To remain relevant in communities requires that United Way focus explicitly on equity.
The United Way Equity Framework, Strengthening Our Equity Muscle to Accelerate Impact: The United Way Equity Framework, was developed to build the capacity of United Way to integrate an explicit equity lens throughout their work/core business practices in the Modern United Way. It is specifically designed for use in the United States, given the importance of context and history to understanding inequities, and is informed by input from local United Ways and national organizations, all advancing equity through diverse efforts and vantage points.
At the foundation of the framework is a shared definition and vision of equity:
United Way Worldwide's Equity Definition
United Way defines equity as the intentional inclusion of everyone in society. Equity is achieved when systemic, institutional, and historical barriers based on race, gender, sexual orientation, and other identities are dismantled and no longer predict socioeconomic, education, and health outcomes.
United Way Worldwide's Equity Vision
“We recognize structural racism and other forms of oppression have contributed to persistent disparities which United Way seeks to dismantle. Our United Way network strives to engage community members, especially those whose voices have traditionally been marginalized. We work with residents and public and private partners to co-create solutions that ensure everyone has the resources, support, opportunities, and networks they need to thrive. We commit to leveraging all of our assets (convening, strategic investments, awareness building, advocacy) to create more equitable communities.”
United Way of the Lakeshore's Diversity & Inclusion Statement:
We commit to developing racially conscious partnerships and processes that anticipate unintended outcomes and ensure the inclusion of all people we serve, for our community, and our organization.
United Way of the Lakeshore's Diversity, Equal Opportunity, and Personnel Practices:
Each individual associated with United Way of the Lakeshore will be treated with dignity and respect. United Way of the Lakeshore will seek out and implement innovative methods to include all the diverse elements that make up the unique fabric of our community. We commit to positive action to represent in all aspects of our organization our community as it currently exists and evolves. Discrimination in employment or volunteer activities and harassment of any individuals is strictly prohibited. United Way will abide by all legal laws related to race, color, religion, creed, age, sex, national origin or ancestry, marital status, veteran status, sexual orientation, disability, or any consideration made unlawful by federal, state, or local law. To support and uphold these practices, we will: (1) Recognize the distinct differences of individuals and respect those differences; (2) Respect the work-related needs of others, and adhere to all United Way personnel policies and practices; (3) Refuse to engage in or tolerate any form of discrimination or harassment; (4) Strive to create an environment conducive to professionalism and diversity.
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Equity As A Core Principle of the Modern United Way
United Way is a global nonprofit organization that seeks to improve the lives of every individual in every community. United Ways work to accomplish this by engaging community residents, partners, the business community, local government, and other key constituencies to ensure that all community members have access to a high-quality education, access to jobs with good wages, and the ability to live a healthy life. The business model is how United Ways raise revenue to deliver impact in the communities we serve. At the heart of the business model is an understanding that the core work of United Ways is to deliver positive community change and that the donor is the customer. United Ways that can successfully raise revenue and deliver community impact are those that are:
(1) donor-centered (i.e. know who their existing and potential donors are, the issues and causes their donors care about, and what motivates them to give);
(2) know how to best reach existing and potential donors and provide them meaningful opportunities to engage in our work;
(3) and have a clearly defined community impact agenda. The community impact agenda should consist primarily of a set of goals, strategies, and priorities that were developed by engaging community residents, investors, and partners. The agenda should continuously be updated to reflect the evolving needs and challenges of the community and framed as an opportunity for donors to invest.
In our recent history and transition to community impact, United Way’s work has focused on providing equitable opportunities for all. We have stressed deepening community engagement that is representative and inclusive of all residents as instrumental in ensuring that our work in education, economic mobility, and health is focused on shared community priorities. Although United Way’s work in education, income, and health has often implicitly addressed inequity, primarily by focusing resources on historically marginalized populations, creating more equitable communities was not an explicit strategic goal. Within United Way, our institutional focus has traditionally centered on increasing diversity and inclusive practices rather than creating more equitable organizations.
