[Watch] Envisioning a US economy that works for everyone


Fed Communities Staff

Diverse group of employees taking notes

Imagine that racial and gender gaps in the labor market did not exist. Would economic benefits extend beyond people no longer facing disparities? A team of Federal Reserve community development experts created a data simulation to find out, and the short answer is yes. For every US state and Washington DC, eliminating gaps in average hourly earnings, hours worked, educational attainment, and employment-to-population ratio would produce significant GDP gains. 

During this webinar, national experts and Federal Reserve staff will engage in dialogue to explore the data simulation and what it means for the ecosystem of public, private, and nonprofit sector partners who all have roles to play in narrowing racial and gender gaps in labor market outcomes. The implications of this project are especially important after more than a year of economic challenges related to COVID-19. In bringing people off the sidelines and back into the economy, there are individual and institutional actions that can be taken to make sure that women and people of color are not left behind. The discussion will surface ideas for policies and practices that can be implemented in communities around the nation to create an economy that works for everyone. 


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Connecting Communities Envisioning a US Economy that Works for Everyone (video, 1:06:23).
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Matuschka Lindo Briggs

Good afternoon and welcome to Connecting Communities. Today’s webinar is Envisioning a US Economy that Works for Everyone.

On slide two, I would now like to take the time to introduce our speakers for today; Mary Daly, President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. Rachel Korberg, Executive Director at Family and Workers Fund. C. Nicole Mason, President and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Vanessa Palmer, Data Scientist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Kathi Thomas, Director of Community Services, City of Las Vegas. And I’m Matuschka Lindo Briggs, Director of Special Projects and Strategic Support for the Community Development Department at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, and I will serve as your moderator today.

Let’s move to slide three where we can take care of a few housekeeping items before we get started. For the best webinar experience, we recommend you use the web stream to consume this live video event through your computer speakers. If you have technical issues, you are welcome to dial into the phone line and the number posted on the player page. Just be cautious that the video will not sync perfectly with the phone audio.

This session will be recorded and the presentation will be available on our Connecting Communities website. Also, in connection with this session, you can find variety of additional resources available at www.fedcommunities.org.

We will be taking audience questions during the event and we’d love to hear from you. To submit a question, use the ask question button located on the webinar player page, or you can email us at communities@stls.frb.org.

As we move to slide four, I need to go over our legal notice and disclaimer since this is a Fed webinar.

The opinions and statements expressed in this presentation are those of the speakers and are intended only for informational purposes. They do not reflect official positions of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis or the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.

Finally, our mission on slide five. The mission of the Federal Reserve’s Community Development Function is to promote economic growth and financial stability for low to moderate income individuals and communities. You can look at the map to see where your community development team is located.

Our work is done through a range of activities from conducting research and identifying emerging issues, to developing resources and sharing ideas, as well as fostering collaboration and building partnerships. And now here is Mary Daly, President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco with opening remarks.

Mary C. Daly

Hi everyone, and welcome. I’m Mary Daly, President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. I’m really excited about our conversation today, and importantly, our launch of this data visualization tool. Now, before we start talking about the tool, I just want to ask a question. Have you ever wondered, really, really imagined what it would be like if the inequities in our society didn’t exist?

Each and every one of us know that that would feel more fair, that that would feel more even. But what we fail to recognize again and again because it’s almost so big we can’t imagine it, is just how costly our inequities are, and just how much larger the economic pie would be if we eliminated them. I know you know this. You work in community development, you see it every day. You see thousands and hundreds and millions of people when you take it all the way to the US, of people just left on the sidelines.

Their talents, their curiosity, their abilities, their passion, sidelined, not part of the economy that we need. What this tool is going to help us do is show what that means for your communities. We’ve done it for the nation and now we’re going to do it for the states. It’s really going to help the conversation, I think by helping people understand. By letting people see that each and every person we leave on the sidelines isn’t just something that we can feel bad about morally, but it actually is bridling the growth in our nation, bridling the resiliency of our communities, bridling our global competitiveness.

Since we all want a better future, it’s going to start here. It’s going to start by recognizing that each person deserves an opportunity and that importantly, we need each person to have that opportunity. Only together will we have the economy we were meant to have. Where we have the nation we can be proud of. So the work begins today, the work starts here, and I’m confident you’re just the people to do it with us. Thank you very much.

Matuschka Lindo Briggs

Thank you President Daly for those remarks. I would now like to turn the presentation over to Vanessa Palmer with the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis to demo the visualization tool. Vanessa, the floor is yours.

Vanessa Palmer

Thanks Matuschka. Thanks to our panelists and to everyone watching for engaging in this conversation about what we all stand to gain through a more equitable labor market. The work we’ll look at during the demo is a result of a collaborative effort among researchers across the Federal Reserve system. I think we’re all really looking forward to the discussion today.

As President Daly touched on, earlier this year, the San Francisco Fed published a working paper simulating the gains to Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, on a national scale through closing race and ethnicity and gender gaps in the labor market. This work extends that to the state level. So why is this of interest to the Fed?

Part of the Fed’s dual mandate, its reason for existing is to promote maximum employment. Barriers that hinder full participation in the labor market on the basis of race or sex, not only leave behind individuals and families, they’re missed opportunities for a broader economy.

