Building wealth is essential for people and families to have a stable financial future. Wealth building is not just about having income. It’s about having a safety net: the ability to tap into savings or assets to help weather times of economic stress, such as job loss, medical emergencies, or other unexpected life events. It also means that people can have something to pass along to their children and loved ones — creating generational wealth.

To build a strong economy, the Philadelphia Fed is committed to supporting economic mobility and inclusive growth across the region. A crucial part of this work is identifying and breaking down barriers to wealth-building opportunities, such as accessing a loan to buy a home or capital to start a business.

In Philadelphia, an estimated 29 percent of Black and African American residents and 38 percent of Hispanic and Latino residents lived in poverty in 2019, compared with 16 percent of White residents.1 The overall poverty rate in Philadelphia in 2019 was 23.34 percent. See more Philadelphia data here.

Persistent poverty and systemic barriers to wealth building have prevented many Black, African American, Hispanic, and Latino communities from developing this important financial safety net.

In 2020, the Federal Reserve System launched the Racism and the Economy series to examine how barriers to economic opportunity and wealth building have impacted households and neighborhoods of color across the nation. Topics ranged from housing, to education, to health, to the wealth divide. One key takeaway was the importance of refocusing solutions on systems. From this series emerged the idea of the Equitable Wealth Initiative (EWI) as a way to bring this national conversation to the local level.

The Equitable Wealth Initiative is a partnership of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia and the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey to examine wealth inequality ─ specifically the Black-White wealth gap in Philadelphia ─ by expanding our research and broadening our shared understanding of intergenerational wealth building.

Samantha Porter
Samantha Porter
Senior Manager and Community Engagement Advisor,
Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia

In partnership with the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, the EWI is a multiyear engagement focused on examining the historical and systemic barriers and persistent narratives that impact wealth building in communities of color in Philadelphia.

The EWI brings together community leaders and partners to investigate and discuss the ways in which wealth and wealth-building opportunities serve as foundational features of building a healthy, robust regional economy.

The EWI has two interrelated components:

A Wealth Ecosystem Roundtable

The six-month engagement focused on developing shared language and understanding of racial wealth inequities.

A Mixed-Methods Research Approach

This includes a qualitative study of residents' experiences with and access to wealth-building tools.

The goals of the ecosystem roundtable engagement include:

  • Educate and develop a shared understanding and vocabulary around wealth creation in Philadelphia using a racial equity lens.
  • Identify the roles that institutions and structural racism play in limiting opportunities for people of color to build wealth.
  • Examine current policies, programming, and funding in the Philadelphia ecosystem to inform a shift in priorities and approaches.

In a later phase of the EWI, participants will work to create a shared vision that focuses on shared strategies and solutions for targeting and addressing the racial wealth gap in Philadelphia.

Through discussions informed by research, data, and the experiences of residents of color, EWI participants explored a more holistic definition of wealth, examined the historical and systemic barriers and ongoing narratives related to wealth, and defined the foundational levers driving racial wealth inequality.

Roundtable Series

Changing the Frame on Examining Wealth Inequality in Philadelphia
The roundtable series created a space for partners working in the Philadelphia ecosystem to examine and discuss how historical policies, current practices, and ongoing narratives contribute to ideas about racial wealth inequality. Participants comprised an interdisciplinary group of 25 practitioners, funders, policymakers, and researchers. All participants had experience and/or research interest in approaching community challenges though a racial equity lens.

Addressing racial wealth inequities requires communities to develop their muscle to hold collaborative spaces to grapple with nuanced and intersectional systemic issues. It requires participants at the collaborative table to have awareness and examine the narratives and mental models that may influence which solutions can be crafted.

Alicia Atkinson
Former Managing Director, Financial Empowerment,
United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey

Roundtable Resources and Articles

Grounding in History and Narratives: May 25–26, 2022
The first two sessions of this engagement focused on building a shared understanding of the following themes: the foundation of wealth accumulation and extraction for Black Americans and the role of narratives in policy and programmatic solutions for racial wealth inequality.

Homeownership and the Racial Wealth Divide: June 23, 2022
This session focused on narrative we hold about homeownership and the racial wealth gap.

Education, Debt, and the Racial Wealth Divide: July 14, 2022
This session focused on examining narratives related to education and the labor market and how they contribute to racial wealth inequality. The resources discussed focus on the cost of higher education and the connection to labor market outcomes.

The Labor Market, Income, and the Racial Wealth Divide: September 8, 2022
This session focused on the labor market and the racial wealth gap. Presenters explored the narratives associated with work and labor, occupational segregation, and the unemployment insurance system.

The Role of Extraction and Visioning Forward to Solutions for the Racial Wealth Divide: October 12–13, 2022
This session summarized key learnings from the engagement, examined how different forms of extraction, such as the high cost of debt, fines, and fees, serve as barriers to wealth creation. These resources and discussions helped to inform a vision for this work moving forward.

Equitable Wealth Symposium: Local and National Solutions at Work: November 10, 2022
In this event, invited speakers focused explicitly on the systems and narratives that persistently extract wealth and erode financial stability, highlighted the research and data that have been explored, and elevated the approaches that are currently moving the needle on wealth building for people of color. Speakers highlighted both local and national solutions that aim to address the racial wealth gap. The agenda featured contributors to the Future of Wealth Building, edited by Ray Boshara and Ida Rademacher, published in the fall of 2021. View details and a recording of the event here.

  1. Estimated Percent of All People/Families That Are Living in Poverty in 2015–2019. PolicyMap. (based on U.S. Census Bureau data, accessed February 2022)