The COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying recession have made economic justice advocacy more urgent than ever before. While there are signs of a strong economic recovery, the gains being made have been slow to reach many. Millions of people in California are unemployed or underemployed, and it will likely take years for the recovery to reach some Californians. Faced with this reality, governments and advocates have placed a growing emphasis on finding ways to help those who are being left out of our economic recovery — and who were economically insecure during the booming pre-pandemic economy.
In 2020, SPUR launched a new Economic Justice policy area with the goal of enabling all people to participate in the region’s thriving economy and attain economic security. We believe the Bay Area will be better off — economically, socially and morally — if it becomes a place where everyone can thrive. That means building a prosperous and equitable economy where expanded participation helps to grow the pie, where everyone is paid a living wage, and where people are able to pay their bills each month, afford child care and engage fully in the parts of the Bay Area that make living here special. We are each better off when everyone is better off.
As the Bay Area looks to rebuild and reimagine its economy after the recession, federal, state and local governments are hungry for policy interventions that will help people become economically secure. SPUR is committed to being a part of these conversations and to helping make the case for policies that could have a lasting impact on equity and economic security in the region.
The Need for Advocacy, Now
The economic consequences of the pandemic have not been evenly felt across all communities, and the story is the same for the recovery. During the height of the pandemic, lower-wage workers, disproportionately Black and Latinx in California, dealt with job loss and reduced work hours while the state sought to minimize the virus’s transmission. Wealthier, and typically whiter, workers were able to continue to work remotely while the people who cleaned hotel rooms, washed cars and cared for their children were not. As the economy has reopened, Black and Latinx workers have remained unemployed at higher rates. White Californians have an unemployment rate of 9.4%, three percentage points higher than the same time last year. Latinx workers have an unemployment rate of 11%, four percentage points higher, and Black workers have an unemployment rate of 13.6%, double the unemployment rate from last year. There is also evidence that Black and Latinx workers have left the labor force at higher rates than white workers, meaning people who were previously working have given up on the prospect of getting another job.
These inequities existed long before COVID-19. Prior to the pandemic, 3.3 million households, about one in every three in the state, were unable to meet their basic needs each month according to a report by the Insight Center. This research shows that Black and Latinx households are more than twice as likely as white households to struggle to meet their basic needs. Black and Latinx households are, on average, paid tens of thousands of dollars less than their white neighbors, and are much more likely to struggle with poverty.
SPUR has always done its work through research, education and advocacy, but the urgent nature of the pandemic and accompanying recession has brought advocacy to the forefront. Californians know that income inequality is growing, and they overwhelmingly want our governments to do more to reduce the income gap. As our local, state and federal governments grapple with ways to recover from the pandemic and look to build a more just economy, SPUR is committed to helping shape the conversation.
Our advocacy is about more than putting our policy ideas into practice; it also helps us recognize the opportunities for producing impactful research. Being involved in deep policy discussions] with elected officials, advocates and other partners helps us identify areas of need, which we can then use to inform our research agenda as the conversations continue. Similarly, where policy ideas are being debated but have not been properly vetted, SPUR — as as an organization rooted in research — is uniquely situated to produce impactful, evidence-based recommendations that will help shape conversations.
SPUR’s Economic Justice Platform for Advocacy
In making a twin commitment to advocacy and research, we are pleased to announce the adoption of SPUR’s Economic Justice Platform for Advocacy. This platform guides SPUR’s advocacy efforts and serves as an explicit commitment to building a just and equitable region where all people are economically secure and can participate in the region’s thriving economy.
Our platform has four planks:
Allocate Resources to Meet Needs
- Develop and seed ideas that support the equitable distribution of resources in our region, both by funding shared services like public transit and through targeted investments that get resources into the communities that need them most.
- Support taxes that ask those with the most to help lift up those with the least, such as taxes on luxury goods and high-end services. Ensure that government spending reaches those who need it most.
- Build regional collaboration and tax-sharing to help heal historical wrongs by getting resources into the hands of communities denied access to them for generations.
Strengthen and Expand the Safety Net
- Grow and improve public support systems so that all people seamlessly receive the benefits they are eligible for and need to thrive in the Bay Area.
- Remove administrative barriers to receiving public benefits.
- Grow the eligibility pool for public benefits to include undocumented people, single adults and other people facing barriers to enrollment.
- Lift up promising ideas and practices to help make our region’s social safety net the most effective in the nation.
- Support policies that get money to the people who need it most, particularly low-income people, working people and others struggling to survive.
- Explore the benefits of direct cash transfers for people with the highest needs in the region.
Close the Income and Wealth Gap
- Identify and promote policies that help close the racial wealth gap and build wealth for everyone.
- Support policies that improve the lives of low-wage workers and their families.
- Raise the floor on wages in the region.
- Improve job opportunities and economic mobility for low-wage workers.
- Help support and grow small businesses, particularly businesses struggling to survive the pandemic, to help communities recover from the recession and build a thriving economy.
Eliminate Inequitable Fines, Fees and Taxes
- Alleviate the financial burden placed on low-income families and people of color by making taxes, fees and fines more equitable.
- Make citations such as driving violations more equitable by indexing them to people's incomes, creating simpler ways to pay, allowing payment over time and/or reducing their amount.
- Give people who have served their sentences the ability to re-enter society productively by not saddling them with fees or fines that are intended to raise revenue for the legal system.
- Identify alternative enforcement models to reduce bias in traffic enforcement.
- Offset regressive taxes through cash transfers and program spending.
The platform for advocacy has already been an important part of SPUR’s work this summer. Under this platform, SPUR has co-chaired a broad regional task force representing more than 30 different researchers, advocates, direct service providers, businesses and local governments aimed at providing a united regional voice for advocacy around an equitable recovery. SPUR has also been deeply involved in a wide variety of state and local policies, from helping to get free school meals to all children in California to exploring opportunities for a guaranteed income program in San Francisco. Our platform will allow SPUR to continue to play a significant role in helping to build a more prosperous and equitable region.