The San Francisco Fed’s work and this project sought to put a frame in dollar terms on what economies stand to gain if racial and gender gaps in the labor market didn’t exist. The value of tools, like the data visualization we’ll walk through today, is as an entry point into solutions oriented what if conversations, like the one we’ll have with our panel shortly, and that we hope you’ll have or continue having in your own communities.

Turning to our thought experiment. How much could US states stand to gain by closing racial and gender gaps in the labor market? How did we approach coming up with that estimate? We simulated the total impact by state of closing gaps in four key labor market measures; average hourly earnings, employment to population ratio, or the share of working age adults employed outside the home, average hours worked per week, and then educational attainment as the shared working age adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

For each state, we simulated the impact of closing existing gaps by race and ethnicity, by gender, and the combination of the two. And then we made the results available in a shareable public data visualization to spark and support conversations. Before diving in briefly, I’d like to note that in this intro and in the article accompanying the tool, we use race as shorthand for race and ethnicity, and throughout when we’re using group averages, there’s a lot of heterogeneity within those and people’s lived experiences.

For example, immigrants from different parts of the globe face different economic conditions and opportunities than US born folks. Now for our demo, let’s walk through closing race and gender gaps for the state of Minnesota. First of all, the headline. The total gain in labor market related output. If every race and gender group had averages on those four labor market measures at least as positive as the group that’s historically faced.

On average, the fewest barriers to full participation in the labor market. In this version, white men, the labor related economic output of Minnesota might have been $32 billion per year higher. Relative to a labor related baseline GDP in the simulation of 120 billion, that’s a lot. Now, this doesn’t take into account the complex ways that labor market measures relate to each other, but the take home message is the closing gaps in labor market opportunities could result in a meaningful boost to the state economy.

Let’s look more closely now at each labor market measure. The four panels on the data visualization explore each of the four labor market measures in the simulation individually. We’ll look at hours worked as a first example. Among Hispanic women in Minnesota between 2005 and 2019, the years of the simulation, the average number of hours worked actually per week, was 37. Among white men it was 43.

But what if we took the share of the population in Minnesota that’s made up of Hispanic females, and imagine that they had full access to the labor market such that their average weekly hours also was 43. And then we did the same for all the other 10 race and gender combination shown here.

In that thought experiment, the economic output of Minnesota could have been $7.5 billion per year higher, with a simulated baseline GDP of again, $120 billion. That’s a meaningful number in our state. Those are economic benefits for members of groups that have historically faced barriers in the labor market, but they’re also benefits for our broader state economy.

More equitable participation in the labor market translates to healthier, more secure lives for individuals and families. It also enhances economic and social stability for communities through pathways such as increased tax revenue and home ownership. Using this approach, the simulated annual gains in our state through closing race and gender gaps in each of the other measures were $6 billion per year by closing gaps in employment. 910 million, so almost a billion by closing gaps in educational attainment. And $17 billion per year by closing gaps in individuals’ average hourly earnings.

A quick note that’s important to point out because it applies here. In cases where a group’s measure was higher than the comparison group, for example, here, a greater share of Hispanic men is employed than white men. The group’s measure was left as is in the calculation. It wasn’t adjusted downward.

To close out this example, let’s look back at our headline number. $32 billion per year. State economies are complex and there are many individual decisions and structural interactions that factor into economic output that aren’t captured in the thought experiment. Some of which our panelists will be discussing in just a moment. But aside from the talent and innovation it would bring to the workplace, that’s an estimated number for the economic benefit we could all share in expanding labor market opportunities, such that those four race and gender gaps we looked at didn’t exist.

Expanding labor market access is not only a national conversation. Shifts at state and local levels can affect powerful economic change. This thought experiment offers an entry point for conversations among community stakeholders who are exploring the causes of and solutions to labor market disparities. So what’s next?

We invite you to share the simulation for your state on social media. Explore what the numbers mean for you with a link shown here. Read more about the detailed methods and download the data itself, and visit our frequently asked questions. As our economy continues to rebound from the pandemic, dialogue about how economic growth can benefit everyone equitably is more important than ever. With that, let’s turn back to Matuschka and our panel for discussion.

Matuschka Lindo Briggs

Vanessa, thank you for walking us through the tool and all that it can do. If I could have all our panelists turn their cameras on, and let’s take this time to discuss the tool Vanessa just shared with us. So each of you comes from different types of organizations, whether that be philanthropy, government or research and policy advocacy. All that can influence local and national economic conditions. I’m going to ask this question of all of you and I’ll start with Rachel Korberg, Executive Director at Family and Workers Fund. And that is how does your work aim to address racial and gender gaps in the economy?

Rachel Korberg

Well, first, thank you so much for having me. This is an absolutely critical conversation and I’m glad we’re all here. The Families and Workers Fund, we are a new rapidly growing funder collaborative. We were founded by the Ford Foundation and Schmidt Futures in the spring of 2020 as COVID-19 really deepened its grip on the United States.

Our goal is to help build a more equitable economy that uplifts everyone, especially those who have been most locked out of the country’s prosperity, including women, black, indigenous and people of color, young people and low income communities. I like to think of us as a special forces unit that is here to ensure that the recovery from COVID-19 really does deliver on these equitable economic outcomes that we so need.

