The Economy, Reset

Kai Ryssdal Aug 14, 2020
Black Lives Matter supporters demonstrate against racial injustice and police brutality in Portland, Oregon, on July 31. Nathan Howard/Getty Images

The Economy, Reset

Kai Ryssdal Aug 14, 2020
Black Lives Matter supporters demonstrate against racial injustice and police brutality in Portland, Oregon, on July 31. Nathan Howard/Getty Images

Update (Aug. 14, 2020): This transcript has been updated to include more of Marsha Music’s story.

The following is an edited transcript of “The Economy, Reset”, a Marketplace special series.

Kai Ryssdal: There’s a part of an interview I did a couple of months ago with Raphael Bostic, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, that I keep thinking about:

Raphael Bostic: For many people, the systemic racism is so ingrained in everything that we do on a basic level that they don’t even see it. They don’t think about it as a structured inhibitor of African Americans’ ability to do the things that other people get to do with no questions.

Ryssdal: A “structured inhibitor.” And systemic racism that the rest of us “don’t even see.”

George Floyd was killed by police on Memorial Day. And since then, we’ve been asking people on “Marketplace,” people who study and teach and live the Black experience in this economy, what it means to them:

Isabel Wilkerson: It will take all of us to come together to heal from a caste system, a hierarchy that has been in effect for hundreds of years.

Gary Hoover: My mother was the hardest-working person I had ever seen. And she said, “Hey, you know what? If you just work hard, you’re going to get ahead in life.” And that never happened for us. We always were struggling.

Dorothy Brown: If you want an inclusive economy, you have to deal with racial equality, and you have to start new.

Ryssdal: That was Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson, economist Gary Hoover and lawyer and professor Dorothy Brown, getting us to this hour.

After 400 years, what’ll it take to start to end the systemic racism that’s so ingrained in this economy? A conversation about the path forward to create an economy that works for everybody: The economy, reset.

Ryssdal: The net worth of a typical white family in America is nearly 10 times more than that of a typical Black family. The pandemic has only continued to widen this racial economic gap, and Black-owned businesses are almost twice as likely to shutter than small businesses overall.

Teo Hunter and Beny Ashburn, co-founders of Crown and Hops. Photo courtesy of Beny Ashburn
Beny Ashburn, left, and Teo Hunter (Courtesy Ashburn)

Beny Ashburn and Teo Hunter, the co-founders of Crowns & Hops Brewing Co., are trying to fix this systemic economic racism in the field of craft beer. I met them on Market Street in Inglewood, California, a predominately Black and Latinx city in Los Angeles. They’re planning on building Inglewood’s first Black-owned brewery as part of their broader mission to bring more Black people into the world of craft beer.

Ryssdal: So first thing we have to do is I need you guys to introduce yourselves. Tell me who you are and what we’re doing here.

Teo Hunter: Yes, my name is Teo Hunter. I’m the head of brewing operations and COO for Crowns & Hops Brewing Co.

Beny Ashburn: Hello, my name is Beny Ashburn. I’m the CEO of Crowns & Hops Brewing Co.

Ryssdal: How did you guys decide who gets to be CEO and who gets to be COO?

Hunter: She did.

Ashburn: I mean, kind of. My skill set, just what I’ve done in business, lends itself more to sort of that organization, behind the scenes, keep things moving kind of pace, and Teo really is the heart and soul and the beer of the brand.

Hunter: Yeah, without a doubt she is the momentum. And I think, again, to the point of her background, and just I think the fact that not that many people in craft beer have seen such a strong Black woman lead, it made for a perfect opportunity not only to highlight what she’s always done, but what, you know, she’ll continue to do in this industry.

Ryssdal: Yeah. We have to say here that I mean, the reason we’re here is that not too many people in craft brewing have seen strong Black people, full stop. That’s why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Ashburn: Yes. 100%.

Ryssdal: Say more.

Hunter: I mean, this is about — for us and what we’ve been able to really dial in on is — this absolutely is about racial equity. You know, I think in a craft beer industry with over 7,500 breweries, you know, less than 1% are Black owned. A lot of what we did initially was just fighting to ensure that our reflection was present in breweries that were for the most part located in Black and brown neighborhoods. And, you know, as we continued our journey, we realized that there was another opportunity, which was to become owners in this space.

Ryssdal: I want to talk about that location thing, because you guys are deliberate about wanting to be in Inglewood for people who live in Inglewood. Not the way it usually works is that craft brews go to a distressed place or an underserved place and white people come.

