Episode 210: Are You an EMPath? Building Economic Mobility Pathways in Boston

In this episode of the Invisible Americans podcast, Carol Jenkins and Jeff Madrick sit down with former Boston mayor Kim Janey, who now runs the anti-poverty organization Economic Mobility Pathways (EMPath). They discuss the organization's efforts to disrupt poverty and empower families to achieve their dreams.

Interview with Kim Janey, Head of EMPath:

Kim Janey shares her personal journey of being a teenage mother and a client of EMPath, highlighting the organization's support and commitment to strengthening families and advancing women over its 200-year history.

EMPath's coaching approach recognizes the impact of stress on families experiencing poverty and focuses on removing obstacles to help participants achieve their long-term goals.

The mobility mentoring program at EMPath has shown significant success in helping families double their income, increase savings, improve credit scores, and reduce debt.

Kim Janey emphasizes the importance of cash benefits and coaching in helping families leverage resources effectively to achieve stability and thrive.

We then present a session from EMPath’s “Disrupting Poverty” conference with Dr. Darrick Hamilton and Lee Pelton

After Lee Pelton opens with the shocking statistic that, according to a 2015 report, the average net worth of Black residents in Boston was only $8, he asks Dr. Darrick Hamilton to share his story. 

Dr. Hamilton, an advocate for automatic cash benefits and baby bonds, discusses the racial wealth gap and the historical policies that have contributed to economic inequality. He highlights the need for reparations as a human rights perspective to address past injustices and provide a truth and reconciliation process for healing and redress.

Dr. Hamilton introduces the concept of baby bonds as a progressive policy to provide every child with a birthright to capital, empowering them to access resources for education, homeownership, and entrepreneurship.


The episode concludes with a call to action for listeners to support initiatives like EMPath and advocate for policies that address economic disparities and empower marginalized communities.


Learn more about EMPath and their programs by visiting their website and following EMPath on social media for updates and events.

Stay Tuned:

Stay tuned for future episodes of the Invisible Americans podcast to explore more stories of resilience, community, and change-makers in the realm of social justice and economic empowerment.

Carol Jenkins:
Thank you so much for joining us for this episode of the Invisible Americans podcast. I'm Carol Jenkins here with Jeff Madrick. And today we talk with former Boston Mayor Kim Janey, who now runs the anti-poverty organization, Economic Mobility Pathways. And then we will hear a session from EMPath Summit in Boston that includes Dr. Darrick Hamilton, known for his advocacy of automatic cash benefits, and baby bonds to tackle the problems of economic inequality.

Jeff Madrick:
First, Kim Janey, who heads up EMPathways, a 200-year-old Boston institution. Kim Janey was a client of EMPath as a teenage mother. She graduated from high school with her 18-month-old daughter by her side. and went on to success, considerable success, serving as mayor of Boston during the pandemic. She now runs the organization determined to disrupt poverty. The title of her very successful summit earlier this year.

Carol Jenkins:
Mayor Janey, thank you so much for being with us today. I had the great pleasure and honor of attending your conference. I learned so much. That was an incredible two days. It was titled Disrupting Poverty, and that's what your organization and you are intent on doing.

Kim Janey:
Thank you so much for joining us in March for our Disrupting Poverty conference. But more importantly, thank you for the work that you do to help disrupt poverty every single day in your organization. It's a delight to be here with you.

Carol Jenkins:
I was a little astonished to discover that the organization is actually 200 years old. You're celebrating that bicentennial, if that's the term for it.

Kim Janey:
Yes, yes. We are very proud of our history. This is our birthday. One of the things that I'm particularly proud of over the course of 200 years, even as the name of the organization has changed or the mission has changed slightly, Perhaps the population who we serve has changed. What has always been constant is our support and commitment to strengthening families and advancing women. And so over 200 years, we've always been led by a woman, which is exciting. 

And we've always have focused on helping women achieve their dreams. And so I'm really excited to celebrate Our 200th birthday and at the conference, which you attended, we were celebrating 10 years of the exchange, which is our global learning network. And so really excited to mark that major milestone as well.

Carol Jenkins:
So the 10 years of the network is the expansion of the work that you do in Boston. I know that you do immediate work like shelters and immediate assistance, but what I love is your intent to stop the chain of poverty, the generational flow of poverty from generation to generation. So talk to us a little bit about about that, the mentoring that you do and based on science, you know, of what exactly stress does to people living in poverty.

Kim Janey:
This coaching approach recognizes the pressure that many folks feel when they are overstressed. When there are too many issues going on in their mind, this is the brain science, understanding that for families who are experiencing poverty, that often these crises are compounding. And when that is happening, it's really hard to focus on the long-term goals. I always liken this to, you know, a firefighter who is putting out fires. There's a fire here, there's a fire here, there's a fire here. And if we spend all of our time putting out all of these little fires, what we're missing is the focus on the arsonist who is setting these fires to begin with. 

So how do we really focus on the things that matter? Families that we serve here locally in the greater Boston area and throughout Massachusetts, some of the families we're serving are unhoused and they enter into our programs through shelter. They are experiencing some of the worst times of their life. They are perhaps in a very vulnerable state. And all of the stresses of poverty can get in the way of achieving their goals. And so the magic of this approach, one, it recognizes the science, but two, it's a framework that any organization or agency can use as long as there is that one-to-one relationship. 