There’s two main ways we do this. One, we make grants. So we make grants to get to proof of concept on initiatives that work in delivering good jobs that sustain and uplift people. And two, we partner. We partner with government, federal, state, and local. We partner with business. We partner with non-profits and the worker movement to show what works and deliver results.

Matuschka Lindo Briggs

Thank you. C. Nicole Mason, President and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Your answer to the question, how does your work aim to address racial and gender gaps in the economy?

C. Nicole Mason

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research is the nation’s premier think tank committed to winning women’s economic security and equity, and having a real intersectional framework and analysis to thinking about issues like labor market segmentation, the impact of the pay gap on women and their families. But also thinking more broadly about how do we build, again, stronger communities and workplaces so that we can close some of these gaps?

During the pandemic, we really focused in on its impact on income and earning losses for women, particularly women of color. Again, making sure that we don’t lose sight of who’s been most impacted and how the pre-existing social inequities have been brought to bear on this particular moment.

Matuschka Lindo Briggs

Kathi Thomas, Director of Community Services, City of Las Vegas, let’s bring you into this conversation. If you could answer the same question of how does your work aim to address racial and gender gaps in the economy?

Kathi Thomas

Thank you. I’m so glad to be here with everyone today. My role with the City of Las Vegas is really on the block. We are literally the part of the city that is literally and figuratively on the block. We walk our neighborhoods so that we’re always engaged with constituents, where they live, not in city hall, but where they live.

A big part of our focus has consistently been how do you bring voice to the voiceless? How do you share power? How do you incorporate the ideas and ideals of parts of the community who traditionally, don’t feel like government works very well for them? A big part of my role is to ensure that the federal formula grants, like community development block grant and low income housing trust fund grants, et cetera, are spent in ways that are sustaining to a community and that revitalize in ways that don’t displace the folks in the community.

As we revitalize a neighborhood, we are very conscious about development without displacement, or what most folks call gentrification. We’re very intentional about including minority and women owned businesses when we subcontract out those federal dollars. My department is also responsible for the city’s diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.

And so we also set those standards for every other department within the city. How are you spending these public dollars? With whom are you spending these public dollars? We set the standards for outreach and engagement so that we are including folks from all over the city, so that small businesses, local businesses, women owned, disabled vet owned, businesses owned by people of color, can compete for this enormous multi billion dollar budget that the city spends across the community.

Matuschka Lindo Briggs

Thank you all for opening up this discussion on sharing what you do. Let’s look at the data tool that Vanessa shared, and how it aims to break through zero sum, which is us versus them narratives as a way to encourage users to find solutions that can create economic opportunity for everyone and leave us all better off.

I’d like to ask you, how do you think about narrative change in your work? If you can share with us what’s been a good catalyst for promoting the stakeholders you reach to both think and act differently? I can start with anyone here. I started with Rachel last time. Nicole, how about you?

C. Nicole Mason

Thank you. I think this is a really good question, particularly in this moment as we’re attempting to recover and think about policies and programs that we know will make the difference in rebuilding a more just, equitable and fair economy. One of the examples I like to give is that at the start of the pandemic, we were thinking about, we didn’t know what was going to happen, but we saw the enormous job losses that were being experienced by women.

People were thinking about how do we frame this? How do we talk about it? It’s an economic downturn, it’s a recession, but it’s not 2008, so it looks a little bit differently. At IWPR, we were also looking at the numbers and the data and really wanted to make sure that people understood who was being most impacted by the economic downturn.

It wasn’t everybody. It wasn’t men like in 2008. The sectors were different. And so we started to think about it and call it a C session. Now that has become, everybody uses the term C session, but I want to, when we think about narrative change, if that hadn’t happened, we would be in this moment struggling to think about how we talk about it? About who is bearing the brunt of this economic downturn, and also struggling to figure out who we must center in the recovery.

Some of the solutions that we tried in 2008 to recover from the recession, because it was manufacturing, production and construction, doesn’t work here because women were disproportionately impacted. And so being able to not only help the media shape the narrative and talk about what we observe and know to be true, but also policy makers and legislators as well is critically important.

Being able to name it, and that’s why I think this data tool and looking at the data and having people, quite frankly, women, people of color looking at the data and trying to frame it and analyze it is really critically important, because you get a new narrative, a new place to look for answers.

Matuschka Lindo Briggs

Anyone else want to comment on that?

Kathi Thomas

Yeah. I think that idea of seizing the moment is so critical. A great deal of this work that we are deeply engaged in around inclusion and equity, we began prior to COVID. We began it prior to the current atmosphere around civil unrest and response to police brutality. We began it before the latest iteration of civil rights with Black Lives Matter.

However, the context when people started paying attention to the work we were doing, all of those things were happening. COVID was happening, we were deeply in the recession. Remember, we are in a community that is almost solely driven by hospitality and gaming. So talk about your economy flattening out, coming to a standstill. It presented this odd opportunity with all of these current events, this confluence of opportunity to have a conversation about what kind of community do we want to live in?