Hunter and Ashburn: Black or brown places.

Ryssdal: Yeah.

Ashburn: I think the great thing about Inglewood is right now you still feel the culture of what Inglewood has always been, which has been a very brown and Black community. And I think coming here specifically as Inglewood is changing, we wanted to come back in and buy back the block, so they say. That’s sort of the term that they’re using, and —

Hunter: Nipsey Hussle shoutout.

Ashburn: Nipsey Hussle. And represent the culture that is here and show faces, show owners speaking to racial equity like Teo mentioned, and really just be here to represent for us.

Hunter, left, and Ashburn inside the Miracle Theater in Inglewood, California. (Courtesy Ashburn)

Ryssdal: Let’s talk about the physical space and buying back the block. Here we are on Market Street in Inglewood in front of the Miracle Theater. You guys took publicity stills sitting on top of the marquee up here, which I kind of love.

Hunter: Shoutout to Owen.

Ryssdal: It’s great. Those are great shots. But let’s look around, and so let’s play this out. Let’s say you get that space right there, right? Michael’s School Uniforms says we’re looking to close up and you get that space. What does it look like if Crowns & Hops actually puts its taproom right there? What happens here?

Ashburn: I think everything that happens around here just grows and kind of elevates. There’s a lot of Black-owned businesses, I think, on this block right now. And I think what it could show is, we are here and able to buy into our community. It’s an example of what other people could do that a lot of people don’t understand, that ownership is an option for them.

Hunter: And also I think what we bring in terms of bringing a brewery to this community is we also showcase that we can have the same businesses in our own neighborhoods that typically are not currently on Market [Street]. There aren’t many places where you can sit down with your family and enjoy a meal. There are not very many places where you can have a business meeting outside of the newer businesses that are coming. So what you’re experiencing right now, specifically with the businesses that are coming here, is we’re not only bringing new business, we’re bringing new types of business. And I think it’s really important, you know, for people to understand that Black business doesn’t need to look like just one thing. It can look like a brewery, it can look like a coffeehouse. It can look like a lounge, it can look like a co-working space. You know, I think these are the things that we’re pushing in terms of helping people understand that we can have a successful Black ecosystem economically.

Ryssdal: That’s so interesting. The idea of Black business can be any business. It just seems so obvious.

Hunter: It does. But I think people would rather only see us as one type of business. A hair salon —

Ashburn: A clothing store or barber shop.

Hunter: Yeah, and no offense to any of those businesses, but I think what we’re starting to see is, you know, Beny and I both attended HBCUs, and you know, going to a [historically black college or university], you are challenged with pushing the envelope, with being innovative. And I think you’re going to start seeing over the course of the next year to two years is a lot of that innovation coming back to these Black and brown neighborhoods where we came from.

Ryssdal: You’re counting also on Black money. You want Black funders for this. Why?

Ashburn: I think it was important to, as part of what Teo was saying, create that ecosystem of Black ownership, Black investors, Black money and buying back into your community.

Hunter: And let’s be honest, there’s a ton of white equity holders.

Ashburn: Yeah.

Hunter: You know, we thought that it would be incredible to make sure that equity stay within Black families, Black owners. You know, I do think there is a common theme with regards to specifically owners that are from this area — I was born in Centinela Hospital right around the corner — to ensure that that ownership stays in that community is also, you know, confirmation that the money will return and be circulated versus it being taken to an area that the investors or stakeholder, equity stakeholders might not live in. You know that that is the thing.

Ryssdal: The thing we haven’t talked about: Why beer?

Hunter: Because it’s delicious. Are you serious?

Ryssdal: Look, you’re talking to a convert here. You don’t have to sell me. Anyone listening to this program knows that. What was it that made beer the thing that gave you guys this mission? That’s the thing.

Hunter: Yeah, I mean, well, think about it. Beer is an affordable luxury. And when you have a beverage or a product that can strip down all of the pretentiousness, all of the the BS that you might deal with, everything in your respective life, family, whatever the case, and have this moment to where you can celebrate life and the things that make you happy. That’s like a super good PSA for beer right?

Ashburn: It is a good PSA for beer.

Hunter: But you know, it’s phenomenal. And again, what we didn’t see was the contribution of people of color in craft beer. You know, I mean, if you think about this thing being one of the oldest beverages on the planet, and I just find out, you know, about a year ago that my great-great-great-grandmother — three, right?

Ashburn: Yes, three.

