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Regional Spotlight: Washington, DC, Foundations and Groups Work to Close Racial Disparity Gap

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Washington, DC, is among the wealthiest metro areas in the country—yet its ongoing income gap leaves much of its population struggling to make ends meet. In answer to this issue, foundations in DC are working to address many long-standing practices that prevent communities of color from creating and accumulating wealth. Black leaders in particular are taking on the challenge of DC’s historic racial issues, striving to raise neighborhoods out of poverty and push for greater racial equity.

Poverty and Racial Disparities Burden the City

The percentage of DC residents living in poverty—defined as $26,000 per year or less for a family of four—decreased from 16.1% in 2018 to 13.5% in 2019. However, significant portions of the population continue to struggle to pay for basic needs such as rent, food, and utilities.

While the region has become more diverse, it has also grown more geographically segregated, thus contributing to the racial wealth gap. Structural racism barriers, disparities in homeownership, business ownership, education, and employment rates also contribute to this gap.

Significant portions of the population continue to struggle to pay for basic needs such as rent, food, and utilities.

New Tool Highlights Racial Disparities

DC’s inequality gap is illustrated through the Greater Washington Partnership’s new inclusive growth dashboard tool, which monitors the area’s progress toward an inclusive economy. Currently, this data shows DC has a way to go:

  • 17.7% of Black DC-area residents live in racially or ethnically concentrated areas of poverty, compared with only 1% of white residents.
  • 11.4% of Black DC-area residents live below the poverty level versus 4.3% of white residents. Approximately 10.5% of Hispanic residents live below the poverty line.
  • A $156,000 gap in median home value separates Black and white resident homeowners.
  • Black residents are nearly twice as likely to be rent-burdened, which describes when 30% or more of a household’s income goes toward housing costs.
  • In one of the largest disparities identified in the new data set, white-owned businesses compose 69.8% of the area’s small businesses. Black residents own just 5.2%.

DC Foundations Invest for Change

A number of foundations in DC are working to increase these metrics and enhance financial inclusion. Their work is realized through a variety of programs:

  • The Meyer Foundation established the Fund for Black-led Change, committing $20 million over the next five years in support of Black leaders and Black-led organizations with resources that have historically been denied to Black-led communities.
  • The Greater Washington Community Foundation is working to improve the economic conditions and social well-being of the DC area through its Black Voices for Black Justice Fund, which donates monetary and other support to 10 Black leaders to support their activist efforts.
  • The Greater Washington Workforce Development Collaborative is a $10 million initiative that brings together local workforce investors who are committed to assisting workers with furthering their skills and credentials. These efforts ultimately help workers make more sustainable wages.
  • GoodProjects seeks to empower youth and their families by eliminating roadblocks to their success. The organization also establishes infrastructure to then support that success through programs targeting healthcare, education, and food instability. For example, the group offers a six-week summer enrichment program for children ages 8–17.

The DC area has a long history of public and private practices that result in discrimination against Black communities and other communities of color. Fortunately, Black leaders and a wide range of foundations in DC are working to end these practices and foster greater equality and economic success for all.

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