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The Greenwood Initiative: Economic Justice for Black America

January 19, 2020

At the site of the Black Wall Street Massacre in Tulsa, Mike Bloomberg lays out a plan to address the systemic bias that has kept Black Americans from building wealth

Livestream available here at 2:30 PM ET

Today in a major speech, Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg will announce the Greenwood Initiative, a plan to address the systemic bias that has kept many Black Americans from building wealth. The speech will be delivered in the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Known as Black Wall Street in the early 20th century, it was the most prominent district of Black-owned businesses in the United States, and in 1921, it was destroyed in race attacks known as the Black Wall Street Massacre.

Mike’s speech will reflect on the enduring legacy of discrimination — crystallized by the fact that the typical Black family owns one-tenth the wealth of the typical white family. He will acknowledge that biased policies in the financial, criminal justice, and voting systems have stood as barriers for many Black Americans for too long, and that the impact of discrimination over centuries has meant an enormous loss of wealth for generations.

“As someone who has been very lucky in life, I often say my story would only have been possible in America – and that’s true. But I also know that my story might have turned out very differently if I had been Black, and that more Black Americans of my generation would have ended up with far more wealth, had they been white,” said Mike Bloomberg. “Instead, they have had to struggle to overcome great odds, because their families started out further behind, and excluded from opportunities – in housing, employment, education, and other areas. This weekend, as we celebrate the life of Dr. King, we remember that he not only marched for equal rights, he marched for economic justice, because they go hand-in-hand. He knew that equality under the law was only the first step to true equality, and true equality is only achieved when there is no correlation between skin color and success.”

Mike’s plan, the Greenwood Initiative, lays out a path to the creation of 1 million new Black homeowners and 100,000 new Black-owned businesses in the next decade. His plan also includes a $70 billion investment in the country’s 100 most disadvantaged neighborhoods:

Creating generational wealth through homeownership

Homeownership is a vital way to build generational wealth and community and is a pillar of the American Dream for many. But it’s out of reach for too many Black Americans. Mike’s plan aims to create 1 million new Black homeowners. Mike will close this gap by providing down-payment assistance, getting millions banked and recognized by credit scoring companies, enforcing fair lending laws, reducing foreclosures and evictions, and increasing the supply of affordable housing.

  • In mid-2019, the Black homeownership rate dropped to 41 percent — almost 33 percentage points below the white homeownership rate. The decline in Black homeownership has erased all of the gains made since the 1968 passage of the Fair Housing Act, landmark legislation outlawing housing discrimination. A study by the National Fair Housing Alliance found that real estate discrimination was pervasive in at least a dozen major metropolitan areas.
  • Mike’s plan will address the homeownership gap by creating 1 million more Black homeowners. His plan will provide down-payment assistance, get millions recognized by credit scoring companies, enforce fair lending laws, reduce foreclosures and evictions, and increase the supply of affordable housing. The plan will also aim to help millions more Black Americans open bank accounts, by offering financial services through the Post Office and by piloting a program to provide free checking accounts to recipients of the Earned Income Tax Credit.
  • Too many Black Americans are “credit invisible.” People need credit scores to qualify for mortgage loans, but through its mortgage-guarantee programs, the federal government effectively requires lenders to use credit-scoring models that disproportionately exclude Black Americans. As a result, millions of Black householders are “credit invisible.”
  • Mike will order federally controlled and mandated mortgage guarantors to update their credit-scoring requirements, to insist that scoring models be tested for racial bias, and to encourage the use of alternative models that employ information such as bank account history, rental payments, or mobile-phone payments to assess creditworthiness.
  • Zoning rules, which stipulate minimum lot sizes or maximum building heights to prevent the construction of affordable housing, often lock minorities out of desirable neighborhoods (and often were designed specifically to do so). The Trump administration has been reversing efforts designed to break down such barriers to upward mobility.
  • Mike will create a Housing Fairness Commission, funded with an initial $10 billion, to work with municipalities and nonprofits on testing policies aimed at reversing the effects of discrimination and expanding programs that work.