So any organization that has coaches or mentors or caseworkers that are doing one-to-one work with a population are right for this program. And it's going to meet the participant right where they are, and more importantly, where they dare to drain. So right where they are, it's perhaps dealing with a lot of the issues that might be right before them, if they are in shelter, You know, how do they get their family stable and get into permanent housing? What is needed to make that happen? Do we need a job or a new job with a better income? Do we need a certificate or a degree to accomplish that? Do we have what we need in terms of family stability? Is our child enrolled in a quality childcare program so that we don't have to worry about that and that we have the time and the flexibility to work in a nine-to-five job. 

And so our coaches are working with our participants on a one-to-one basis to help map out what that roadmap is in terms of these big goals, to help strategize around removing obstacles that get in the way, and they always do, and to ensure that they have the supports and the tools needed to achieve these goals. So we're really proud of this work locally in Boston. And the magic of this tool is it's something that can be replicated elsewhere because it is this framework. While we have found a lot of success here in Boston, and we see the impact on the families here in Massachusetts, we know that there are members of our exchange who are using this tool, mobility mentoring, in their home communities. wherever they are, whatever state they're in. And we also have some partners in a few countries internationally. 

So we're excited about the reach. There are a thousand organizations worldwide that are using mobility mentoring. And not everyone is using mobility mentoring with families that are unhoused, like we are here in Massachusetts. Some organizations are using mobility mentoring with children who are aging out of the foster care system. And so now we have young adults who need a firm foundation from which they can build a successful life for themselves. There are organizations that might be using mobility mentoring with women who are re-entering society after being incarcerated. 

And so this is a tool where anyone who has that one-to-one relationship can use. And we see great, great results here locally. We are working with families who have more than doubled their income, who have increased their savings, improved their credit scores, and reduced their debt. We even see families who are making the big leap to purchase their first home, and we couldn't be more thrilled. And we know more and more children are experiencing poverty that the solutions that work keep getting pulled back. 

And so we have to continue not only to provide the great service, we also want to be great advocates. And so another piece of EMPath's special sauce is that we are going after systems change work. And we're fighting at the local level, at the state level, and now at the federal level to get legislation or investments in terms of budget or other policy change that helps address and disrupt poverty in the States.

Jeff Madrick:
When I read your biography, I was taken aback at how many organizations and services you have been seriously involved with. Let me ask you this, though. How is important is cash distributing cash to these poor families so they can take care of their children better?

Kim Janey:
Well, I appreciate that question. And as you know, Jeff, cash is extremely I mean, people are poor. You know, I believe deeply that this is a policy choice. Cash, you know, the expression cash is king. It's true. And cash makes a really big difference. And so how do we ensure an equitable recovery is making sure that families who need that extra support have it. And it isn't just the cash. The cash is so important. And I'm so glad that you asked the question But what we are learning is pairing the cash with coaching is really effective. It is a way to kind of help families leverage that extra cash. 

So it's one thing to give someone cash and just hope for the best. It's another thing to kind of help strategize how to best use this cash. If we are trying to pay down debt, for example, there is thinking that perhaps, you know, the largest balance or perhaps It's the largest interest rate. You know, where do we start there? And working with a coach is going to help you have a plan of attack for reducing that debt, for increasing your savings or your salary, and holding on to more of the money that you make so that you can really achieve some of your longer term goals and get this stability. But beyond stability, we want to help families thrive and to reach their highest heights and achieve their biggest goals. And cash is so important.

Carol Jenkins:
Mayor Janey, one of the interesting pieces of the conference was a session on reparations. You had so many great people, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, Darrick. Hamilton, who's a favorite of ours with the baby buns concept. Also Kathy Eaton, Luke Schaefer, and Timothy Nelson on their book, The Injustice of Place. But there was also a representative for the Boston Federal Reserve, which is so interesting. 

This study that was done on Boston in terms of the difference between the wealth of a white family in Boston and a Black family. And I guess it dates back to 2015. I don't know how it's changed. But by then, the white family household had $247,000 as compared to the Black family of $8, $8. Talk to us a little bit about that.

Kim Janey:
This report, it's called The Color of Wealth. And in fact, Darrick Hamilton, who was at our conference, is one of the co-authors of that report. It was put out and commissioned by the Boston Fed. It highlights, that's probably a poor choice of word, it highlights the huge inequity in terms of the median net worth for a white family, which in fact, I think that figure was $247,500 as compared to $8. And I wanna be clear, $8, not 80, not 8,000, not 800, not 8 million, $8 for Black families. And this huge racial wealth gap in Boston, number one, it's not unique to Boston. And two, this can be traced back centuries in terms of policy. 

So earlier, I said that poverty was a policy choice. The decisions throughout our country's history and all the ways that human beings were exploited and land was stolen and taken and people were stolen and taken have all contributed to this gap. And if we even look to more recent history, so if people don't want to say, oh, 400 years ago, that was a long time ago that has nothing to do with today, we can just look at more recent history. We can look at all the ways that black Americans, for example, were excluded when we saw, just in the last 100 years, the birth of the middle class. And that was done largely through home ownership, whether the GI Bill helping families get ahead, whether it was redlining and creating these suburbs and literally creating walls around them, red lines where people were locked out. 