Hunter: — was a brewer. You know why beer? Because we think that there’s a huge opportunity for Black culture, for brown culture to be represented in it. And it stands the test of time. And it’s delicious.

Ryssdal: Thanks, you two. Thanks a lot. I really appreciate it. Best of luck with this whole thing. I think it’s cool.

Ashburn: Thank you. We’re excited.

Ryssdal: We started this hour with a question: What’s it gonna take to start to end the systemic racism that’s so ingrained in this economy?

Michelle Holder: So I’m a native New Yorker, I grew up in New York City.

Janelle Jones: The way I experienced the economy, how I came to study economics is rooted in, you know, seeing my mom and my aunts and my grandmothers and how their experience with the economy really had effects that rippled through our family, through our community, through our society.

Holder: At the time that I was growing up, the only white folks you saw in the community were police officers, or teachers, or social workers. That was it.

Jones: My mom worked at McDonald’s, she had low wages, she had no benefits, no health insurance, she had trouble, you know, securing child care for me.

Holder: And frankly, that’s what led me into the discipline of economics. I was trying to understand —

Jones: What is it about the way Black women are treated in an economy that means that they are separate and often last in a lot of indicators?

Holder: — why the country was so racially segregated.

Ryssdal: That was Janelle Jones, the managing director of policy and research at the Groundwork Collaborative, and Michelle Holder, an assistant professor of economics at John Jay College at the City University of New York.

We’re gonna come back to them later in the hour, but first, we’re going to go back to 2016 to a reporting trip we took to the Mississippi Delta for a project about race, poverty and economic mobility, to a little town called Cleveland, Mississippi, where we met Chiquikta Fountain and her son Maurice.

Chiquikta Fountain and her son Maurice at their home in Cleveland, MS in 2016. (Credit: Marketplace)
Chiquikta Fountain and her son Maurice at their home in Cleveland, Mississippi, in 2016. (Marketplace)

Cleveland is one of those towns in the South where money gets funneled into certain places and not others, and where opportunity exists for some, but not for others.

Fountain saw that every day in her work for a youth services group:

Ryssdal: What do they tell you about their opportunities here?

Chiquikta Fountain: Basically, that there are none. That if they stay here, they feel trapped. That if they do choose to go to school and purse a college degree that there is no guarantee that they’ll get a job once they graduate, so they opt to leave.

Ryssdal: That stuck in Chiquikta’s mind. So much so that she wanted to leave and find her opportunity someplace else. And so did Maurice.

Ryssdal: Where do you see yourself in like 10 years?

Maurice: Just anywhere besides here. Like, there are a lot of places that are way better than Cleveland. They have like the little bumper stickers like, “Keep Cleveland Boring.”

Ryssdal: Yeah, I’ve seen it. You don’t want boring.

Maurice: I want something that grabs my attention.

Ryssdal: Well, here we are, four years later. Chiquikta is now the executive director of a community nonprofit organization called Delta Hands for Hope. And as we were putting this hour together, about Black people in this economy and their opportunities, we thought we ought to get her back on the phone.

Ryssdal: Chiquikta Fountain, it is so good to talk to you again.

Chiquikta Fountain: Likewise, thank you so much for having me again.

Ryssdal: Talk to me about you for a minute. You have now a different job than you did four years ago. You’re working in a nonprofit about community. And that’s part of why I wanted to get you back on the phone. How much of an impact has the pandemic had on you? I mean, you’re pushing forward, we’re all trying, but, come on, brass tacks how you doing?

Fountain: Yes, this situation has only exacerbated a problem that was already prevalent in our community to begin with, and that’s poverty, and the mindset of poverty. And to see how this pandemic has, first of all taking children out of school, it has altered their way of life, how they go about receiving education. And a lot of our families rely heavily on schools, not just for education, but for food. So, it’s been really challenging when you’re working with a community that is so used to not receiving love and support. So, that’s a really loaded question Kai. And I hope that I’ve given you a pretty decent answer. But, it’s been a lot. It’s been a lot.

Ryssdal: Yeah. So look, you have given me a good answer. But I’m going to come back at you with another loaded question. And it’s a little bit bigger picture, but your community is, I would guess, overwhelmingly Black, right? It is overwhelmingly poor. It is, as you said, unused to having love and attention. Does this moment with Black Lives Matter — and the attention that the Black community in this country is getting — do your clients and the people you help, do they feel that in a positive way? Or is it a thing that’s happening and they have to get through everyday man and just leave me alone?