Investing in Black-owned business growth

Mike’s plan aims to spur the creation of more than 100,000 new Black-owned businesses, doubling their number. To boost Black-owned businesses, the plan will set up user-friendly one-stop shops for entrepreneurs across the country, expand mentorships and incubators, increase access to capital, support Black-owned banks, and expand procurement from Black-owned businesses.

  • Black Americans own only a little more than 100,000 businesses. Mike will aim to nearly double that number to 200,000 businesses. His plan includes setting up user-friendly one-stop shops for entrepreneurs across the country, expanding mentorships and incubators, increasing access to capital (both debt and equity), supporting Black-owned banks, and boosting procurement from Black-owned businesses. These efforts are aimed particularly at benefiting Black women entrepreneurs, the fastest growing group for new entrepreneurs.
  • Black-owned businesses account for only 2% of financings under the SBA’s Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) program. Mike will provide incentives for private investors to focus on underrepresented groups and underserved communities. For example, his plan would promote partnerships with university incubator programs that could offer added SBIC support for startups in nearby distressed neighborhoods.
  • And Black-owned businesses can’t get the credit they need to expand. Studies consistently find that they experience higher denial rates and pay higher interest rates when they do get loans. The government doesn’t gather the data needed to adequately monitor bias in business lending. Meanwhile, assets are dwindling at Black-owned banks, which tend to focus on Black communities.
  • Mike will support Black-owned banks by increasing federal deposits, and by providing a streamlined process to qualify as CDFIs — allowing them to issue government-guaranteed bonds whose proceeds can be used for community investments. He will also require financial institutions to report data on small-business lending, including relevant characteristics of borrowers such as race and gender — as mandated in the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010.

Investing $70 billion in the neighborhoods that need it most

Due to generations of systematic discrimination, too many Black Americans grow up and live in neighborhoods where health, education, and employment outcomes are unacceptably low. Every American should have an equal shot at success. Mike will launch a $70 billion national initiative to identify and turn around 100 of the country’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods. It will invest in 100 communities over five years to tackle the neighborhood conditions that perpetuate poverty and exclude the historically disadvantaged from growth and opportunity. The plan will orient all federal human-serving agencies with an equity framework that is place-based and evidence-based, using rigorous evaluation to expand what works and discontinue what doesn’t.

  • Black Americans disproportionately experience extreme poverty, due in large part to decades of government policies that created segregated communities and deprived them of credit and public investment. Specifically, an estimated 8.2% of Black Americans live in neighborhoods with poverty rates exceeding 45%, compared with just 1% of whites. In the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood of Baltimore, for instance, where more than half of all children live in poverty, life expectancy is about a decade less than the national average, and fewer than one in 10 eighth-grade students pass proficiency exams in reading and math.
  • Mike will create a new Neighborhood Equity and Opportunity Office (NEOO) to manage the initiative. It will be an executive office located in the White House, to provide cross-agency leadership and coordination, with an executive council comprised of participating agencies. The office will set the agenda, authorize spending, guide implementation, and manage evaluation. It will always make households and communities the center of the effort, through coordinated management and “braided” funding of federal agencies.
  • Mike will put a relentless focus on evaluation to expand programs that work. The program will provide communities with technical assistance to develop revitalization plans, which they can devise themselves or create using a menu of evidence-based programs.
  • The plan builds on work Mike did as Mayor of New York City. He created the Center for Economic Opportunity, which tested dozens of anti-poverty innovations and subjected them to the highest standards of evaluation. These included the Young Men’s Initiative, which addressed the structural barriers preventing young men of color from advancing through education and employment. During his tenure, New York was the only large city in the U.S. that did not experience a rise in poverty, while the U.S. as a whole — in a period marked by the Great Recession of 2008 — saw a 28% increase in poverty, and other large cities combined saw a 36% increase.

