In Boston, white households possess a median net worth of $247,500. That plunges to $1,907 for Latinx households and is a mere $8 for Black households. This is Boston's racial wealth gap, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened existing disparities. The numbers show that Black individuals account for 37% of the city's known COVID-19 cases, and the resulting economic fallout of the pandemic, including layoffs, has disproportionately affected people of color.
Eastern Bank dove into this issue head-on in a June 22 Color & Capital For Good virtual town hall. During the Pandemic Insights session, Eastern Bank Chairman and CEO Bob Rivers and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh shared their thoughts on what Boston can do to close these gaps.
Pandemic Insights from Bob Rivers
Bob Rivers started the event by welcoming the attendees and pointing out that an event addressing Boston's racial wealth gap had been planned long before COVID-19 but that the pandemic had brought these inequalities into sharp focus.
"People of color are certainly bearing the brunt of this virus in so many ways," Rivers said. "Certainly in terms of infection and death, but as well as the ongoing risk of it, which continues today . . . despite the fact [that] many out there think the crisis is behind us, obviously it's not, and so many communities of color are disproportionately staffing the front lines, literally putting their health and their lives at risk."
Rivers pointed out how the statistics regarding Boston's wealth gap have been out there since 2015, "yet here we are again. In the midst of a national reawakening, perhaps like we've never seen before in this country, we're once again grappling with these statistics, this reality, for all of those in our communities of color."
Revenues for businesses run by people of color were just 20% of the average of all U.S. businesses before the pandemic hit. Because of a lack of access to capital, businesses of color are among the most fragile during a crisis. "We need to look no further than the Paycheck Protection Program," Rivers said. "Our businesses of color were at the back of the line, yet again, in terms of receiving those funds, and that wasn't done because of any intentional act by anyone. It was done by a system, by a process, that was designed and embedded with structural racism."
Rivers then held a moment of silence in recognition of the Black and Latinx lives that have been lost due to racist systems and institutions and concluded that Boston's business community needs to take immediate and meaningful action by supporting businesses of color. He explained why today, more than ever, leaders like him must listen to those who have experienced racism firsthand.
"White business leaders like myself need to first recognize that we don't have the answers to this most vexing and longstanding of our nation's deficiencies. It's not our experience," Rivers said. "The most important action that we can take is to first listen, and learn from, our Black colleagues and others of color in our community and follow their lead."
Mayor Marty Walsh's Response to the Wealth Gap and COVID-19
Rivers then turned the screen over to Boston's mayor, Marty Walsh, who acknowledged that the city's efforts to close the racial wealth gap have not been perfect but discussed his administration's targeted efforts to help minority-, woman-, and immigrant-owned businesses that have been hit disproportionately by COVID-19. These efforts have included weekly conference calls, workshops, legislation that lifted restrictions on outdoor dining and liquor license limits, help procuring personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies, advice for how to find financial assistance, and more. The city also set up a $13.5 million fund for local small businesses to ensure they made it through the crisis, more than half of which went to businesses owned by people of color.
Nonetheless, Walsh said, "This virus is still with us, and it's going to be with us for a long time. . . . We've been able to learn some important lessons from our city. Most of all, we've learned that historic and systemic racism limits opportunity." He concluded that "we shouldn't go back to normal. This is not a time to go back to normal. We must create a new, better normal, one that is truly inclusive."
As COVID-19 rages across the world — and at home — and disproportionately impacts marginalized communities, help Eastern Bank to close Boston's racial wealth gap.