And sadly, what that has done, we see that even when a black American family has purchased a home, they're much more likely to be in a neighborhood that is economically depressed, that home is less likely to carry the same weight in terms of equity and the value of that home as compared to white Americans. And so even when black Americans have gotten their foot in the door, as it relates to home ownership, there are still these huge gaps. But it was really, the color of law lays this out very clearly. There was a piece in the Atlantic years ago, maybe 10 years ago, that Ta-Nehisi Coates did the case for reparations. And he lays this out very clearly that connects back to policy decisions. So this isn't that some people wanna buy houses and some people don't wanna buy houses. There were policy decisions dictating who could buy, where they could buy, and what help would they get in making that big leap.

Jeff Madrick:
I grew up and went to school in Levittown. Long Island. I had no idea they were serious when I was growing up, that is serious restrictions on black purchases, blacks getting mortgages, getting decent rates.

Kim Janey:
Yeah. And it's built into deeds like there are. So, again, it's built into our policy and there are records that lay this out. So regardless of what news outlets want to say and what certain politicians want to say, there is a clear record of this. That is indisputable. You cannot dispute it. Sadly, some of these deed restrictions still exist to this day. And we are dealing with the fallout of that, not just in Boston, but all across the country. And so the way we are addressing it here at EMPath, we're trying to play catch up. In addition to doing the incredible coaching work that is helping families strategize around moving ahead in their careers Achieving wonderful goals. We know that asset development and wealth creation and breaking the cycle of poverty is incredibly important as well. And so we're trying to learn more about this. and taking what we learn and know and infusing it in our programs. And then, of course, sharing with our members and partners through the exchange.

Carol Jenkins:
Yeah, it was at your conference that it first finally sunk in that the wealth gap is almost entirely a real estate gap.

Kim Janey:
It's an ownership gap. It really is. And that's how wealth was created, dating back to stealing land and then stealing people to work that land. and really created our economy. That was our economy. And that economy led to lots of wealth for folks and people since then have been trying to figure out how to hold on to that wealth, which meant sadly excluding other people from getting ahead. I happen to believe that there is plenty for all of us to live great lives and to certainly meet our basic needs. 

Good education, good healthcare, good quality housing, all of that should be a basic right, I believe in this country, but we're fighting over resources and determining who is worthy of these resources when they should just be basic needs that we should understand. If we want a strong country and we want the citizens of our country to truly be able to live out the American dream, then we should do all we can to set them up for success.

Jeff Madrick:
When you were a child, we've read, you were fighting even then for equality for blacks. Did you ever dream that it could come true or do you think it was futile to just keep fighting on?

Kim Janey:
There has to be some element of hope, otherwise why fight at all, why do this work at all, if you don't believe that there is a better day before you or that your work can make a difference. So I believe in the power of people. I believe in the power of policy. I believe in organizing for change. I believe in collaborating and working together to get things done. Those are the things that we try to do here at EMPath. I did not envision that my journey would be what it was as a young child who was bused in the 1970s. 

But in many ways, Jeff, this was in my blood. It was all around me. It was in my family. It was in the community that I was raised in. So I saw activism. I saw people in my own family. I saw community leaders like Mel King. doing this work. So it was normal for me to see this growing up. I grew up in the 70s, if that helps put anything in context. So I saw, you know, I'm a civil rights baby. And I saw all of this taking place just by looking out the window or stepping out my front door. I could see the activism.

Carol Jenkins:
In doing the research on you, I came across a photo of you with your daughter at your high school graduation. And she was then 18 months old. And I just the wonderful history of the fact that empath was supportive of you as a teenage mother. Now you are running this major organization. It's just a fantastic evolution of, you know, of things, life things happening.

Kim Janey:
It is. And it's been a full circle moment to think that more than 40 years ago, I walked through the very doors of our congregate shelter now in Brighton. Those very doors, as a scared teenager, unsure of what my future was, how I would take care of myself, let alone the baby that I was carrying. And as that scared teenager, as I walked through the doors, I found hope and possibility on the other side. I found a supportive organization without judgment that was going to help me achieve my goal. 

EMPath looked very different more than 40 years ago. In fact, it had a different name more than 40 years ago. But that support, that direct service, that mentorship was there for me, and it allowed you to see that photo of me at my graduation. I don't think I would have been there had it not been for EMPath. And so a full circle moment that now 40 years later, here I am. as president and CEO leading the organization.

Carol Jenkins:
And you are proof positive of their methods and their success.

Kim Janey:
Absolutely. Absolutely. A living example of the power of this work.

Carol Jenkins:
Thank you for the example and for being with us today. You're doing terrific work.

Jeff Madrick:
We're thinking you're doing great. Thank you for me, too.

Kim Janey:
Well, thank you. Thank you. It's a joy to sit with you. And I hope that this has been useful for anyone who is listening, that there is a way forward. There's a path forward. Even though the problems seem insurmountable, we can make a difference. We can have an impact that truly helps to transform families' lives, families who are experiencing poverty and some of the worst trauma that hopefully they'll ever experience. We are making a difference in helping families live out their wildest dreams. And so I feel blessed that I get to do this work in partnership with folks like you guys. So thank you for the opportunity. Thank you so much.

