DEI Initiatives Reverse Designed Discrimination
Pam Sornson, JD
The world is changing, as is the way it works. Global competition has escalated the demand to do more with less while at the same time offering enhanced value at a reduced cost. In too many cases, workers are forced to shoulder the losses caused by the pursuit of these corporate goals, and workers from suppressed communities are carrying the heaviest load. And while individual corporations are reaping the benefits that flow from increased profits and reduced worker compensation, as a whole, society is suffering as communities struggle to provide supports for people who don’t earn enough to support themselves.
The reality is that today’s inherent inequities are the result of decades of intentional policy-making and practices. ‘Leaders’ have made choices that were designed to marginalize some community members while enriching others. Reversing the course of this overwhelming tide requires comprehension of the facts, a commitment to changing the status quo, and a strategy that addresses the old while building the new.
Discrimination by the Numbers
The past 40 years have recorded the widening of a distinct division between society’s ‘have’s’ and ‘have-nots’:
Prior to 1980, median worker wages rose as productivity rose, as accepted social and corporate policies rewarded those who actually produced the relevant values.
Since then, however, those measures have diverged due to changing attitudes and behaviors in both the C-Suite and the government. By 2019, while net corporate productivity rose by almost 60% (59.7%), the typical worker’s wages grew by only 15.8%.
Instead, the funds that the workers did not receive were diverted to corporate owners and shareholders. Through changes in both corporate and government policies, the economic growth generated by workforce labor was funneled into the accounts of the country’s top 10% wealthiest people; the country’s top 1% experienced a 160% compensation growth over the course of those decades.
For workers to gain a comparable increase to their compensation, wages would have to rise by $9.00 more per hour across all wage brackets.
Without intentional interventions into the systems that perpetuate these inequities, they are bound to continue into the future and will continue to hamper real economic growth for all.
Discrimination by Design
This shift in the allocation of profits from workers to owners results from intentional policy setting and practice. Around the globe, policies set by governments and governing bodies have eroded the opportunity for the world’s workers to earn a decent living and intentionally suppressed their opportunity to thrive beyond that simple standard.
The globalization of both organizations and industries undercut wages across the enterprise while prioritizing profits for upper-level management and leadership. At the same time, outsourcing production activities to reduce costs, intentional industrial deregulation to mitigate production costs, and prohibiting collective bargaining practices shifted both control and wealth from the workers to the owners. The erosion of worker labor standards also contributed to the problem, facilitating the organizations’ opportunity to push more burden on its workers without increasing their wages to compensate them for the added responsibility.
The combination of these factors has facilitated an unfair advantage to those in power, who also secured their status by building and reinforcing the social structures that perpetuate their controls.
The reduced volume of available resources causes friction and distrust among those groups at the bottom of the economic strata: women in general, people of color, and the differently-abled or oriented. Too often, the growth experienced by any individual group can cause (or feel like it causes) even more loss to another.
And recent data indicates that those struggles for resources are pervasive across the country. In its analysis of 2020 census data, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that three critical ‘hardships’ remain constant even after the dispersal of federal funds to alleviate the stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic:
Insufficient food supply continues to hamper the lives of 20 million adults, almost 10% of the country’s population, and 8% of its households without children. In homes with children, 12% of parents reported not having enough food. In addition, blacks, Latinos, and Indigenous people are much more likely to suffer food instability than white people.
Race also skews the results of the 12 million Americans who have not or can not catch up on their back-due rent, caused by unemployment created by the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey showed that 28% of all Black renters, 18% of Latinos, and 20% of Asians were behind on rent in 2021, compared to 12% of white renters. Making matters worse, a recent Supreme Court decision ended the COVID-19-imposed eviction moratorium, which now threatens these non-white renters with homelessness if/when they cannot make up those past-due obligations.
Unmet Financial Needs
Even those who aren’t facing food or housing crises still face challenges covering basic household expense costs. In summer 2020, almost one-third of all American adults (29% = 63 million) reported they had insufficient funds to cover all of their household expenses, including food, rent, medical bills, car payments, etc. That number fell as the federal government pumped stimulus checks into the economy but rose again as that funding stopped. Again, black and Latino households were more affected than whites (44%, 38%, and 23%, respectively). Also worse: 36% of families with children were suffering these financial hardships, a circumstance that is known to impact a child’s long-term health and education capacity.
The data show that these hardships were persistent prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and remain significant as that phenomenon rolls on, despite immense financial inputs from federal coffers.
Recovery from Discrimination
The societal destruction caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the fundamental unfairness embedded within today’s social, commercial, and industrial strata. Some experts are suggesting that long-standing policies and practices designed to reward the white, male upper-class at the expense of other social sectors, have created an equally destructive ‘inequality pandemic’ that threatens the future just as surely as does the coronavirus. As the world struggles to find a path to recovery, it will have to face and address the challenges posed by both of these tragedies to achieve its fullest measure of success.
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