Our current economic system generates extreme wealth and social inequality and contributes to our calamitous climate crisis, and an alternative is direly needed. Community wealth building is a systems approach to economic development that creates an inclusive, sustainable economy built on locally rooted and broadly held ownership.
Income and wealth in America divide along distinct color lines. White households in the middle-income quintile of the United States (those earning $37,201-$61,328 annually) own nearly eight times as much wealth ($86,100) as middle-income Black earners ($11,000) and ten times as much wealth as middle-income Latino earners ($8,600). The 2017 “Road to Zero Wealth” study by the Prosperity Now and the Institute for Policy Studies describes wealth as “the capital available to families to take advantage of economic opportunities, like buying a home, saving for college or investing in the stock market.” Wealth, more than income “can be the difference between a family maintaining and strengthening their economic status or flailing in economic insecurity.” And the wealth of people of color is quickly spiraling down to nothing. Unless targeted policy solutions and intentional investments in communities of color are implemented, the median Black household wealth will hit zero by 2053, and Median Latino households will do so twenty years later, or by 2073.
Community wealth building is a framework for development that calls for developing place-based assets of many kinds, working collaboratively, tapping large sources of demand, and fostering economic institutions and ecosystems of support for enterprises rooted in community. The aim is to create a new system that enables inclusive enterprises and communities to thrive and helps families increase economic security. Examples of community wealth building strategies include cooperatives, employee-owned companies, social enterprise, land trusts, family businesses, community development financial institutions and banks, and more.