Now we can create it or recreate it in a way that everyone benefits, that everyone enjoys the opportunities, because we are a community that has very deep troughs but very high peaks. And so we go down quickly, but we bounce back quickly. What does the bounce back look like? For whom does the bounce back occur?

And so we were able to do this in a context and say nobody needs to finger point. This is not about guilt and privilege. We’ll talk about all those things, but really what we’re talking about is what is the community that we want to build for everyone to live in?

People can say without any other filters, we want vibrant communities. We want people to have living wage jobs. We want affordable housing. We want good education. Everybody wanted it. And so we seized on the opportunity that those current events presented us and are presenting to us to say, great, you want to live in a community that has these characteristics. Everybody wants to live there. What do we do so that everybody gets to enjoy that?

I think timing matters so much when you are changing the narrative. And so you have to be ready to jump on those opportunities when they present themselves, because people are asking what’s next? You have to have an answer.

Matuschka Lindo Briggs

Right. I definitely think, I like the way you said everyone, because I think that’s a really important part in what they’re trying to show with this tool. Is that a way that they explain it when you look into the tool, it’s that it’s not just getting a piece of the pie and then someone else doesn’t have as much. It’s everyone wants a piece of the pie. Everyone can have a piece of the pie, and then it’s just a bigger pie. So Rachel, I saw you come off mute if you wanted to add to that.

Rachel Korberg

Yeah, definitely. I wanted to bring up two very harmful, big narratives that we butt heads with a lot, and I think are underlying some of those barriers to equitable labor market participation that Vanessa spoke to.

One is this idea of pull yourself up by your bootstraps. People get the lives they deserve. This narrative is as old as our country and it really causes major challenges.

The second one is this idea of low skill work. We tend to assume if your job is considered low skill, you shouldn’t be paid for it very much. If you’re not being paid much, it must be because you’re not very skilled or your job isn’t very important. That’s a myth and the pandemic turned that on its head. Because we saw that so many workers who were considered essential, the work they do is critical for the continuation of our country during a crisis and for critical infrastructure.

47% of these essential workers were actually making less than $15 an hour. They were low wage and essential, and in many cases, considered in our labor market data low skill. I think that’s an oxymoron. You shouldn’t be able to be essential, yet also low wage and low skill.

It really speaks to how deeply embedded these narratives are in the way we talk about and we think about our labor market. For me, the silver lining of this is that we are talking about how essential work is, and we are talking about how essential workers are. I think it could be really a surprise momentum for positive change from this pandemic.

If we can make sure that we turn that appreciation and gratitude for essential workers. The ringing of the bells at 7:00 PM and those signs, turn that into real action that actually improves equity and opportunity for working people, for women, for people of color. That would be huge. I think my call to action to the people joining this webinar would be for us all to just be very real. That research is necessary, but not sufficient for change.

If we can partner with culture makers, artists, actors, musicians, if we can work in these ways that really grapple with these problematic deep narratives, our research will be so much more impactful.

Matuschka Lindo Briggs

Something that you said is that change really does take time. The data tool makes it clear that the economy currently isn’t working for everyone, so we need better outcomes now. But many of the drivers of inequitable labor market outcomes, such as educational systems, neighborhood conditions, and economic development models, again, like you’re saying, it all takes time to change.

How do you approach the challenge of balancing the needs for both short-term wins and long-term wins, or as you would say, the silver lining you were talking about Rachel?

Rachel Korberg

Sure. I’m happy to kick us off. At the Families and Workers Fund, we really believe that today is our once in 100 year shot for change when it comes to economic outcomes. I will say that for me personally, my family on one side of the New Deal, my family was Jewish immigrants and refugees who lived in poverty, didn’t have access to literacy or formal education. On the other side of the New Deal, we’re solidly and stably middle class.

We know that the New Deal wasn’t everything. It really centered white people and white families and it centered men. We have our new, New Deal moment here that can really center equity. I just believe that this confluence of the recovery from COVID-19, all of this public investment moving to our communities, Kathi, what you were speaking to of these major contracts that governments are going to be putting out now and in the coming years. I think that we can use all of this momentum to actually really deliver a big picture or change.

Matuschka Lindo Briggs

Nicole, Kathi?

C. Nicole Mason

I would just echo what Rachel said. I too believe this is a once in a generation moment. It’s actually a moment that, I’ve been doing this work for about 20 years now, I feel like this is it. We were having conversations that even a year and a half ago, didn’t seem possible. Workplace flexibility. Who’s considered an essential worker? The care infrastructure as infrastructure, all of these conversations were not on the table too long ago.

I feel like, and I think many others feel like this, there’s an urgency to this moment. I love how data is driving some of the decisions that are being made. We are looking at who’s considered essential worker? What do the sectors look like? How much we gain by investing in the care infrastructure to our GDP? We’re using the language of the economy to benefit communities of color, women, and to better understand, again, what we would gain by fully investing.

Getting to Rachel’s point around dangerous narratives or narratives that haven’t been working. Cost. The cost of doing this has also been one of those narratives. It’s too big, we can’t afford the investment and so we either under invest or we don’t invest at all.

I think what we’re doing now is making the case about how much would we gain by investing in communities, closing educational attainment gaps, closing and accelerating the closing of the pay gap. Addressing issues like labor market segmentation and thinking about paid sick leave. All the other things that we know would make a difference in the lives of the people that we care about and the workers that we care about.