Fountain: Absolutely. That’s absolutely it. Because we live in a region of Mississippi that is, you know, where the wealth is held by a certain sector of people. And it’s something that we see on the on the daily, you know, when you walk out your homes you see that the majority of our landscape is devoted to agriculture. But the majority of our farmers, large farmers, that own the land are white. When it comes to businesses that are being owned and how easily someone can get access to a home. You see that from another community that doesn’t necessarily look like yours. So, this is something that we’re constantly fighting for, for, you know, even as it relates to being seen, to being heard. And that’s something that we are taking – and when I say we, I mean myself and this organization – that we take to heart, that we’re really focused on giving our children a voice.

Ryssdal: So let’s talk about the youth and let’s talk about your youth. Your son Maurice, who is clearly just your joy, you can hear it in your voice. Last time, last time we were there, he was 13 or something. He’s going to be a senior in high school now. Apparently, he’s athletic and smart and wants to go places. When we were there in 2016, you two said you had been talking about leaving the Delta for better opportunities. And he said, “yeah, I want to get out of here.” And it sounds like now what’s happened is that you have become reinvested in your community where you are. And I guess what I want to know is what’s Maurice thinking? Because he’s at a decision point now, or will be real soon.

Fountain: Absolutely. And to be honest with you, as it relates to college, he still wants to leave. But when I talked to you in 2016, I was so – I wasn’t happy with a lot of the things that were going on, in regards to my career and where I felt I should be, and where I wanted to go in my life. So, I had to come to terms with myself and either see where I was as an obstacle, or as an opportunity. So, I decided to start seeing it as an opportunity. And from that point, I made it my mission to empower every young mother that had a young child, that wanted to go back to school, that wanted to change jobs, or wanted to find ways to volunteer and become more engaged in their community. And I started taking Maurice with me when I started going out and doing community engagements, getting him more involved in his community and what’s going on. And not to say that those things altered or changed, you know, his wishes, or you know, desires to leave. But I do, you know, just emphasize to him the importance of finding who he is and what he wants to do with his life, but never forget about how he can use those experiences and who he is, that journey, to help someone else.

Ryssdal: As we get into this next segment, I want to come back to something Chiquikta Fountain said a minute ago.

Fountain: I had to come to terms with myself and either see where I was as an obstacle or as an opportunity. So I decided to see it as an opportunity.

Ryssdal: We heard real briefly earlier, from two people who’ve been thinking about obstacles and opportunities in this economy for a long time. And we’re gonna come back to them now to explain something complicated, but important. First up?

Jones: Janell Jones, the managing director of policy and research at [The] Groundwork Collaborative.

Ryssdal: And Professor Michelle Holder at John Jay College at the City University of New York.

Michelle Holder: Please call me Michelle, only my students have to call me Professor Holder.

Ryssdal: Noted. But having a Michelle, and a Janelle in one radio story could get tricky, so we’re gonna stick with Professor Holder.

Holder: Ah OK.

Ryssdal: Thanks for understanding.

Holder: Sure.

Ryssdal: These two women know each other, by the way. In fact, they recently published a paper together on Black women and COVID-19.

But as you heard earlier, how Black women get by in this economy isn’t just something these two study, it’s something they live.

Holder: I’m a Black woman. I’m a Black woman and I actually did face a wage gap issue.

Ryssdal: Professor Holder was working at a nonprofit, years ago.

Holder: And had a white male colleague and a white female colleague, and I noticed that I was being paid five to ten thousand dollars less.

Michelle Holder, courtesy of Michelle Holder
Michelle Holder (Courtesy Holder)

Ryssdal: She negotiated a raise and did wind up staying at the company for a while, but she also knows she’s not the only Black woman with a story about making less than her white male colleagues.

In 2019, Black women earned around 62 cents on the dollar compared to white men.

That’s in part because of the kinds of jobs Black women tend to do, and the education they tend to have, and the discrimination and bias they tend to face.

And in recessions, Black women have been among the hardest hit and the last to benefit when the recovery starts. They’re also far more likely to be the main breadwinner in their families, when compared to other groups of women.

So, obstacles, right? The idea we started the segment with?

But, obstacles that Janelle Jones, at the Groundwork Collaborative, sees as an opportunity …

Jones: … for making better, more inclusive economic policy that I think really will make everyone else better off.

Ryssdal: And she’s got these three little words, this catch-phrase that she’s been saying for a while now, to sum it up.

Jones: Black Women Best.

Ryssdal: Black Women Best.