Carol Jenkins:
Among the many powerful sessions I attended at EMPath's Disrupting Poverty Conference over two days in March of this year was a conversation between Darrick Hamilton and M. Lee Pelton. Dr. Darrick Hamilton is Professor of Economics and Urban Policy at the New School for Social Research and Director of its Institute for the Study of Race, Stratification, and Political Economy.

Jeff Madrick:
Dr. Hamilton was part of the study that examined the wealth gap in Boston, more than $200,000 for white residents versus $8 for black residents. Dr. Hamilton is an advocate for baby bonds to help close the wealth gap. He is in conversation here with M. Lee Pelton, the president and CEO of the Boston Foundation. The foundation has among its priorities closing the wealth gap with a concentration on childhood health and education.

Carol Jenkins:
This session is one of three that empath has given the Invisible Americans podcast permission to share. Many thanks to them.

Kim Janey:
It is my honor to introduce our first keynote session, a fireside chat with Darrick Hamilton and Lee Pelton. Please join me in a warm round of applause. You can do better than that. As we welcome Darrick Hamilton and Lee Pelton to the stage.

Lee Pelton:
Thank you, EMPath, and your team for inviting Dr. Hamilton and us here to participate in this very important conference. You know, it's been said that the poor are constantly exposed to the evidence of their own irrelevance. And I think you can understand that description. And Mandela, Nelson Mandela said that as long as poverty and justice and gross inequality persists in our world, none of us can truly rest. So I think, Darrick, we're just going to jump. right into it? Sounds good. All right. There's a lot that we could say. One thing that I should mention is that we have, in 2015, the Boston Fed produced a report called The Color of Wealth. The author of that report is sitting to my left. And there's a statistic in there that's almost biblical. In Boston, that the net worth of white residents was $225,000. and the net worth of black residents, and this is not a mistake, $8, $8. 

And the most recent update had it $247,000 versus the same $8. So that is a huge gap, wide gap. And nationally, I think we know that that gap is sometimes 10 to 1. I've heard 7 to 1 or 8 to 1 or something like that, $171,000 versus $17,000. So we have all that work to do. And I think one of the things that we want to do is some little truth telling up here. talk about how we got here. James Baldwin said that not everything is faced can be changed, but nothing can be chased until it's faced. And that's about telling the truth. 

So I hope we can do some of that today. So I have a number of questions for you today, and I'm eager to learn from you and all that you have shared with us. I want to start with a kind of a personal question, and I think the audience may be interested in this as well. And what was it that drew you to this work? And how have your own life experiences informed or influenced the work that you do? And I think for many of us in the room, it's because of our lived experience. I grew up in a house that did not have indoor plumbing until I was six years old, you know, and so on and so on. So what's your story?

Darrick Hamilton:
So a question like that starts me off, and especially in this setting, it gets me emotional. So I might crack a little when I give the answer to that. But before I even get into me, let me begin with gratitude. Gratitude to President Janey, gratitude to President Pelton, gratitude to all of you for being here. My story, what compels me, and then, you know, we never know how much of it is innate and how much of it is environment, but certainly I've been exposed to certain environments that have led me to this work. I grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, before it gentrified. 

So my brag is economic development, not gentrification. I say that tongue-in-cheek. I had parents that put me into an elite private school, a friend's school, which offered an ethical education in addition to access to resources so that I can thrive. It's cliche, people talk about a tale of two cities, but fundamentally you can see that in both of those environments, my peers were fundamentally the same. There were some people that were mischievous, there were some people that were more generous than others, but it was vivid to me the difference in resources in those two environments. 

And then also being able to be in that environment, that elite environment, my parents had to sacrifice a lot. And they sacrificed such that they passed away. So they died while I was in grade school. You know, some people will give that as a narrative of what I've overcome, all that I've achieved despite meager circumstance. And it's a tale of triumph. I actually think it's a tale of tragedy, because I didn't get to make that choice. I didn't get to make the choice of being able to go to elite schools and end up with a PhD and sacrifice in their lives. 

So to me, it's tragic that they had to, and I believe their illnesses were stress-related, and I can cite that, we don't need to get into all that detail, but suffice it to say that part of me, you know, I don't like unfairness, so I'm motivated, I gotta have the rule, I'm competitive, but I like the rules to be fair, but also environment, I can see that there's something fundamentally wrong When people are presented with work hard, overcome your circumstances, but yet the tragedy is at the end, they literally risk their lives.

Lee Pelton:
You know, we didn't get here by accident. Can you talk about how we got here? I mean, I think some of this we obviously know having to do with the racially exclusionary zoning practices. And I always say that land use is about privilege and power. It always has been from the founding of this country, but what are some of the other factors that got us to where we are with respect to this racial wealth gap?

Darrick Hamilton:
Black people came in bondage, right? Everybody understands that story where they literally were capital assets for white landowning plantation class. But after that, we've had a long history in which we have devalued people based on their identity, where somebody's race has had transactional meaning. both economic and political. A white asset-based middle class didn't just emerge. There was public policy, like a GI Bill, where 9 out of 10, basically 80% of men born in the 1920s benefited from a GI Bill. And the GI Bill provided access to capital so that one could put a down payment on a home, have a debt-free education, or start a business. And what happened was we seeded an asset-based middle class and the economy grew. 