I’m really energized by this moment, but also the laser sharp focus of people who are doing this work, data scientists, organizers and advocates, because it seems like we’re all moving in the same direction and I’m really excited about it.

Kathi Thomas

I like that idea of working with urgency. I think this is so important for my personality type. I work with a sense of urgency. For me, this is both and. It is both a unique opportunity, and I’m very careful not to frame my long-term discussion with the once in a lifetime. Because there will be decision makers who say, “That moment has passed, we can’t work on it anymore.”

I’ve been very intentional to not reinforce this notion of once in a lifetime opportunity. Because it presumes that we will do this work this way for some defined period of time and then we’ll go back to normal, whatever normal was. Well normal wasn’t working. Normal actually wasn’t normal. If we look at short-term gains and long-term systems change, we have to be very careful with our language. I think all the panelists have said words matter.

This idea of a once in a lifetime opportunity implies that a window will close and our opportunity to do this work this way will be over. On the short-term gains, it’s exactly what the panelists have been talking about, is using the data to inform this work. It is bringing new voices into the conversation. Having conversations that we have not historically had.

For me, the long-term work is about allyship. I work in government. Lots of departments, lots of levels, city, counties, state, feds, who are my allies at those levels who are committed to systems change? Let me give you a quick example if I may.

I’m asking my colleagues across the city, how are you spending these public dollars? What are the policies associated with these processes that get the dollars out the door? When behind the scenes we need to actually change those policies, if we are serious about equity.

We have to ask different kinds of questions. Not just how many women owned businesses, or how many black business owners, but what’s the total dollar spend? I could have 50 women owned businesses, but if they only have a $100,000 a year in net revenue, it’s not the same as having a million dollars in net revenue.

The long-term change has to be looking at what are those policies that on their face, seem neutral, but really do have some disparate outcomes that we can actually measure? Data informing that understanding is so critical.

For me, I think that in the short-term, I’m very intentional about how I talk about this. I do want to work with that sense of urgency. I do want to have those, what people have called uncomfortable. It’s only uncomfortable if you’re centering yourself in the conversation. These are not uncomfortable conversations.

They’re necessary to do the work now and to be intentional about how we think about the work as we move forward. It must go beyond the conversations. It must go beyond me working with a sense of urgency to some institutionalized work back here. The policies in the back that no one ever sees, that has to change so that we can sustain for long-term change.

Matuschka Lindo Briggs

Nicole, did you want to follow up on that?

C. Nicole Mason

I want to take a clarifying moment to talk about what I mean when I say once in a generation or once in a lifetime opportunity. To be honest, we haven’t seen this. We haven’t had this opening in a very long time and it was triggered by this pandemic. The New Deal was almost a half century ago. So we can just be honest, and we haven’t had this moment where we are in a place where everybody seems to be pointing in the same direction in terms of a clear understanding.

We saw it firsthand that the economy, the workforce, the workplace was not working for majority of people. That opportunity, the urgency that’s presented, that Overton window if you will, that is presented in this moment, allows us to accelerate policy change that wouldn’t have been possible and very clear not even a year ago, at the beginning of the pandemic.

And so there’s a lot of conversation, for example, around people frame it as The Great Resignation. So you’ve all heard that, but actually in this moment, it is actually not The Great Resignation. It’s a great renegotiation on the behalf of workers saying, what do I need to be successful? What does economic security and wellbeing mean?

And so we’re in this moment of intense change on a systemic level, but thinking about how we work and who’s been left out of the economy and how they get integrated? That in my work, I haven’t seen it in this generation where we’re about to do something that is as significant as the New Deal, and it feels as big.

Matuschka Lindo Briggs

I like everything everyone has said here. I want to personalize it a little bit more using these words. Keeping the door open, what you’ve said, working with urgency, unique opportunity, necessary conversations. I have two things here.

One is many of us might not think in terms of how the roles we take on in our personal and professional lives can make the economy more equitable. But all of us make choices every day that have ripple effects. Let’s talk about what kinds of actions any of us at individual, organizational or community levels can do to help make it a more equitable economy. Anybody want to open that up?

Rachel Korberg

Sure. I’m happy to kick us off. I always think it’s really hard to unpack this at the individual level, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about much more as a newish mom. My wife and I have a two and a half year old, and it’s actually really interesting for me working on equitable economy and workforce issues.

This is the moment when many people for the first time, if they become parents, also become an employer in some way or contributing to some type of a small business in a really important way. Whether that’s daycare or a babysitter or likewise. I would say taking a look at if you’re paying a living wage in the region where you live. Really considering things like fair scheduling practices and other types of important benefits. You can extend it out. It’s not only about the care economy, but I think that’s an important place to look.

For example, does your favorite restaurant have an all white front of the house staff, and are all of the people of color in back of the restaurant roles? That’s something that’s not okay and should change, and is really common in a number of restaurants. And then also on the individual level, I would just again circle back to the really important point that Kathi made around how much money is currently flowing to states and city governments as part of the recovery agenda.