Addressing systemic discrimination, segregation, and social and civic barriers

Black Americans have been disproportionately incarcerated, politically disenfranchised, and subject to systematic discrimination. Mike will defend the rights of protected groups under the law by reinvigorating and reorienting the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Dept. He will also shed light on discriminatory practices by requiring companies to report on hiring, pay, and procurement and collecting more complete lending data. Furthermore, Mike’s plan ties federal housing funding to progress in reducing segregation, requires implicit bias training for police, teachers and federal contractors, and restores voting rights by addressing practices such as ID requirements, roll purging, and gerrymandering.

  • The average Black student attends a school in the 37th percentile for test score results whereas the average white student attends a school in the 60th percentile. Despite decades of progress, achievement gaps between Black and white students at the high-school level remain large and stem from other disparities, such as in the way students are disciplined.
  • America’s higher education system is supposed to be a great equalizer, but it does not provide equal opportunity for all students. Black Americans enroll and graduate at lower rates than their white peers, and disproportionately attend institutions that have lower levels of spending per student, or that confer worthless degrees and leave them in debt.
  • Black Americans are incarcerated in state prisons at more than five times the rate of whites. And Black Americans are about 3.5 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession, even though both races use marijuana at about the same rate.
  • Mike will act to address systematic discrimination. Civil rights are a prerequisite for realizing one’s potential. Mike will defend the rights of protected groups by reinvigorating and reorienting the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Dept. He will also shed light on discriminatory practices by requiring companies to report on hiring, pay and procurement and collecting lending data. The plan also ties federal housing funding to progress in reducing segregation, requires implicit bias training for police, teachers, and federal contractors and restores voting rights by addressing practices such as ID requirements, roll purging, and gerrymandering.

Mike has an extensive record of improving outcomes for Black Americans as Mayor of New York City

On creating jobs and reducing poverty:

Mike led the nation’s most ambitious effort to reduce poverty. Under Mike, New York was the only one of the 20 largest U.S. cities in which the poverty rate remained flat. In the other 19 cities, poverty rose by an average of 36%. [Office of the Mayor Press Release, 11/14/13]

The Earned Income Tax Credit was created to improve the economic situations of the working poor. Since its creation, more than 9 million families have been lifted out of poverty. Mike’s Paycheck Plus program extended this idea to low-income workers without dependent children. Sixty percent of the participants in the Paycheck Plus demonstration project were male, mostly men of color.

  • Started a local Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) benefit in 2004 to help working families afford their most vital need and transition them out of poverty.

– Between 2004 and 2013, the City’s EITC put $859.7M back in the pockets of hard working New Yorkers. [Annual Reports on Tax Expenditures, 2007-2016]

– Between 2002 and 2012, the City’s EITC Campaign helped New Yorkers claim more than $20 billion in federal, State and City refunds, including $1 billion directly through the City’s network of free and low-cost sites. [NYC Department of Consumer Affairs, 12/4/19]

Mike’s Paycheck Plus program extended this idea to low-income workers without dependent children. Sixty percent of the participants in the demonstration project were male, mostly men of color. The program:

  • Increased post-tax individual earnings by 6 percent, from average annual earnings of $11,419 for the control group to $12,054 for the program group [MDRC, 9/2018];
  • Reduced severe poverty by about 10 percent, from a 33 percent rate for the control group to 29 percent for the program group [MDRC, 9/2018]; and
  • Modestly increased employment by about 3 percent, with stronger effects found among men with more barriers to work and women. [MDRC, 9/2018]

The Child Care Tax Credit was implemented in 2007 to aid low-income families with childcare costs while enabling parents to maintain full-time jobs. City residents who earn $30,000 or less and pay childcare for children up to the age of three may qualify for this tax credit. The program was created as part of the Center for Economic Opportunity. [Epoch Times, 3/10/09]

  • Over 50,000 New Yorkers claimed the City’s Child Care Tax Credit in the first year of implementation and claimed over $30 million. Each filer received a refund of $600 on average. [Epoch Times, 3/10/09]
  • Between 2007 and 20013, the Child Care and Dependent Tax Credit PUT $108.7M in the pockets of New York’s low-income families. [Annual Reports on Tax Expenditures 2010-2016],

Created Financial Empowerment Centers, which offer free, one-on-one professional financial counseling.