Jones: Black women best is a framework and ideology that says we should shift the economic worldview to center and elevate Black women in ways that will benefit the rest of us.

Ryssdal: In other words, if we set up the economy in a way that makes sure Black women are doing well, the rest of us benefit.

Jones: The pushback I often get is, oh, well, you just want Black women to do well, while everyone else lives in poverty. And it’s like, no, that’s, that’s not true at all, the idea of Black Women Best is incredibly inclusionary because it means listening to folks who, have ideas for solutions, who think about the economy differently, who experience it differently, who also, because of the makeup of our society are often breadwinners, who often are leading households. Centering this group of workers is important at any moment but particularly now as we think about, ways to rebuild the economy in a way that is more fair and equitable and inclusive given our current economic recession.

Ryssdal: Well say more about what happens if Black women are prioritized? What happens in the rest of the economy?

Jones: Yeah. So something I’ve been saying is that, in the history of this country, it is impossible for Black women to be doing well, when everyone else is not doing well. When we say that our economy is not recovered until Black workers have full employment, what that means is that a ton of other demographic groups have already gotten there, because Black unemployment has been so high. And I think centering Black women is a perfect way to do that because they are at the intersection of systemic racism and, misogyny that that really flows through and is embedded through our economy in a ton of ways and that different groups definitely experience, but it’s you know, it’s that intersection that that really does matter.

Ryssdal: That intersection where racial bias meets the gender bias that Janelle Jones is talking about? It’s not just anecdotal. It’s something that economists study and something that Michelle Holder has quantified.

Holder: It’s pretty enormous.

Ryssdal: Just how enormous? After a quick break.

Ryssdal: We were talking a minute ago … about the obstacles Black women face in this economy. Specifically, the place where racial bias meets gender bias.

Holder: I’ve written about this topic and I call it the double gap.

Ryssdal: That’s Professor Michelle Holder again at John Jay College at the City University of New York.

Holder: Black women not only face the gender wage gap, as [do] most women in the American economy, but Black women also face a racial wage gap.

Ryssdal: One that, remember, she’s experienced first hand.

Holder: I noticed that I was being paid $5,000-$10,000 less.

Ryssdal: But she wanted a way to look at all of those experiences Black women have, all those stories they tell about making less than their white male colleagues make, in the aggregate.

Holder: So I quantified it. And the estimate that I came up with — and I have to say, it’s a conservative estimate — is about $50 billion a year.

Ryssdal: $50 billion.

That’s how much income Black women are losing every single year compared to white men with the same level of education doing the same kinds of jobs.

Holder: One should bear in mind, that this is a reoccurring, involuntary loss not just to Black women, but the Black community writ large in the United States.

Ryssdal: But that money, the $50 billion a year, it isn’t just about the Black community.

Jones: There is this idea that like a rising tide lifts all boats.

Ryssdal: Janelle Jones again from The Groundwork Collaborative.

Jones: The rising tide of I guess, capitalism? Which I think, you know, there’s some evidence to say, not quite. But there is a lot of evidence that shows that when we center workers who are usually left behind those who are usually last to recover from recession, that it means that everyone else does well. It’s a little bit like the minimum wage debate in that, you know, when you raise the minimum wage, to $7.25, the folks who are making $7.50, $8.00, $8.50 also receive an increase. It kind of like, spills up the effects. And I think that’s the same thing that we see with Black Women Best.

Janelle Jones, courtesy of The Groundwork Collaborative
Janelle Jones (Courtesy The Groundwork Collaborative)

Ryssdal: You know, it’s interesting, you say “center” and I said “prioritize” and obviously yours is much more useful and germain to what needs to happen but —

Jones: Yeah well, you know, the idea with “prioritizing” is that there’s always something else that happens. [In] the current world that we live in, we have a million priorities at this point right? We have a global pandemic, we have an upcoming election, we have an economic recession, we have racial uprisings. Like, the idea that there’s some priority that’s bigger than the other one? I don’t know. I think that “centering” for me makes sense because it’s like keeping that thing core as all this other stuff rages around.

Ryssdal: What do you suppose, what actually has to happen though? Like, policy-wise for Black women to be “centered” in this economy. What is that?

Jones: That is a great question that I honestly think people are afraid to answer because it’s not easy. The system of like, systemic racism and just embedded discrimination in our economy is — it is multi-facited it is like, self-reinforcing. I imagine that if somehow we could break it down it would like, recreate itself. It’s so many things at once. You know, often when people ask that they want, they want me to say one thing, it’s like, “oh, well, if we close the racial income gap, and Black women make as much as white men, it will be perfect.” And I don’t think that’s true, because we have a huge racial wealth gap, we know that Black women are less likely to get hired, they’re less likely to get promoted. It’s all of these interacting things, which means that there’s not a silver bullet, and that means that it’s real work.

