the importance of primary education as a transformative tool for bridging the wealth divide.

 

"If we figure out how to deal with education disparity, wealth disparity takes care of itself," said former executive banker Bob Rupel. "That has to start at Head Start. That has to start at kindergarten."

 

To begin the process for change, CACLV has partnered with numerous prominent local advocacy organizations and their members to form the Water Fountain Project.

 

The task force draws its name and logo from the segregated water fountains and lunch counters of 1950's North Carolina. CACLV Executive Director Alan Jennings says that while the impact of race and racism is now much more discreet, it still very much exists.

 

"The water fountain was a painful and visible demonstration of exclusion," said Jennings. "Today we exclude in much less visible but no less painful ways."

 

Using the LVRC study, the task force has developed a series of recommendations that it's urging organizations to implement throughout the Valley.


"There is no silver bullet to wealth disparity," said task force co-chair Gregory Edwards. "But this is a beginning point for the conversation."

 

To build on local education the report recommends that school districts commit to training faculty and staff to properly educate communities of color and that a network of volunteers should be fielded to help soon-to-be-graduates find the right schools and prepare for them.

 

It asserts that local universities should devote 30 to 50 scholarships a year to children of color in the Lehigh Valley and that local employers should provide subsidies so employees can take advantage of these local institutions.

 

To address the consequences of credit misuse by corporations, the task force recommends adding a small fee to credit card transactions to support financial literacy initiatives and that credit card companies should be prohibited from charging young adults rates higher than 15 percent.

 

The group also stresses the importance of raising the minimum wage to a family-sustaining living wage level. In a statement delivered by a member of his staff, Congressman Matthew Cartwright voiced his support of law-binding sustainable wages.

 

"I agree that we should increase access to financial opportunities. This should begin with the living wage," the statement read.

 

Investing in credit-building and comprehensive post-homeownership counseling programs, wealth management seminars and efforts to open up the market to people of color in the Lehigh Valley would all also serve to bridge the wealth gap, according to the taskforce's findings.

 

It also contends that the reduction of minimum lot size requirements in land use plans, which have the tendency to exclude lower-income households, would lead to more diverse neighborhoods and more even wealth distribution.

 

The recommendations also stress the importance of making sure that people of color are represented in local organizations on the decision-making bodies of tax exempt agencies. 

 

"If we're going to really take this thing [and affect change], it's going to take a village. And it's going to take transformation," said Edwards. "Part of that is having divergent conversations at the table."

 

For a full copy of the report and its recommendations, please refer to caclv.org.

 

The forum will be broadcast in its entirety Monday, November 24 at 10:00 PM and on Tuesday, November 25th at 10:00 AM on PCN.

 

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About the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley:

CACLV was established in 1965 as a non-profit organization targeting low-income persons in the Lehigh and Northampton County areas. The mission of CACLV is to improve the quality of life in the Lehigh Valley by building a community in which all people have access to economic opportunity, the ability to pursue that opportunity, and a voice in the decisions that affect their lives 

 

MEDIA CONTACT 

Cristiano Lima 

(912) 344-1978 

clima@caclv.org

Last changed: Nov 21 2014 at 8:39 PM

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