  • “The Centers have helped more than 23,000 clients reduce their debts by over $12 million and increase savings by more than $2.2 million” between the program’s inception in 2009 and 2013. [Mayor’s Management Report, 9/2013]

– During Fiscal 2013 financial counselors helped 37 percent of clients achieve significant financial outcomes by, for example, reducing their debt loads by at least 10 percent, saving at least two percent of net income, or increasing their credit score by 35 points. [Mayor’s Management Report, 9/2013]

  • The Centers for Financial Empowerment led directly to the Cities for Financial Empowerment, a coalition of cities that are providing leadership and guidance on how cities can galvanize resources and focus attention on critical issues. [Bloomberg Philanthropies, accessed 11/27/19]

– Coalition includes 15 member cities representing almost 22 million people that have made tangible, measurable commitments to supporting financial empowerment programming, and both teach and learn from one another. [Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund, accessed 12/6/19]

– 32 Cities across 22 states and the nation of Antigua and Barbuda are engaged in projects to replicate the Financial Empowerment Center initiative. [Center for Financial Empowerment Fund, accessed 11/27/19]

Launched $aveNYC, a tax-time matched savings program that attracted an average of 1,255 savers per year. [MDRC, 1/2016]

  • Over 90 percent of enrollees deposited tax refund dollars in their $aveNYC savings account and nearly three-quarters of enrollees (or 80 percent of depositors) maintained their deposits for about a year and received the savings match. [MDRC, 1/2016]

The $aveNYC study conducted by the Center for Community Capital at the University of North Carolina found that 31 percent of $aveNYC participants did not have a bank account (that is, were “unbanked”) and 36 percent reported having no savings when they entered the program. [MDRC, 1/2016]

  • The program expanded to Newark, NJ; Tulsa, OK; and San Antonio, TX in 2011 and became SaveUSA. [MDRC, 4/2013]

– “SaveUSA participants had an average of $522, or 30 percent, more saved than regular tax filers, and were eight percentage points more likely to hold any kind of savings 42 months after program enrollment.” [MDRC, 1/2016]

– “SaveUSA led to an increase in consistent saving (defined as having nonretirement savings at both 18 and 42 month surveys) and a decrease in the incidence of liquid asset poverty (defined as lacking sufficient liquid assets, either non-retirement savings or retirement savings, to subsist at the poverty level for three months in the absence of income) by 6 percentage points.” [MDRC, 1/2016]

– SaveUSA participants were able to do all this without incurring greater amounts of debt. [MDRC, 1/2016]

The Young Men’s Initiative, launched in 2011, was the first-ever municipal focus on the persistent disparities young men of color experience in outcomes across all service domains, especially justice. It provided a foundation for President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative.

  • The YMI sponsored 40 initiatives across 20 city agencies, investing $43 million annually to challenge the legacy of systemic barriers and implicit bias in service delivery. [YMI Annual Report for 2013, 2013]

In his first term, Mike signed Local Law 129, which broadened access to city contracts for women and minority owned businesses. [Next City, 6/27/13]

  • In 2013, Mike signed Local Law 1, which further expanded contracting opportunities for M/WBEs by dropping the $1M cap on contracts. [Next City, 6/27/13]
  • During his tenure, the value of contracts awarded to minority and women owned business grew to $3.5 billion. Certified businesses quadrupled, to 3,700 from 700. [Mayors Management Reports, 2005-13, accessed 1/13/20]

Signed legislation creating the New York City Banking Development District Program, which helped establish bank branches in 20 underserved neighborhoods through nearly $200M in below-market deposits. [US States News, Press Release from Los Angeles City Council via LexisNexis, 11/9/19]

In 2011, Mike announced a “Ban the Box” policy in city employment to allow a job applicant to make it through an initial interview before being required to share record of justice involvement. [Gotham Gazette, 9/26/11] The city launched expungement campaigns to lawfully clear criminal records which impede employment. [NYC.gov, 8/4/11]