Letting your city and state know that it matters to you, not only the great community outcomes of those dollars, not only the roads and bridges, the green infrastructure, the broadband, but actually that the jobs that create those important community outcomes, that those are jobs that advance equity and good jobs as well.

Kathi Thomas

I like that so much, Rachel. When you say what’s happening in the places where you currently spend your dollars as an individual? Are you patronizing businesses that are locally owned, woman owned, disabled veteran owned, person of color owned? What are their hiring practices like? On an individual level, you really can have an impact and it doesn’t have to be absolute.

One of the things I really want to encourage my team when we’re out messaging this is, you don’t have to stop shopping at the chains and the big box stores. There’s some balance, but sometimes think about do you buy your coffee at the major chain or do you go to a mom and pop place? When you can do mom and pop, do mom and pop. If you’re hiring folks to paint your house or mow your lawn or whatever, who are you hiring?

And so I think I translated that here where I work, to say we are a second chance employer. That means I’m going to hire people with criminal histories. I’m going to hire people who are homeless, currently homeless. Because sometimes the thing that helps them not be homeless is to get a job that pays them enough to afford rent. I’m not going to pay them $10 an hour. I’m going to start them at $15 or $18 an hour as their entry level pay.

And so the programs that we create to serve parts of the community who are, by the way, disproportionately people of color and disproportionately female, we have to say as government, if we’re hiring, we are going to hire people who are coming out of our homeless services programs. We’re going to hire disabled veterans coming out of our veterans services initiative. We’re going to hire the people we serve so that they can get on a path to self-sufficiency.

And so then at a community level, when I start pushing out subcontracts, I have to ask all my vendors the same questions I’m asking myself as a person. Where are you buying your coffee? What are you paying people, et cetera? It’s cascading in a sense that there don’t have to be different broad approaches at an organizational or community level versus an individual level.

It can actually cascade up and you can ask the same questions at a community level that you ask at the organizational level, that you ask at an individual level. That’s how the change happens where you’re not fragmenting and saying, organizations have a different responsibility than individuals. Actually, organizations are made up of individuals. If we see it as that cascading impact, that’s where you see the community level change.

Matuschka Lindo Briggs


C. Nicole Mason

Both Kathi and Rachel are, when I am listening to their comments about individual actions, it’s really about intentionality. I think that when we think at the individual level, as well as the systems level, we are talking about having the intentionality in both our words and actions and that they match. If we’re moving towards equity or racial equity or gender equity, that we are intentional about our actions and where we invest.

When I’m thinking about the systems, the systems work, are we thinking about community development and investments? I’m also thinking about how do we create more connected communities? Communities that have what they need at the very beginning for individuals to be able to thrive and sustain employment.

When we have looked at communities across the country and workers who are in communities that are more likely to be disconnected, meaning they don’t have the preconditions, whether it’s housing, education, banks, services. Those communities that are disconnected, unemployment is really high, earnings are low. And then when we look at communities that are connected, we see the exact opposite.

We can talk about peace mill policies or incremental policies, but really thinking about what do communities need to become more connected and making those investments. It’s really about infrastructure, but some of the things, again, the intentionality about building strong and connected communities is, I think really important.

Matuschka Lindo Briggs

I do. I agree with you there. I also would like to say, I love the way you all spelled it out for individual, organizational, as well as community levels. Sometimes we forget that we’re all part of that and it just takes a little piece, and the little things that we do can make a big difference in this open window of opportunity.

I’d like to turn the tables now with a last panel question for us before we open it up to audience Q&A, and ask each of you individually, if you could change one thing right now in order to enhance economic equity and opportunity, what would you do personally? Rachel, you love to kick it off.

Rachel Korberg

I would prioritize giving government funding to companies that pay a living wage, have a strong health and safety record, and include women and people of color in their senior leadership. Let’s make sure that taxpayer dollars advances the equitable economy that we all need and deserve.

Matuschka Lindo Briggs

Thank you for that. Kathi.

Kathi Thomas

I don’t think I could have said it better than Rachel just said it. Really, this is my big flex. If we as a government entity, push hundreds of millions, billions, this city is working off of a $4 billion budget, before the American Relief Act dollars, then we ought to be saying to anyone that is the recipient of those dollars, how are you moving this equity agenda forward? And doing it across the board, not just for the dollars that come into my department or any other department.

I think Rachel summarized it really, really well. What are you doing to move this agenda forward? If you’re not doing anything, come back next year, these dollars are going to go to an entity who’s truly partnering to shift the economy.

Matuschka Lindo Briggs

Nicole, how about you? What would you do?

C. Nicole Mason

I would build a robust care infrastructure in the US that’s focused on improving wages and conditions for care workers, but also making sure that no family pays more than 7% of their income towards care. There’s flexibility around care and there’s more availability.

I think when we ran the numbers, we know that it would have a rippling effect in terms of families being able to accumulate wealth, be able to provide without stress or struggle. It would really make a difference for women’s labor force participation and close some of the gaps that we’ve been talking about. If I were going to do one thing in this moment, it would probably be that.