We had a thriving economy in that time period. But there's a historian, Ira Katz Nelson, that vividly describes how That policy was implemented in racist ways. Although it didn't say black people were excluded from the GI Bill, the ways in which it was implemented, managed, and designed was racially exclusionary. Like really quick, Social Security, when originally legislated, excluded domestic and agricultural workers. And who were domestic and agricultural workers in the 1930s? Well, over, what was it, 80% of black women engaged in work were a domestic or agricultural worker, and over half of black men. That's a design issue. That was an intentional design issue. In terms of management and implementation, in a Jim Crow context where you allow local discretion of the implementation of these federal policies, well, they were done in racially exclusive ways. 

So, again, I can go through the details and describe, but I think by now this history is pretty well known. But let me add another point to this. Even when black people were able to overcome circumstances, So by 1919, black people had owned the most land than they've ever owned in this nation. But systematically over time, that land was taken from them. It was taken from them through sometimes outright terror, where there was acts of violence that evicted them, or that's not even the right word, that terrorized them off their land. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, when they would issue loans to farmers in the South in this period, they often were implemented in a way that black people would get their loan after the harvest season so they were not able to reap the rewards and they were further indebted.

So the point I'm trying to get to is that not only have black people been denied access to the resources, and I love that President Janey made the point when talking about guaranteed income, this is not simply a handout, it's an investment. So black people have been denied access to investment resources over time. But also, when they were able to overcome circumstances, they have never had the political codification to protect those resources. And that's really pernicious. 

So even when you overcome circumstances, there's not a government to protect you from outright terror to take those resources. So that's the story. And then I'll say the good news in the story is that, guess what? An asset-based white middle class was created. So the silver lining is that there is a pathway. We can do something about it. Through public investments, you can seed a new class of individuals so that they can have economic mobility.

Lee Pelton:
Thank you. There's data to suggest that the failure to close the racial wealth gap in the country has cost the American economy about $16 to $17 trillion over the last 20 years. And if Kim and I could just snap our fingers and close the racial gap that I mentioned earlier in Boston, it would add about $25, $26 billion a year to the economy. I'm sorry, that's in the Commonwealth. So the point is, this is not a zero-sum game. that closing the racial wealth gap lifts all boats and brings more wealth and dollars into the economy, and so that all of us will prosper. 

You know, every day it seems that there are headlines about the widening racial wealth gap, and as Andre Perry, your friend and my friend, from Brookings recently reported, black wealth, for example, might be increasing but so is the racial wealth, but the racial wealth gap is also increasing. I know you've continued your research on the racial wealth gap and so I'm curious to know where you think we are today and how do you perceive the current state of racial wealth equity in this country?

Darrick Hamilton:
When we look at black-white inequality, there has been dramatic reductions from 1940 to about the mid-70s in income. And if we look at education, dramatic reductions and still continued reduction after the mid-70s in terms of education. But not wealth. And even today when we see ebbs and flows in that racial wealth gap, essentially black people are a wealthless population. So that $8 figure that you heard quoted a lot in Boston, The reason why the racial wealth gap is able to persist in ways that the other metrics perhaps aren't is that wealth is grounded in an intergenerational way. The ways in which wealth is created is it is wealth that begets more wealth. 

So more so than income, more so than education, wealth is about structure. Wealth is about capital. And then here's the other point. Wealth is paramount, and we think about wealth as an outcome, but its essence is what it can do for you. Would it seed you in terms of financial agency? Would it seed you in terms of power, so during a pandemic, when you're being asked to come to work and risk your life, and you may have a condition that exposes you to life-threatening circumstances, if you have wealth, well, you can make a different choice. If you don't have wealth, you can't. So that's a framework and a context. So what I will say on the equity front, even though I don't think there's been, you know, I share Andre's point of view that, frankly, there has not been closure of the racial wealth gap. 

An ingredient is seeded so that we have pathway forward. Scarcely will you find a political campaign that doesn't mention the word racial wealth gap. That's new. 10, 15 years ago, this was not on our national purview. In fact, I think sometimes to the detriment. Now it's as if everything around racial inequality is framed as wealth inequality. And that's not such a bad thing. However, there are many dimensions of inequality. 

But the point I'm trying to make is that we have taken the first step where there is a national narrative about the racial wealth gap and the fact that it is unjust, unequal, and there's a goal to do something about it. The first thing, when thinking about, does closing the racial wealth gap benefit us all? Well, one, if we define economic well-being to include attributes like tranquility, like justice, like a dynacism where we're enabling people who otherwise wouldn't have access to contribute in ways that we probably couldn't even imagine, the answer is unambiguously yes. 

And the point to me is that we also need to think about redefining economics and well-being. We take economics as if it is a scientific, dogmatic attribute that is bestowed upon us. The reality is that we do get to choose. We get to define the value and the ways in which we want to set our economy. the economy should not be left only to economists. And oftentimes we gloss over and our eyes get glossy when we start talking about economics. That's a failure of ourselves because first and foremost, we get to define what well-being is and what it should be. 

