Racial Justice

The best way to advance policies to raise living standards for working people is for diverse groups to recognize that they share more in common than not. Since class identity has often been racialized, one of the greatest challenges to rebuilding the economic power of the working class lies in establishing multiracial solidarity on a national scale. It is important to remember that the same special interest groups that fund the opposition to policies such as the minimum wage and paid sick leave, and that support efforts to undermine collective bargaining power, are often the same ones aligned with support of voter suppression tactics that limit voting among people of color, low-income individuals, students, seniors, and people with disabilities. The best way to advance the needed economic policies is for diverse groups to recognize that they share more in common than not and work together to achieve their overlapping and intersecting agendas. Getting to that point requires honesty and a collective reckoning about race, white privilege, and institutional racism, with respect to the costs and benefits to each of us.

Advancing policies that address persistent racial disparities while also tackling class inequality will require abandoning the zero-sum mindset that says one group’s set of issues is totally distinct from and in direct competition with another’s. Overcoming this trap begins with defining a broader view of how all the issues are related. It will take a considerable amount of ongoing effort to shift the dominant narrative from one that divides the masses to one that creates a new world of possibilities that benefits all of us.


Black policy matters: Toward an antiracist policy agenda

“There is no such thing as a nonracist or race-neutral policy. Every policy in every institution in every community in every nation is producing or sustaining either racial inequity or equity between racial groups.”

(Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist, August 13, 2019)

Since 2000, Policy Matters Ohio has provided an essential voice in Ohio’s policy debate. We do our best to make the case for good jobs, strong neighborhoods and smart solutions to complex problems, that support communities and help working families get ahead. But that’s not enough. If we want to build an Ohio that works for everyone, the policies we advance must be antiracist. Below we share with you the policy areas we know can bend the arc of history toward social and economic justice for African Americans in Ohio.

Black Workers Matter: How the District’s History of Exploitation & Discrimination Continues to Harm Black Workers

The District’s economy is strong on a number of important indicators such as employment, job growth, and increased wages, but the overall trends mask staggering racial inequalities. The District’s deep history of exploitation and discrimination against Black workers—including stolen labor when DC was a hub for slavery, restrictions of free Black workers to the lowest-paid jobs, federal government job discrimination through much of the 20th century, and exclusion of many Black workers from New Deal labor laws—led to present-day racial disparities in many employment-related metrics including occupations, wages, employment levels, benefits, and opportunities to grow wealth.

The differences in employment and income opportunities between Black DC residents and white DC residents are stark. Black residents are seven times as likely as white residents to be unemployed, despite actively looking for work, which cannot be attributed to differences in education or skills-training alone. Similarly, vast racial wealth differences cannot be explained by education, employment, or income alone. Black workers have been excluded from wealth-building opportunities such as homeownership, high-paying jobs and high-value business ownership. This report documents many of these disparities.

Washington’s Tax Code is an Untapped Resource to Advance Racial Justice

Through decades of laws and policy decisions, Washington’s elected leaders have created a tax code that is the most upsidedown, or regressive, in the nation, meaning that those with low incomes pay a much higher share of their income in taxes compared to the wealthiest. In other words, Washington’s tax policies favor certain people based on their income and wealth, while continuing to hold low- and middle-income people back.

This brief addresses the question: How and to what extent does a person’s race and ethnicity determine how Washington’s upside-down tax code impacts them?

Race in the Heartland: Equity, Opportunity, and Public Policy in the Midwest

A half-century removed from the high-tide of the civil rights movement, progress on racial equity has slowed or stalled on many fronts. Nowhere is this more starkly evident than in the twelve states of the Midwest region, where racial disparities in economic opportunity and economic outcomes are wider than they are in other regions, and policy interventions designed to close those gaps are meager. Race in the Heartland: Equity, Opportunity, and Public Policy in the Midwest examines the roots of those racial disparities, documents their extent and impact, and proposes a range of policy solutions.