Ryssdal: So what does that work look like? It’s some of the stuff we’ve been talking about this hour — trying to build an economy that works for everybody.

It’s the work Janelle Jones and Michelle Holder are doing, trying to change the conversation about marginalized workers, the work Teo Hunter and Beny Ashburn are doing, breaking into the craft brew scene, and the work Chiquikta Fountain’s doing in the Mississippi Delta, turning obstacles into opportunities for the next generation.

But Janelle Jones says that ultimately, it’s going to take more than just their work to make lasting change.

Jones: It really does have to be a true conversation about power. I think it’s a lot of people who are holding positions of power really just like being willing to share that being, being willing to share that.

Ryssdal: Power — and access to it — coming up next.

Chiquikta Fountain: You should be pushing these individuals forward to ensure that they can have a better quality of life.
Michelle Holder:
We are quite primed and aware of the gender wage gap issue.
But instead, you would rather perpetuate this institutionalized mindset that just because you’re of a certain color that you can only go so far.
But what’s really not part of the discourse is that, if you dig a little deeper, this wage gap issue gets worse for women of color.
Teo Hunter: This absolutely is about racial equity in this industry.
Beny Ashburn: We really lack those spaces for communities of color.
Hunter: You have to envision how difficult it might be for someone who has to walk into a space and be the only one.
Nela Richardson: These racial gaps are not with people, they’re with places and things and institutions.
Hunter: When George Floyd was murdered, there became this message of amplifying the Black voice. We also saw that as amplifying Black initiatives, Black business.
Richardson: Solving the race gap is not about getting a college degree, it’s not about buying a house. It’s actually about changing an institution.

Ryssdal: We’ve had a lot of voices on the program so far: Teo Hunter and Beny Ashburn, about their brewery; Janelle Jones and Michelle Holder a minute ago. Now, a voice you’ve heard on Marketplace before …

Nela Richardson is principal and senior analyst at Edward Jones. She’s also a regular on our Friday shows. And in her work as an economist, she’s spent a lot of time thinking about areas where policy directly affects our everyday lives. So, in light of our topic today, resetting this economy, making it more equal — we gave her a call.

Ryssdal: Nela, it’s great to talk to you again.

Nela Richardson: It’s great to talk to you as well.

Ryssdal: OK. So in all the years that you have been coming on the show on Friday, I have never asked, well, there’s a bunch of things I’ve never asked, but one of them is how you came to be an economist. Give me the Nela Richardson backstory.

Nela Richardson, an economist at Edward Jones.
Nela Richardson, an economist at Edward Jones. (Courtesy Richardson)

Richardson: Oh, the backstory. It’s not as interesting as the Marvel movie. But I went to Indiana University intending to major in political science, because that’s what you do. And I realized, when I was taking my first econ class, that I really liked it. It seemed to explain the world in a way that made sense to me.

Ryssdal: So let’s take another step as it were. You’ve done a lot of work in your career in housing economics, right? You were at Freddie Mac during the run up to the housing crash, you were at Redfin for a while. Housing is often looked at, homeownership specifically, as a way to level the racial wealth gap and income gap in this country. Do you buy into that?

Richardson: I used to. When I entered the field in 2005, housing was hot. And I really bought into the idea that homeownership was one of two ways to create wealth in America. For the middle class, it was either homeownership or entrepreneurship. As I went through that very, you know, turbulent period in the housing market, and in the subsequent years as I watched house prices along the east and west coast just take off, while many neighborhoods in the middle and many minority neighborhoods continued to languish, I realized that, you know, wealth creation through house price appreciation wasn’t going to be the solution for everybody.

Ryssdal: So what we’re trying to do in this program is figure out solutions. So if housing is not it, and not everybody can be an entrepreneur, what’s your chosen way to reduce, if not eliminate, the racial wealth gap in America?

Richardson: You know what that’s a question that I think is much easier to answer than it is to do. When you think about the drivers of the racial gap, those drivers are historical, right? They have a long, long, centuries-long history. And what we’re seeing in this moment, is a growing realization among not just the African American community, but all ethnicities that these racial gaps are not with people, they’re with places, and things and institutions. You know, I’ve quipped before and I do think this that it’s easier today to make money in the stock market. The reason why it’s easier to make money in the stock market is not just because the stock market is just growing leaps and bounds. It’s because a stock in Apple is the same for everybody. Because there is this institutionalized racism in America, the value — whether it’s in a house or in human capital — that African Americans bring to the economy is often discounted. And so, we got to figure out how to solve that discount.