So I agree that providing people with resources will create a panoply of economic activity in ways that we couldn't even imagine because we have not invest in those resources in a productive way. But I don't also want to negate the fact that historically, some people have benefited at the expenses of others. So when we go back to slavery, for instance, it was through that exploitation that we were able to extract fuel to create an industrial revolution to set us off on a pathway of where we are today. And I also want to make the point that, here's another point, some real quick data points. Racial disparity persists with higher levels of education, and even more, it often worsens. 

So no doubt that education within group leads to better outcomes. But across group, not only does it persist, the gaps between blacks and whites widen. And here's another point. During economic downturn, that gap heightens even more. So I guess the point I'm trying to make to everyone is that racial hierarchy is maimed in a couple of ways. One, we segregate populations into the lower rungs of society. But then when members of that population are able to achieve the resources to be competitive, that's when race kicks in. That's when we become discretionary. And that's when we say, well, with scarcity, now we're going to, in an unfair way, take from you to make sure that we maintain hierarchy.

Lee Pelton:
Well, wealth and well-being have the same etymological beginnings, W-E-A-L, so the Commonwealth is actually the common will, the common well-being, and they are connected. You know, that sense of well-being where you don't have… back of your neck whether or not you're going to pay the electric bill or buy groceries that week. And that's the world that a lot of folks live in. So I'm going to pivot a little bit to, because I know you've given a lot of thought to this, to reparations. There are a lot of different approaches to reparations. You could do what Eviston, Illinois did with respect to discriminatory practices towards housing. It was a modest investment. I think it was $10 million and then $1 million over the next 10 years. There's California, of course, and we also have a reparations commission in Boston. 

By the way, You all should know that the first reparations in America was for white folks. Say it again. The first reparations in America was for white folks. And this was in 1963, I mean 1863, 1865 when Lincoln freed the slaves in the District of Columbia and farther south. And he repaired the harm, if I can say that, done to white slave owners by giving them cash. And black folks were supposed to get 40 acres and a mule, you remember that? The problem is that Lincoln was assassinated, and his southern vice president, who became president, Andrew Johnson, said no. You need to know that when people talk about reparations. We've done this before, and there are other instances too, but that's one notable one, and that's the first one. Talk to us a little bit about reparations and what you're thinking, because I know you've given a lot of thought to this and written about it, and how are you thinking about that?

Darrick Hamilton:
So I applaud all the momentum and efforts that are taking place at the state, local level, all across the country, because just like the racial wealth gap, we need that political momentum to get it into the lexicon. In the end, reparations is gonna have to come from the federal government, because they have the capacity, the wherewithal, and the megaphone to really take public account and acknowledge what took place in the past. Another point is that reparations need to be implemented from a human rights perspective, not a perspective of vengeance. The human rights perspective includes not only redress, but a truth and reconciliation, a healing component. 

And what does that truth and reconciliation do? Not only does it benefit black people by taking public account of all the atrocities that took place in the past, it impacts how we do policy going forward. It is naive to not recognize that every policy in America is racialized in some way. Economics, politics, and identity group stratification have never been separable. When we define who is deserving and undeserving, it's grounded in our perception around race, or gender, or some identity. So with reparations, the way it benefits all society is that a lot of our policy is done in ways where we think poor people are deficient in some way. We manage them as if they're surplus populations. We incarcerate them. We segregate them. We conscript them to our military. We do other ways. We manage their fertility and family formation, right? 

So we treat them as a surplus population. Reparations beyond black people changes the narrative going forward in understanding that poverty is grounded in what it actually is grounded in, resource deprivation. They're poor because they lack resources, political and economic. So that's another good thing. Now, truth and reconciliation is not enough. Truth and reconciliation is empty rhetoric without redress. Let me give you another quick example. Some colleagues and I have been looking at the racial wealth gap in South Africa and the U.S., and here's something that's remarkable. 

To the decimal point, the racial wealth gap that we calculated in both countries is the same. We calculated a six to one difference between the white population and the black population in both countries. And what's further remarkable is that presumably we've had emancipation for centuries. whereas South Africa has been a couple of decades. The story is not only sad that after all this time of presumed emancipation in the U.S. that we're resembling South Africa, but for the South African perspective, that did do truth and reconciliation. And without that truth and reconciliation, there would not have been a nonviolent transition in their government. Furthermore, it's also indicative without the redress, South Africa will go the way of the US for centuries without some form of economic redress. 

So to me, this is some comparative analysis to understand that reparations will ultimately be a necessary ingredient if we're ever to get over our race problem, and also if we're ever to have better public policy going forward. But then finally, reparations will never be enough, because reparations is retrospective. What we also know by structure is that capital does what it does best. It accumulates, it consolidates, and it excludes. So without some public intervention to ensure that everybody has access to capital, a birthright to capital, in a forward-looking way, we will end up with similar scenarios of inequality without some sort of forward-looking public policy. Amen.

Lee Pelton:
So let's look forward now, and you've partly addressed that in just what you've said, but what existing initiatives do you see that you're hopeful about, and what new initiatives or policies can you imagine could effectively address the gaps that we're talking about?

