Why Wealth

Providence storefront (photo by Kia Davis)
Providence storefront (photo by Kia Davis)

What is community wealth, and why does it matter? 

A community’s wealth comes from the assets that it collectively owns or controls, and which the community uses to care for its place and one another. Community wealth is not just about monetary value that exists or is generated in a place. It involves: 

  • Multiple forms of capital — financial, yes, but also social, intellectual, natural, cultural, built, and political. 
  • Local ownership of these capitals, so that control and benefits remain in the place.    
  • Shared ownership, so assets are stewarded by and for the community and not just a few members.

Community wealth matters because it leads to community resilience (in the same way that personal wealth leads to personal resilience), a place’s ability to withstand challenges and persist, adapt, and transform itself. 

So how do we increase a community’s wealth? We like this definition of community wealth building from Marjorie Kelly of the Democracy Collaborative: creating and using local assets to make a community more vibrant, developing assets in such a way that the wealth stays local, and helping families and communities control their own economic destiny.

What about individual wealth?

That matters, too. And we’re not talking about the gross accumulation of billionaires; we mean the ability of every household to build up enough assets that they can take care of themselves and withstand the challenges that life throws at them.

We don’t have good local wealth data, but we know from the national data that there are tremendous disparities in wealth across race and ethnicity. In its 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances, the Federal Reserve Board found that White families have a median family wealth of $188,200, compared to $24,1000 for Black families and $36,100 for Hispanic families.

Why does community wealth matter, though?

Inequality exists in every single Rhode Island community, and it is stubbornly consistent. Across systems (education, economic, healthcare, criminal justice, etc.), we see enormous disparities of outcomes based on race and zip code.

Consider just three indicators (household income, poverty, and the average household income at age 35 of a child who grows up in that area) across three pairs of closely-located census tracts in Rhode Island:

Source: Opportunity Atlas