Ryssdal: We do for sure and I agree, but to the point about the stock market, right, it is easier for your average white person in this economy to get the $3,000 that a share of Amazon costs than it is for the average Black person, right? So even getting entree to the stock market becomes racially challenging.

Richardson: Yeah, you’re chasing your tail in that argument. I understand you have to have something to invest in in the first place. And I get that, I get that. But what I saw during the housing crisis and you know, I live in a house, so I recommend it. I’m not anti housing by any stretch of the imagination. But what I saw is that people spend a lot of money on housing. But that house didn’t keep them from experiencing job loss. Wealth does that. I think the solution has to be really a focus on institutions, and how do you get people to care? It’s not by appealing to a moral issue. We can all agree, or most of us can agree, that racism is a bad thing. But it’s more than a moral issue. It’s an economic issue.

Ryssdal: When did you first come to realize that racism was systemic in this economy, and in this society?

Richardson: I think I was four when I hated my Black Barbie dolls, because I felt like they were less than. You know, it’s not something that you just wake up and you get a job and you realize it’s something that, at least for me growing up in rural Indiana, I knew it from day one. I value people and relationships. So this is not an indictment on any individual. It’s an indictment on a society that that continues to allow racial differences to be a detriment to well being. And so I think that is so pervasive now, that it’s inescapable. Even as a young child.

Ryssdal: Thanks, Nela, I really appreciate it.

Richardson: Thank you. It’s pleasure to be with you.

Ryssdal: There are a lot of places in this economy where policy meets actual people. Nela talked about a couple of ’em, housing is of course a big one. But there’s another that’s arguably even bigger: Banking, and who has access to it.

That leads me to a guy by the name of Bill Bynum. He’s the CEO of Hope Credit Union in Jackson, Mississippi. He grew up in Jim Crow North Carolina, though…

Bill Bynum: When I was a kid, my grandmother took me to a credit union that was in the garage of the vice principal of our segregated school in North Carolina. Happened to be in a town called Bynum, which is probably named after someone who owned my ancestors. The Credit Union provided financial services for Black folks in the community that weren’t able to go to the local bank.

Bill Bynum, courtesy of Hope Credit Union.
Bill Bynum (Courtesy Hope Credit Union)

Ryssdal: Bill Bynum eventually made his way to Mississippi, where he kind of created the job he’s had ever since.

Bynum: I actually joined a church here in Jackson. And when I mentioned that I’d work with credit unions in North Carolina, the minister said that he had been working for a long time to try to address the need for an alternative to the payday lenders and check cashers that were in the neighborhood surrounding the church. And so before I knew it, my ministry was to start a credit union.

Ryssdal: That’s a good way to put it, that idea of your ministry being a credit union. Tell me about the communities to which you minister with Hope Credit Union.

Bynum: Well, the neighborhoods are predominately African American. And if you drive through many Black neighborhoods here in Jackson, or across the deep south, you’ll you’ll find plenty of payday lenders and check cashers, but unfortunately, not very many banks. When you have a bank in a community, you’re more likely to be able to get a loan, business loan or mortgage loan, and to have a place to go to when your tires are out to get a small dollar loan. In the absence of having a nest egg to fall back on or friends and family to borrow from, you go to where you can and too often that’s that’s a high-cost financial alternative.

Ryssdal: I’m not asking this the right way, but I think you’ll understand what I mean. How’s business for you, at Hope Credit Union? I mean, are you seeing a lot of customers now? Do they do they need and use your services?

Bynum: OK, I think in many ways we’re created to be a resource for people in a time of crisis. It’s certainly been the case now since after the pandemic, when you think about low-income communities and communities of color. You disproportionately have people who work in the retail and the service sector, and those have been the sectors that have been hardest hit, and we had to step in and do what we can do to provide a lifeboat.

Ryssdal: So let me back you out for a minute here and ask you a bigger-picture question. And it’s a question about Black capitalism, right? Because you are in the heart of a very specific piece of it. What is your sense of Black capitalism in this economy today?

