Unfinished Business: Let’s Keep Bending the Arc of the Moral Universe Towards Justice

Prosperity Now
Prosperity Now
Published in
6 min readAug 1, 2019


by Andrea Levere, President Emerita, Prosperity Now

When Prosperity Now began its journey four decades ago, the broader economic justice field rarely focused on the issue of wealth inequality. During the time since, our entire field has come to understand that a core imperative of our work to build financial well-being is in narrowing the wealth divide — especially by race. Our field has come to accept and act on this imperative, but I think we all understand, whether we are practitioners, policymakers, or investors, that we still have a long way to go.

I have seen multiple programs and policies within the past thirty years improve the lives of millions of Americans. The Earned Income Tax Credit has moved millions of families out of poverty, and is now a platform to get people banked, saving, and build stronger credit scores. Matched savings accounts have made it possible for people to build emergency savings, buy homes, start businesses and attend post-secondary educational programs. Thousands of organizations across all sectors — housing, health care or education — are integrating financial capability into their services.

At the same time, however, we have seen just how resistant to change are the structures that hold wealth inequality in place. Homeownership by people of color lags far behind that of White people. We reported earlier this year as a part of our 2019 Prosperity Now Scorecard that between 1983 and 2016, the wealth of White households grew by over $35,000 to about $140,000. During the same span of time, Black households have seen their median wealth decline, to just $3,400. Fewer than half of Black and Latinx households hold enough savings to weather a financial emergency compared to 62.5% of White households. And while 72% of White households own their homes, the number is closer to 41% for Black households and 47% for Latinx households.

As I step down as President of Prosperity Now, I am keenly aware of all the “unfinished business” that remains if we are to fulfill our mission to provide financial stability, wealth, and prosperity for all people. We must be honest with ourselves and each other: in some areas, we are losing ground, despite all that we are doing. We must be visionary and courageous while fighting harder than ever to reverse the shameful trends that cripple this country’s working families. I offer three recommendations to our field that can improve the well-being of the communities we serve by accelerating our impact and scale.

1. We Must Bring Wealth Inequality to the Center of American Conversations

Through our service, we know that income inequality has rightfully risen to a place of prominence in American political life. While wage stagnation and income poverty are at intolerable levels across our economy, the numbers for people of color are scandalous.

While we have all done much to increase focus on the racial wealth divide, and while the Prosperity Now Scorecard — especially our measure of Liquid Asset Poverty — has heightened attention to wealth inequality, general awareness of wealth inequality lags that of income inequality profoundly among almost all our stakeholders. This includes academics, practitioners, the media, and countless others. We need to explore new ways of communicating and demonstrating our program and policy work that can place this issue in the mainstream within local communities and at the national level. Let’s create our own “Story Corps” to collect and share stories that document the issues and solutions. Let’s tie our public advocacy efforts with video and social media campaigns that target local and national markets. And let’s recruit nationally known spokespeople from the arts, sports and business communities to elevate our solutions to advance wealth equality for communities of color and for all which could be grounded in educational institutions at the K-12 level (think Children’s Savings Accounts), post-secondary and business schools.

2. Invest in the Next Generation of Leaders

Today, the mission and substance of the work of our field attracts students in high school, college and graduate school in growing numbers. In addition, professionals nearing the end of their careers seek to join our field to find new purpose in their lives. We need all these leaders and even more to be able to reduce wealth inequality at scale.

Twenty years ago, Prosperity Now ran the largest independent VISTA program in the country to train, place, and support VISTA volunteers in IDA programs. Today, some of these VISTAs are senior leaders at Prosperity Now and at many of our partner organizations. This program was an essential pillar of the creation of the asset building field and an investment that is still producing benefits as these volunteers now serve as leaders in the nonprofit, public and private sectors. The growth and maturity of our field today requires a similar investment, and we should explore how we can create this through existing community service programs that have expanded dramatically since we ran our VISTA program. The Prosperity Now Community, which now embraces over 22,000 individuals and organizations, is the ideal platform to create the 21st century version of this program by leveraging the existing federal public service programs on behalf of the field.

3. Formalize structures for program and policy innovation

Two decades ago, I participated in national demonstrations to test IDAs and CSAs. The American Dream Demonstration (ADD) tested matched savings for adults in ten communities while SEED tested children’s savings programs for children in four age cohorts — pre-school, elementary school, middle school and high school. ADD proved that even the lowest-income people will save when provided the incentives and technical support that bring hope and produce financial results. SEED showcased how savings not only build aspirations for children at school and for their futures but also changed the financial habits of their parents and caregivers.

Successes like these are a testament to our network’s vitality. I often say that one of the core purposes of Prosperity Now is to reduce the waste of intellectual capital in the nonprofit sector by documenting and sharing the best programs, policies, and services as broadly and effectively as possible. We lead the field by learning.

Today, our policy positions have shifted into the mainstream — with Mayors and Governors using data from the Prosperity Now Scorecard to document and implement program and policy solutions that build financial security and wealth. Our community partners are designing new savings products for emergencies and retirement while community tax preparation sites are not only getting their clients banked but are also registering them to vote. Let’s create a special fund that invests, documents and disseminates what works to scale our impact even more.

We live in challenging times. All the progress we have made seems to be threatened by political and economic forces that seek to maintain the structures of inequality. But because of all of you — your leadership, our ideas, your courage — I have hope. When I reflect on what we, as a field of thinkers and practitioners, have accomplished in just three decades, I am confident we will rise to the challenge. When I consider how technological changes have transformed the efficiency with which we communicate, collaborate and implement, I am convinced we will bend the arc towards greater justice.

Prosperity Now can help to steer our community by being a laboratory for addressing all three priorities — but we cannot and will not do it without the hard work, determination, and passion of our friends, partners, and collaborators. I will be watching, supporting, and continuing to fight harder than ever alongside you to expand economic justice to every community in this country.



Prosperity Now
Prosperity Now

Prosperity Now works to ensure everyone in our country has a clear path to financial stability, wealth and prosperity.