Darrick Hamilton:
Right, so perhaps the big elephant in the room is baby bonds, right? I've talked a lot about baby bonds as a policy that would be a complement to reparations, a prospective policy. You know, what is baby bonds? It is a birthright to capital. It says that every child born will be insured by the federal government, just like Social Security insures a pension when we age into the twilight. A capital endowment that when you become a young adult, You can access that capital to get into an asset like a home, so a down payment for a home, a debt-free college education, so the ability to have a managerial or professional job that gives you 401K-type programs without the albatross of student debt. or some seed capital to start a business, to be entrepreneurial. If you have some innovative idea and you don't have capital, well, you have to go to somebody with capital to enact it, and you will be the worker. 

So this is what Baby Bonds is intended to do, provide a progressive seeded birthright to capital. Ayanna Pressley, your congressperson here, has proposed it at the federal level from the House. Senator Booker from the Senate at the Senate level. So, you know, again, this idea does a few things. Not only will it provide everybody access to something like wealth, and again, we began this conversation saying that wealth is not behavioral. Wealth is structural. Access to capital at a key point in your life. And then I want to make one other quick point. We also talked a lot about we get to define what the economy is. A lot of the narrative around poverty and inequality centers on family formation. We talk about, well, if black people, and often it's demonizing black women, if black women would only get a partner, a responsible partner, they could have pathways to economic mobility for themselves and their children. 

Now, we negate the fact that we incarcerate about a third of black men under the age of 30, but nonetheless, The point I'm trying to get to is that maybe we have the causality wrong. Maybe we need to think about love as the outcome, that everybody, as a human essence, should have the capacity to choose a partner, regardless of gender, regardless of race, so that they can have love as the outcome. And if that is the outcome, if that is how we're going to define an economy, what is the critical ingredient? Resources, the number one reasons why we have unstable families and households are resources. So BabyBond seeds young people with some resources where they will have access to something like love. And I gather this from Diane Stewart, who's a professor of religion at Emory University. It's her work that led me to understand this connection between we get to choose and resources are the ingredients, not simply the outcome.

Lee Pelton:
Doctor, you got a little preacher in you. What can the audience members do? What would your advice be to this group? What can they do to champion efforts in their own communities and workplaces and so on?

Darrick Hamilton:
You know, the first one is you get to choose. You get to define what an economy is. You don't have to take what's been given to you as a dogma of how we define economic well-being. We get to choose the outcomes that we want from our society and then come up with the policies and structures to achieve that outcome. The second point is what you're doing right now, building movements, being coordinated, being in community. The biggest power you have towards capital, which has a great deal of resources, is being organized in unison and speaking towards changing structures so that we can have the outcomes we desire.

Lee Pelton:
You know, we could talk all day, but we don't have all day. Thank you for participating in this. Thank you so much for being here, for all that you've done and all that we know that you will do in the future. Thank you very much.

Carol Jenkins:
Thanks so much for joining us on the Invisible Americans podcast, available wherever you get your podcasts, but we urge you to visit our website for transcripts, show notes, research, and additional information about our guests and their work. That's www.theinvisibleamericans.com. Please follow us on social media and our new YouTube channel, and our blog posts are up on Medium as well as our website. That's www.theinvisibleamericans.com. Jeff and I will see you the next time.

Kim Janey

President & CEO of Economic Mobility Pathways

Kim Michelle Janey is the President & CEO of Economic Mobility Pathways (EMPath), a national nonprofit organization dedicated to helping families experiencing poverty dramatically improve their economic mobility. EMPath offers a unique combination of direct services; legislative advocacy; a global learning network of human services organizations; and research for what actually works.

Prior to leading EMPath, Janey made history when she was sworn in as Boston’s first woman and first Black mayor, successfully leading the city through a multitude of unprecedented challenges, including the COVID-19 global pandemic. Janey began her tenure with a citywide agenda of recovery, reopening, and renewal to address systemic inequities exposed and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Janey re-opened Boston’s economy and its public schools by centering equity and prioritizing health and wellness. She invested millions to support small businesses, expanded protections for renters and homeowners, and launched fare-free public transit. Under Mayor Janey’s leadership, Boston experienced its safest summer in 5 years and became one of the most vaccinated big cities in America. Prior to leading her city as Mayor, she led the most diverse City Council in Boston’s history, where she authored groundbreaking legislation.

Devoting her life to public service, Janey has 30 years of experience in the non-profit sector. In her role at Massachusetts Advocates for Children, Janey championed systemic policy reforms to increase equity, excellence, access, and opportunity in Boston Public Schools. Prior to that, Janey worked as a Community Organizer, advocating for affordable, quality child care.

Janey was recently named as a 2023 Aspen Institute Ascend Fellow where she and her cohort are working to advance the prosperity and well-being of children and families all across the United States. Previously, Janey served as a Spring 2022 Resident Fellow at the Institute of Politics at the Harvard Kennedy School where she designed and led a study group entitled Racial Justice and Recovery: Leading American Cities to a More Equitable Future. She also served as an Inaugural Fellow at the Berry Institute of Politics at Salem State University and as a Menschel Senior Leadership Fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Janey serves on a number of non-profit boards and has been recognized for her years of service with numerous awards, including the ARCKBoston Global Citizenship Award, the Mass Dems Eleanor Roosevelt Award, BAAF Champion Award, Boston NAACP Difference Maker Award, the Sapphire Award, and the Jewish Community Relations Legislative Leadership Award to name a few.

