We at Seattle Jobs Initiative stand with people in Seattle and nationwide who are calling for justice and reform in response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and too many other Black Americans. As historians highlight the similarities between the racial protests of 2020 and 1968, we also recognize that when it comes to economic opportunity and advancement, our nation is no better off than we were 50 years ago. In half a century, America has failed to make a dent in disparities between white and black households in wealth, home ownership, and income, according to the Washington Post. Economic injustice adds a steady stream of fuel to racial inequities, amplifies historical traumas and perpetuates a cycle of violence waged upon communities of color.
For over two decades, SJI has worked to create opportunities for low-income people to support themselves and their families through living wage careers. Over those same two decades, the average black household in America has seen their real income decline by over $2,000, while white earners increased by $4,000.
As we look to our community, we call on our local leaders to reallocate funds from a criminal justice system that inflicts violence on BIPOC communities while disproportionally filling prisons with persons often guilty only of being poor and not white. Instead, investments should be made in the economic vitality of communities of color including physical and mental healthcare, quality education and employment opportunities, infrastructure, and entrepreneurship.
We also call on businesses of all sizes to break down barriers to hiring returning citizens that served time in incarceration and want nothing more than the right to support their families through work. In Washington State, if you are black you are four times more likely to have a criminal conviction and six times more likely to have been incarcerated than your white neighbors. Prohibitions in licensing, discrimination in hiring, and limitations on promotion can turn every jail sentence into a life sentence of poverty and economic hardship.
Finally, we are making a commitment to amplify and give weight to the voices of BIPOC communities calling out for reform and redress from injustice. Too often we have worked under the safe umbrella of equity for all, rather than addressing racism head on. While we often highlight racial disparities in our data collection and research, we have not done enough to actionably address the racial injustice the data shows. And while we set goals to close opportunity gaps for persons of color, we too often fail to hold ourselves accountable when we fall short. We recognize that our organization doesn’t always need to be the leading voice in policy and advocacy. There will be times in which our expertise will be best utilized to support the needs of our black neighbors. We can do better, we must do better, and the time to start is now.