Why JA? And Why Now?
By Junior Achievement USA
The Realities of Economic Inequity
Economic inequity has been a reality in the U.S. throughout its history, and it continues to this day. For instance, research by the Pew Research Center shows that the U.S. has the highest income inequality among G7 nations. Despite a narrowing of income and wealth gaps in recent decades, there continue to be vast disparities, especially between white and Black households. In 1970, for example, there was a 78 percent gap in income between white and Black households. And even though that gap marginally improved over time, it was still 64 percent as of 2018. A 2020 study by the Brookings Institution shows that the median net worth of white families in America is ten times greater than that of Black families.
Hispanics and Latinos in the United States face similar challenges, according to research from the Economic Policy Institute. Hispanic men earn nearly 15 percent less than their white counterparts for similar work requiring comparable skills and education. For Hispanic women, it is 33 percent less. At the same time, while Hispanics and Latinos are making greater gains in postsecondary education, that success isn’t reflected in the commensurate reduction of the wage gap compared to working white Americans.
Other research shows that the overall wealth gap more than doubled between America’s richest and poorest families, regardless of race, between 1989 and 2016. To address economic inequity, substantial systemic changes need to occur that are well beyond the mission of an organization like Junior Achievement. They need to happen on the legislative, legal, policymaking, and institutional fronts. But the pressure to eliminate these barriers needs to happen from both ends of the spectrum; not only from those in positions of oversight, but also from those who aspire to break through color lines, cultural divides, and glass ceilings.
Lasting institutional change is only possible if the people most likely to benefit are prepared with the information and skills necessary to navigate a changing landscape. Knowledge is power, and Junior Achievement’s proven approach will give today’s young people that power in the form of financial capability, career and work readiness, and entrepreneurship. These skills will not only improve their lives but will bolster their families, their communities, and our nation.