Bynum: You know, Black capitalism is a critical part of closing the racial wealth gap. If you look at the wealth gap in America is typically $10 to $12 to $1 is what you typically hear. Well, but for Black entrepreneur, it closes to $3 to $1. It’s not where it should be. We should be equal, but $3 to $1 a lot better than $10 or $12.

Ryssdal: Are you hopeful in this moment, Mr. Bynum?

Bynum: I’m a masochistic optimist, I guess. We’ve, you know, we’ve been doing this work for a quarter century. And I am glad that more people are focused on closing these gaps. I have heard more conversations about racial justice, about economic opportunity, and about the role of minority depository institutions, quite frankly, in the past several weeks than I’ve heard in nearly four decades of doing this work, so I find reason for optimism in that.

Ryssdal: Mr. Bynum, thanks for your time, sir. I really appreciate it.

Bynum: Thank you, Kai.

Ryssdal: We started this hour in Inglewood, California, talking to Teo Hunter and Beny Ashburn about their plan to open up that city’s first Black-owned brewery — a business story, rooted in an economic place. There’s a reason they’re in Inglewood.

We’re gonna end on another story rooted in an economic place.

Marsha Music: My name is Marsha Music. And I am a writer. I call myself the Detroitist.

Detroit is such an amazing muscle. It is a city of transcendent strength, of ability, of work. And the traumas here have been so great.

My father was a man by the name of Joe Von Battle. He opened up a record store in 1945 on old Hastings Street, which was the main thoroughfare of an area called Black Bottom. That street was quite lively and dynamic, particularly in those days. People from nationalities everywhere came to live in Detroit. Detroit is a city of nations. And many of them began their sojourn in the Black Bottom area, particularly immigrants.

Marsha Music. Photo from the Collection of Marsha Music.
Marsha Music (Photo from the Collection of Marsha Music)

During that period of time, there were all manner of efforts at what they call “urban renewal,” including the freeway projects. Generally, the freeway systems were built through Black neighborhoods that were regarded as expendable or decayed, and not worthy of preservation. And Hastings Street was one of those streets that was obliterated by the development of the Chrysler Freeway. So in 1960, my father got the word that he would have to move.

I believe that that move from Hastings Street to the other area of town, the 12th Street area, marked a real shift in his disease of alcoholism. He was perhaps plunged into a certain kind of despondency.

Many of the entrepreneurs that were compelled to leave ended up becoming quite prosperous, that the move itself ended up being their springboard, whereas many of the Black entrepreneurs, particularly because they were restricted spatially and could not move to the suburban areas where these other entrepreneurs were able to plant themselves, did experience the ending of their businesses.

My father died in 1967, which is a mere seven years after the move from Hastings Street. The rebellion broke out, and this was 1967, and he was never the same after that. I always say he died that day when he walked back in his record store and that community had been really destroyed.

And so over the years, I began to write about my dad, because there was a kernel in me that remembered very well when I was a child just how dynamic my father really was. And I remember that record shop and what it really represented.

Joe Von Battle inside his record shop on Hastings Street. Credit: From the Collection of Marsha Music.
Joe Von Battle inside his record shop on Hastings Street in Detroit. (Photo from the Collection of Marsha Music)

Ryssdal: That kernel, those memories are eulogized, I guess is the word, in a new poem she wrote:

“Now look towards Ol’ Hastings Street
The place where folks would meet and greet
And businesses sprung up on all its blocks
An avenue of energy and wondrous musicality
And even my own father’s record shop.

So Hastings was the kind of place
Both hip and righteous had their space.
The sinners and the sanctified they lived.
Reverend C.L. Franklin hooped and squawed
And working girls walk past nightfall,
And House of Digs received all in the end.

Aretha Franklin with her dad
The hold they had was ironclad
On gospel fans that listened Sunday nights.
New Bethel Church the epicenter
My dad recorded them, remember?
And they all three were legends overnight.”

(Excerpt from “The Bottom, the Valley and Hastings Street — An Elegy in Rhyme” by Marsha Music )

Ryssdal: That was Marsha Music in Detroit, reading a few stanzas from her poem, “The Bottom, the Valley and Hastings Street — An Elegy in Rhyme.” And yes, you heard right, her dad, Joe Von Battle, was the guy who recorded the Rev. C. L. Franklin and his daughter, Aretha.

“The Economy, Reset” was produced by Nancy Farghalli, Andie Corban, Alli Fam, Maria Hollenhorst, Sean McHenry, Daisy Palacios and Bennett Purser.  Engineering and scoring by Drew Jostad, Daniel Ramirez and Ben Tolliday.

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