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By Carmen House
University News Service
February 4, 2013      

Inequality in U.S. Society Takes Focus at Annual African- American Economic Summit
U.S. Rep. Robert “Bobby” Scott, D-Va., speaks at Howard University African American Economic Summit.

WASHINGTON (February 4, 2013) – Scholars from leading American universities and policy institutions sought to shed light on racial disparities across employment, health, education, housing and income during the Fourth Annual African American Economic Summit held on Feb. 1 at Howard University.

Among the speakers were U.S. Rep. Robert “Bobby” Scott, D-Va., and Bernard E. Anderson of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. A goal of the event was to broaden progressive policy discussion that could counter what scholars described as a discourse that is far too narrow in Washington, D.C.

Rodney D. Green, Ph.D, chairman of the Department of Economics at Howard, said the summit achieved its aim of providing a platform for a wide range of bold policy options for the second term of Obama administration. These included proposals for a federal jobs guarantee, an increase in the minimum wage to $12.50/hour, and a program to provide a modest endowment at birth for all Americans to strengthen everyone’s wealth position while narrowing racial wealth disparities.

The impact of the housing crisis on Americans, especially Blacks, was also a major topic at the summit. Speakers addressed the need for more affordable housing and

suggested ways of providing greater assistance to homeowners, including developing a plan to reduce principal balances to help financially distressed homeowners. Panelists also discussed challenges associated with neighborhood gentrification.

“The housing crisis is what’s holding back the restoration of Black wealth,” Green said. “The ratio of white wealth to Black wealth before the crisis was 10 to 1; after the housing crisis, it’s 20 to 1. Most Black wealth has historically been in housing equity, and that has just disappeared.”

During the discussions, Bernard Anderson, a former assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor, and other participants said the Obama administration needed to increase its focus on issues related to institutional racism and social inequalities. Rhonda Sharpe, for example, visiting professor of African and African American Studies at Duke University, discussed the relationship between educational success and affirmative action.

“Affirmative action plays a huge role in education attainment because it provides educational opportunities for people who have been disenfranchised,” said Sharpe. “This is one of the most important policy issues facing the African-American community.”

Another major topic of discussion was health policy. Panelists talked about ways to curtail preventable illnesses in African-American communities.

Janice Johnson Dias, assistant professor of sociology in the Department of Criminal Justice at John Jay College at City University New York, said Blacks and Latinos disproportionately suffer from illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer but often lack health insurance coverage. It remains unclear if the Affordable Care Act, when implemented, will fully address this challenge.

Other participants included leading scholars from Howard University, Georgetown, the New School, and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

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