Matuschka Lindo Briggs

Alrighty, well thank you for that great and robust discussion to help us understand how useful the data is. How useful this tool can be for so many. At this time, I’d like to open it up for Q&A. What I’m going to do is I’m going to switch places with Vanessa. Vanessa, I’d love for you to turn on your camera and join us at this time, because some of our audience may also like to ask specific questions about the tool. That way I can work the Q&A in the background and look at all the questions.

As a reminder, we are taking questions from our participants today. Please submit them using the ask a question button on the bottom left hand side of your screen. You can also email us at communities@stls.frb.org.

We have several questions here and anyone can answer. This one isn’t specific. It’s basically, are there specific community development, economic development, and or workforce development policies or programs that could play a key role in closing economic opportunity gaps for women and people of color? Nicole, would you like to start with that?

C. Nicole Mason

I think the childcare infrastructure is one of the ways that we could close some of the economic opportunity gaps. I think labor force segmentation is a real big issue. Well, I’m of two minds. So I’m all for women entering non-traditional sectors and people of color into non-traditional sectors. But I know that that is not immediate.

Many of these sectors, especially very male dominated sectors, don’t have a lot of good history in terms of integrating women and people of color into them. So one of the things that I’m really a big proponent of is making the jobs and sectors where women are, and people of color are and making those high quality good jobs. That means paid sick leave, raising wages.

There is tremendous amount of public support for raising the minimum wage. But raising the minimum wage is only a part of the equation. People need benefits, they need job security, they need predictability in their scheduling. So again, doing the work to make sure that sectors where women are, people of color are, that those are high quality good jobs.

Matuschka Lindo Briggs

Okay. Is anybody else want to comment on that? All right, I can move on. Kathi, this next question is directed specifically to you. The audience member would like to know your block by block community focus. Can you share more insight into how this was developed, questions asked on these community walks and how you translate learnings into actionable actions?

Kathi Thomas

Absolutely. So by way of background, everybody in my department reads a couple of books. One is about asset based community development, McKnight and Kretzmann, I believe it is. And so we always take an asset based focus as we engage rather than a deficit focus.

When we are in the neighborhood, we’re saying, “What works for you? What do you like about this? What can we as the city do to support what you think is important?” That does not mean we don’t look at the deficit. We do some risk indexing for neighborhoods to see where graffiti is going up, or blight’s going up, or where’s it going down and if our interventions are having any impact on that.

And so we identify neighborhoods that tend to have lots of disinvestment over the years and some resulting blight. They’re just on the wrong side of every social outcome. And so we’re looking at social determinants of health, a number of factors to say, this is the neighborhood where we’re about to get involved.

We have a outreach team. We supplement that paid staff with AmeriCorps VISTAs, and we walk in the neighborhoods and we talk to people. We don’t always have a fixed set of questions until after we talk to people, and then we fix the questions. We want to get a sense of what’s important to them.

We may go in thinking that the crime rate is the most important thing and they may say there are no lights in the park. Oh, okay. Well we could put lights in the park and that would have an impact on the crime rate. But really what they want is to use the open space that’s limited in their community. And so it’s important in my opinion, A, to start with an asset based framework. There are assets in the community. They may not be traditional assets like capital and technical expertise, but there are assets in the community.

The questions you ask need to be very open-ended questions. The community will tell you what they like, what they don’t like, what they need, what they do not need. It’s not up to us to decide what they need. It’s up to us to respond to those needs in ways that make sense to the folks who live in the neighborhoods. And then you start your survey. You ask specific questions about education, about jobs, about this, that, and the third after you’ve actually gotten to know the neighbors.

Frankly, in many communities, this is one of them. The city had some trust building to do in a lot of our underserved and communities in which there had been disinvestment. And so we take all of that and we actually create neighborhood revitalization plans and we work with the community to bring those to fruition.

That could be anything from bringing in technical assistance from HUD or the EPA or whomever. It could be providing funds directly to the community garden. Depends on what the neighborhood has told us is a priority. But after we do all that talking and walking, we start writing checks.

Matuschka Lindo Briggs

That’s great. This next question is for anyone. So just jump in there. What role do you feel anti-racism plays into this work to bring about systems change? Don’t everyone talk at once?

Kathi Thomas

I’ll jump in because my department is the DEI department. When we launched the DEI work, there was this big concern that we would spend so much time talking about victimization and white privilege and whatever. There were folks who were not ready to have the anti-racism conversation regardless of what the data was telling us, and a number of other challenges.

It is important, and I’ve told all my peer directors, we will be talking about racism. We cannot look the other way. The systems that are creating the disparity are rooted in racism. For example, people don’t know this, but Las Vegas used to be legally segregated. So there are neighborhoods that have lots of disinvestment, because they were legally segregated. Once they were not legally segregated, there was redlining from the banks and yada, yada, yada.

And so you can’t pick up from here now and say, Well we’re going to do X, Y, and Z and it’s all great, without understanding the context that got you here is rooted in racism. And so I think it’s important that we acknowledge the history, the context of how we got here and help people move at the pace that they can move.

That means you need to be patient. That means you don’t center yourself in the conversation. I might want to move really fast and wear my Black Lives Matter T-shirt to the meeting, but then that becomes the distraction and that’s me centering me in the conversation. And so you don’t avoid the discourse that needs to happen. You don’t avoid the historical context that has led you to be where you are now.

