Marc Morial Shares Perspective on Economic Empowerment

The President and CEO of the National Urban League speaks to building intergenerational wealth in the Black community

The staggering wealth disparity among Black and white families in the U.S. signifies that equal opportunity is not afforded to all Americans.

According to a 2020 study conducted by the Brookings Institute, the median net worth of a typical white family ($189,100) was nearly eight times greater than that of a Black family ($24,100) in 2016. 

Capital One is committed to closing that equity gap which is rooted in centuries of accumulated inequality and discrimination and is supporting the National Urban League (NUL) through the Capital One Impact Initiative, an initial $200 million, multi-year commitment to advancing socioeconomic mobility through advocating for an inclusive society, building thriving communities and creating financial tools that enrich lives.

With 90 affiliates across the country, the NUL spearheads the development of social programs and authoritative public policy research that strives to help Black people and others in underserved communities achieve their highest true social parity, economic self-reliance, power, and civil rights.

Marc Morial, President and CEO of the NUL, recently spoke with Capital One associates about The League’s efforts to promote economic empowerment through areas including housing, entrepreneurship and education.

How is the NUL striving to improve access to homeownership in the Black community?

MM: “We are intensely focused on increasing the Black homeownership rate as it has declined over the past 20 years and notably dropped sharply during the financial crisis of 2008. We were teetering on 50% of all Black people owning their homes in the mid-2000s and today only roughly 42% do. For white Americans, the homeownership rate is nearly 70%.

The NUL is working to remedy that disparity through preparing people for buying a home through our Comprehensive Housing Counseling Program. We prepare people to be mortgage ready. This program helps people understand the market in their state and hometown. It also teaches them about the terms and conditions in different mortgages and the responsibilities of homeownership to help them make a decision based on their family’s budget.

We produce roughly 2,000 home owners per year while almost 50,000 people participate in the program on an annual basis.” 

What role can entrepreneurship play in closing the wealth gap?

MM: “There’s a lot of energy in the Black and Hispanic communities to become entrepreneurs and business owners. There are about 2.5 million Black-owned businesses in the U.S., but 90% of those have just one employee. They’re small and they’re working hard and in many cases don’t have the capital they need to expand, but the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well.

We need to help those businesses grow so instead of one employee, they have several and can truly make a significant difference to the economic well-being of their community and give the owner a chance to accumulate wealth. 

Through the NUL’s Entrepreneurship Program, we’re helping those small business owners climb up the economic ladder with their own strength and determination. The NUL has counseled, mentored and trained more than 60,000 businesses since 2006. We have to help people climb the economic ladder in America to close this stifling wealth divide.” 

What steps is the NUL taking to ensure equitable digital access?

MM: "During the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw the digital divide in play and in plain sight. We’re working on what we call the Latimer Plan, which calls on Congress and the President to provide broadband access in his infrastructure plan. Infrastructure in the 21st century includes more than roads and bridges. Having broadband is as important as having highways now.”  

Inspired by the life of Lewis Howard Latimer, an African-American draftsman, soldier, scientist, and researcher whose parents were born into slavery, the plan has four achievable goals:

  • Deploying networks everywhere
  • Getting everyone connected
  • Creating new economic opportunities to participate in the growth of the digital economy
  • Using the networks to improve how we deliver essential services, in particular in workforce development, health care and education

What role can education play in closing the racial wealth divide?

MM: “Education is a passport to a better life. It not only creates citizens who are ready for the workforce but it also produces people who are prepared for their civic responsibilities. 

Education doesn’t close the wealth divide, but it is an important part of the process. We continue to work very hard on increasing the pathways to post secondary success. Our view is that people should not stop their education after finishing high school. They should achieve a postsecondary education and pursue their dreams. 

We also have the Equity and Excellence Project which encourages educational policy to focus on ensuring that schools recognize that Equity and Excellence go together. We’re using evidence and data to evaluate and hold people accountable to make the kind of investments to have the curriculum and create the environment that allows our children to thrive and close the achievement gap.”

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