NYC Opportunity launched the first City-funded Jobs-Plus site in East Harlem with its agency partners in 2009. According to the Urban Institute analysis of the Jobs-Plus program, New Yorkers participating in the Jobs-Plus program for one year are 72 percent more likely to be employed and earned 32 percent more than those who had not yet joined the program. [NYC.gov, 9/6/19]

  • The initiative was subject to a rigorous evaluation, which found that where implemented fully, Jobs-Plus boosted residents’ annual earnings by 16 percent, or $1,300 per year, an effect that endured seven years without abating. [MDRC, 10/2015]

Human Resource Administration placed cash assistance applicants and recipients into more than 1 million jobs between 2002 and 2013. [Mayor’s Management Reports, 2005-13]

On education:

  • Mike’s reform policies led to a 42% increase in graduation rates in New York City public schools, with Black and Hispanic students making the biggest gains. Mike doubled the education budget and gave a 43% raise to teachers. [Office of the Mayor Press Release, 12/4/13]
  • As Mayor, Mike permitted nearly 200 charter schools, like the Eagle Academy, which primarily serve Black and Hispanic students. In New York City, Blackcharter school students are nearly 57% more likely to be proficient in English for grades 3-8, and 58% more likely to be proficient in Math for grades 3-8 than their district peers. [NYC Charter School Center, 07/2015; NYC Charter School Center, 9/30/18]
  • The small high schools created by Mike to replace large low-performing large schools increased graduation and college-going rates for low-income students of color. [MDRC, 06/2014]
  • The CUNY Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP), intended to help low-income, predominantly minority students complete college faster, more than doubled graduation rates for both proficient students and those with developmental needs. [MDRC, 06/2014]

On housing:

  • Mike launched the nation’s most ambitious plan to expand affordable housing. The New Housing Marketplace Plan was the largest affordable housing program in the country, building or preserving 175,000 units. This plan led to a $23.6 billion investment in affordable housing across the city. [Office of the Mayor press release, 12/21/13; NHMP annual report, 2013]

On criminal justice:

  • At the start of Mike’s tenure, New York City’s incarceration rate was 10% higher than the national average; when he left, it was more than one-third lower than the nation as a whole. [NYC.gov, accessed 1/13/19]
  • The rate of adult incarceration in New York dropped by 39% between 2001 and 2013, while the national rate of incarceration increased. [NYC.gov, accessed 1/13/19]
  • Under Mike’s leadership, New York City was the safest big city in America: crime fell by more than 32% and murders were cut in half — while alternatives to incarceration reduced the number of people behind bars by 39%.
  • Under Mike’s administration, New York was an early adopter of initiatives like Cure Violence to engage community members directly impacted by a violent event. These interventions reduced retaliatory gun violence in communities traumatized by violent episodes by as much as 50%.
  • Mike joined with NAACP leaders to launch a national campaign against “Stand Your Ground Laws, which came under fire in the wake of the shooting death of unarmed Florida teen Trayvon Martin.” [DNAinfo, 4/11/12]

On healthcare:

  • Between 2001 and 2013, the number of uninsured New Yorkers fell by nearly 50 percent, while Medicaid enrollment increased by 1.3 million individuals, a 71 percent increase. [NY State Dept. of Health, 12/17/19]
  • As Mayor, Mike adopted the Nurse-Family Partnership model for low-income pregnant moms, and helped grow NYC’s program into the country’s largest. New York City’s infant mortality rate declined nearly 25 percent between 2001 and 2013, more than the national average. [Nurse-Family Partnership, accessed 12/11/19]
  • New York City’s infant mortality rate for Black infants declined 17 percent. [New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Summary of Vital Statistics via Citizens’ Committee For Children of New York, Keeping Track database, accessed 12/28/19; Bureau of Vital Statistics, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, 7/19]
  • The largest gains in life expectancy in the City was for non-Hispanic Blacks, adding nearly 4 years to their lifespan, from 73.4 years to 77.3 years. [Summary of Vital Statistics for 2011, 1/2013; Summary of Vital Statistics for 2013, 3/2016]
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