Columbus CEO's May issue puts a spotlight on the question: What's it going to take to level the economic playing field?
Wealth. Growing up as one of the free-and-reduced-lunch kids in a rich suburb, I still marvel at the luxury of central air, dishwashers, cars that reliably start when you need to go to work, and grocery shopping without checking the bank account balance first. I still marvel at the massive privileges of homeownership, stable marriage and a fighting chance at retirement that I enjoy. I feel like a rich person.
What if you couldn’t climb out of the hole? What if everything was set up to prevent you from getting ahead? What if I had grown up watching people drop out of school and battle drug addiction instead of fashion dilettantes and their European adventures buying prom dresses in Paris (not an exaggeration)? What if I had been denied a home loan because I wasn’t white or prevented by entrenched generational poverty from attending college and earning my bachelor’s degree?
This month’s issue tells stories of disparity on multiple levels.
In the Breakdown graphic, we delve into a new report from the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio that goes beyond the earnings gap to look at how lower salaries and other factors add up over women’s lifetimes, leaving them with 40 cents for every dollar owned by men. That’s twice the earnings gap of 80 cents for each dollar earned by men, but sadly, because of continuing racism, systemic prejudice, and the legacy of slavery, it’s generous compared with the wealth gap faced by women of color in the United States. The study found nationally, black women own just 2 cents, and Hispanic women own 8 cents, for every dollar owned by men.
That is devastating, and it’s unacceptable. So what can we do?
“Without going back and digging up the past and talking about blaming and who did what—no—how do we figure out in this community how to level that playing field for everybody, and especially for our babies so that everybody can start fresh?” says Stephanie Hightower in this month’s profile by staff writer Chloe Teasley. The Columbus Urban League CEO’s energy and commitment are turning things around for the organization, which has experienced obstacles of its own, and bringing resources like homebuyer education, early-childhood programs and job placement services to neighborhoods that need them.
The wealth gap report challenges society to pursue economic parity by eliminating predatory student loan practices, increasing access to loan forgiveness, ending pay secrecy practices, increasing the minimum wage and eliminating the tipped minimum wage, granting equitable access to affordable health care and paid leave, sustaining Ohio’s Medicaid expansion and expanding programs that promote homeownership and entrepreneurship.
In tackling those crucial tasks to ensure prosperity for all our neighbors, the region’s employers play a big role. Many of our Central Ohio workplaces, like Nationwide, the subject of this month’s cover story, have made strides in the past decade by increasing their minimum wage, offering paid family leave, encouraging diversity among their ranks and placing women and people of color in leadership positions.
We still have miles to go, but this long walk toward a unified Columbus, not the city of haves and have-nots we live in today, has kicked off with admirable momentum. It starts with admitting there’s a problem.