A proud fourth generation Roxbury resident, Janey comes from a long line of educators, entrepreneurs, artists, and advocates. Janey was raised with values that guide her to this day: the importance of education, the power of community organizing, and the fundamental principles of equity and justice.

Lee Pelton

CEO & President of The Boston Foundation

Lee Pelton is the CEO & President of The Boston Foundation, one of the nation’s leading philanthropic organizations with $1.9 billion in assets. He joined the Foundation in June 2021, after serving as President of Emerson College (2011-2021) and Willamette University (1998-2011).

Pelton has positioned The Boston Foundation, one of the nation's first and most influential community foundations, as an agent for social change by centering equity in its programs, grantmaking and civic leadership. Under his leadership, the Foundation’s defining ambition is to achieve equity, which first involves acknowledging and then seeking to eliminate the structural and underlying causes of outcome disparities for historically marginalized communities.

A signature Boston Foundation program is its Racial Wealth Partnership, established in late 2022 as part of the Boston Foundation’s commitment to close racial wealth gaps in Greater Boston and the region by expanding homeownership in underserved communities. The Partnership is a broad- based group of more than 40 members representing sectors including banking and finance, housing, issue advocacy, government, healthcare, life sciences and education.

As a college president for 23 years, he led with a core belief that higher education must serve to deepen students’ appreciation of humanities. He believes that the nation still looks to colleges and universities to solve its most pressing problems and, as such, college and university presidents have an obligation – in addition to broad mission-driven duties on their campuses – to engage in the larger society. To Pelton, nurturing the humanistic spirit also goes hand in hand with confronting and trying to solve the urgent moral and social problems of the moment.

Pelton has combined authentic leadership, civic engagement, and a deep commitment to social justice with his skill and vision for growing institutional capacity and effectiveness. The result has been a legacy of stronger, more diverse institutions that have expanded opportunities for students. Along the way, Pelton often has been recognized as a civic and education leader, both regionally and nationally.

While a college president, Pelton emerged as a powerful national voice on social issues and the value of liberal arts education. In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook mass shooting, he gathered over 250 college and university presidents to sign a letter asking President Obama to assist in establishing common-sense gun legislation. He has been active nationally and written widely in support of affirmative action, beginning with the 2003 Michigan University and Law School Supreme Court cases. Pelton has advocated for college-in-prison initiatives, seeing firsthand the effectiveness of Emerson College’s prisoner undergraduate degree program.

Following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, Pelton’s essay America is on Fire reflects powerfully on the significance of Floyd’s death with a frank and honest reference to his own experiences in America. His essay quickly and widely spread, having reached an audience of more than 6 million people around the globe. Forbes Magazine placed it at the top of its list of the five most noteworthy writings that appeared after the George Floyd incident.

Pelton began his academic career at Harvard University, where he earned a Ph.D. in English literature with an academic focus on 19th-century British prose and poetry. He taught English and American literature at Harvard University, Colgate University, Dartmouth College, and Willamette University.

He served on the Harvard Board of Overseers and as vice-chair of its executive committee. After Harvard, Pelton served as dean of the college at Colgate University and Dartmouth College. He graduated from Wichita State University, located in his hometown.

He is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

He serves as one of three advisors to the Harvard & the Legacy of Slavery Project at Harvard University.

In January 2024, he co-curated with Peggy Fogelman, Norman Jean Calderwood Executive Director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Steve McQueen’s Lynching Tree exhibition at the Gardner.

In 2024, he was awarded the Harvard Medal, the highest honor bestowed on a Harvard Alum.

He has been awarded three honorary degrees.

He perennially ranks in the top ten on Boston Magazine’s annual list of the most influential people in Boston, most recently, #6 in 2024 and #3 in 2023.

He sits on the boards of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Boston Chamber of Commerce (executive committee), The Barr Foundation, and the Urban Institute (Washington, DC).

Darrick Hamilton

The Henry Cohen Professor of Economics and Urban Policy, and the founding director of the Institute on Race, Power and Political Economy at The New School

Darrick Hamilton is a university professor, the Henry Cohen Professor of Economics and Urban Policy, and the founding director of the Institute on Race, Power and Political Economy at The New School. Considered one of the nation’s foremost scholars, economists and public intellectuals, Hamilton’s accomplishments include recently being profiled in the New York Times, Mother Jones magazine and the Wall Street Journal and being featured in Politico Magazine’s 2017 50 Ideas Shaping American Politics and the People Behind Them issue. Also, he is a member of the Marguerite Casey Foundation in partnership with the Group Health Foundation’s inaugural class of Freedom Scholars.

Hamilton has been involved in crafting policy proposals, such as Baby Bonds and a Federal Job Guarantee, which have garnered a great deal of media attention and served as inspirations for legislative proposals at the federal, state and local levels. He has served as a member of the economic committee of the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force; he has testified before several senate and house committees, including the Joint Economic Committee on the nation’s potential policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic-induced health and economic crises; he was a surrogate and advisor for the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign; and he has advised numerous other leading Members of Congress, as well as various 2020 presidential candidates.