You recognize that people will move at different paces and you try to create a environment that’s comfortable for everybody to learn. Sometimes individually, sometimes in whispered conversations, sometimes in the yelling and the shouting, you have to be the one that creates that space and people will come. Because they actually, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the willingness of people to learn and grow.

Matuschka Lindo Briggs

Anyone else on the anti-racism question? Okay. Next question. I’m interested to hear from panelists, what could, should be done to link the impact of educational attainment to economic growth, and how we can prioritize investment in education for economic equity reasons?

C. Nicole Mason

I think that’s a really good question. I think, for example, the move to making two year colleges free is a good step in the right direction in terms of closing the educational attainment gap. There’s also work being done by a number of foundations, identifying people who have some college, but no degree, and looking to help them finish those degrees online or in person, especially centering single moms or people with children, because we know that that’ll improve economic outcomes for those families.

I think the K-12 is a little bit harder to wrap our heads around just because of the way schools are funded in some states based on tax revenue. And so if we can reform that and fund schools equitably, we all know the disparities in educational outcomes. And so when I think even about just linking the anti-racism piece to it, I think about it as systemic racism, institutionalized racism, and really calling it for what it is so that we can understand how we might dismantle it and make some change, especially in the educational equity space.

Matuschka Lindo Briggs

Anyone else like to speak to that?

Kathi Thomas

I’m going to say one word, intersectionality, even if you don’t call it that. When you are working with your stakeholders, it’s important that they understand that you can’t peel apart educational outcomes from health outcomes, from economic outcomes. That these things interplay in ways that amplify disparate outcomes. And so even if you don’t use that word, it feels jargony, it makes some people run for the hills. Understanding that health is education and health is housing, so that they see the connectivity.

Matuschka Lindo Briggs

All right. I’m going to try to get two more questions in here if we can. This next one, again, open to anyone. If we aren’t in major influential roles within our respective companies or organizations, how can we still be that voice that sparks influential change that moves our respective organizations towards centering equity and inclusion? We touched on that personalization earlier in our panel discussion, but it sounds like this person is asking within their organization, how can they spark that change?

Vanessa Palmer

I have a quick thought on that.

Matuschka Lindo Briggs

Go ahead, Vanessa.

Vanessa Palmer

I would say whether you work in government, in the private sector, as folks alluded to earlier, just in your personal life, each of us has specific skills and connections and access that we can leverage. So look around your organization and even if you’re not in a particularly influential decision-maker role, there’s good work that’s happening and put your hand up to see how you can help.

Matuschka Lindo Briggs

Thank you for that, Vanessa. As we come on time here, the last question I’d really like to hear from everyone here. The question is, as you take stock of the events of the past year and where our economy is at currently, what are the major opportunities for change you see right now? Really, the one question I want answered in this two part is, what makes you hopeful? So really when you see everything that’s happened in these last basically almost two years, what makes you hopeful? Rachel?

Rachel Korberg

What makes me hopeful is seeing those insignificant positions of power in our economy, in our society, whether that’s in government, in business, really recognizing and celebrating the critical contributions of essential workers, who are disproportionately women and people of color. I am really hopeful that that reckoning and that awareness that the pandemic has really brought about will lead to the significant structural changes and steps forward that have long been needed.

Matuschka Lindo Briggs

Thanks. Kathi?

Kathi Thomas

I am hopeful because I see people organizing in neighborhoods and in larger institutions, so that they can be responsive to and responsible for their neighbors. I am really hopeful that this isn’t flash. That it is the returning to a sense of community where we recognize that we are all in this together. We’re not in the same boat, but we are all in the same storm and we can help each other.

Matuschka Lindo Briggs


C. Nicole Mason

I’m hopeful that we’re actually going to see some significant changes in the economy, even how we think about the economy. How we measure the economy and our economic wellbeing across the board. Now we know that we can’t just measure it by the stock market or GDP. There are other factors that help us to understand how people are doing, especially the people, women and people of color.

I’m optimistic that some of the way we talk and measure economic success of a society is changing. And then how we take that information to pour into policies and implementation at the state and federal level, I’m really excited about.

Matuschka Lindo Briggs


Vanessa Palmer

I loved what Nicole said earlier about using the language of the economy to benefit communities. That’s what makes me hopeful.

Matuschka Lindo Briggs

I’d definitely like to thank all of you for being here today. I’d like to thank President Daly for her opening remarks. Vanessa, for the demo, and all of you panelists for sharing your time and expertise, and especially at the very end here, your hope. We’ll all take that with us. So as well as the participants, I’d like to thank all of you that joined us today for our discussion on envisioning a US economy that works for everyone.

A few reminders as we sign off here. We will have a recording available with an audio file on the Connecting Communities website, and you can find a variety of additional resources available on the Fed Communities website. We also welcome ideas for future recordings. We just shared a survey link if you joined us in the webinar, and this same link will be distributed via email in a few minutes. We’d appreciate your feedback about today’s session.

Join us next month, which will be October 7th for our next Connecting Communities titled Enduring a Global Pandemic: the Stats and the Story Behind Small Businesses’ Journey Through COVID-19. Thank you for joining us. This concludes today’s Connecting Communities webinar. Enjoy the rest of your day.

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