The present-day reality in the United States is that historical, persistent patterns of structural and institutional discrimination and implicit bias based on race/ethnicity, gender, and other identities have created lasting inequities and pose ongoing barriers to enabling all to live the “good life.” United Way recognizes that improving the lives of everyone in the communities we serve means we must explicitly focus on removing these barriers for those most harmed by them. This includes addressing systems, policies, practices, belief systems, and attitudes that have often served to privilege some and disenfranchise others. It is only through an intentional focus on removing these barriers that we can aspire to create the conditions that allow everyone the opportunity to thrive.
“The present day reality in the United States is that historical, persistent patterns of structural and institutional discrimination and implicit bias based on race/ethnicity, gender and other identities have created lasting inequities and pose ongoing barrier to enabling all to live the “good life.”
Modern Day United Way
The Modern United Way represents how our network must evolve in response to fundamental shifts related to technology, globalization, the workplace, and increasing racial and ethnic diversity in the U.S. The Modern United Way articulates the set of critical organizational practices and mindsets necessary to ensure United Ways maintain their relevance, delivers community impact and generates revenue. Modeling diversity, equity and inclusion is a priority, overarching critical success factor in the Modern United Way. United Way recognizes that it is important to embody the principle of equity in our internal organizational practices. United Way can effectively deliver on our mission only by intentionally advancing equity inside our organizations and out in the community by creating an environment where all people feel supported, listened to, and empowered.
Equity is also an underlying principle in all of the other critical success factors included in the Modern United Way. This emphasis reflects the understanding that a focus on equity in all aspects of our work is essential to the continued relevance of United Way as a partner of choice to address the most critical pressing issues within and across communities in the United States. Focusing on equity, by intentionally addressing racial and other disparities will ensure that United Ways can more effectively fight for the health, education, and economic mobility of every person in every community. In practice, this means a Modern United Way engages community residents, particularly those who have been historically marginalized, to identify and understand persistent, systemic inequities and to create impact solutions that help advance inclusive growth and opportunity for all.
"Equity is also an underlying principle in all of the other critical success factors included in the Modern United Way. This emphasis reflects the understanding that a focus on equity in all aspects of our work is essential to the continued relevance of United Way as a partner of choice to address the most critical pressing issues within and across communities in the United States."
United Way's Impact work focuses on advancing education, economic mobility, and health as a means of ensuring that community residents can live a “good life.” Our common approach has been to engage sectors to work together to come up with holistic, integrated solutions that reflect the complexity of how the issues of education, economic mobility, and health interact to shape individual lives and community conditions. At the national level, United Way has established 2028 Goals in education, economic mobility, and health intended for local customization, to help frame the priority issues of greatest concern and center community engagement as a way to help address these challenges.
Specific goals and related strategies advanced by individual United Ways reflect local needs, priorities, capacity, and public will. Whatever the specific community impact priorities, equity has often been an embedded principle in how many United Ways have approached their impact work. This is especially true in relation to the process of developing impact priorities.
COLLECT AND ANALYZE DIVERSE DATA
At the outset of refining or developing priority issues United Ways usually collect and analyze diverse data. For many United Ways, this includes collecting disaggregated data that shows the prevalence and scope of an issue (e.g. access to nutritious foods, reading proficiency, employment) and its impact on community residents based on SES, race/ethnicity, gender, or other identities. United Ways that are intentionally analyzing the data to identify gaps (especially those borne out of historic and systemic patterns of discrimination), to understand what entities are already addressing the issue (including community-based nonprofits that might already be serving traditionally under-served residents), and to consider how different constituents might have a vested interest in working on the issue, are already employing an equity lens.
"Understanding that equity is already implicit in our existing approach to community impact gives United Way a solid foundation on which to deepen and strengthen equity as a process and an outcome. Equity then becomes part of the DNA of who we are and how we work with communities to create positive change."
LISTEN TO COMMUNITY RESIDENTS
While aggregated data helps United Ways understand the scope of an issue, listening to community residents presents an opportunity to understand how those issues play out in the lives of specific individuals. United Ways that intentionally engage the voices of historically marginalized community residents, who might be deeply impacted by issues but left out of decision-making, are integrating equity in the process of developing an impact agenda.
IDENTIFY PRIORITY ISSUES
United Ways take the information gathered (data and input from community residents, donors, and organizations) to identify priority issues. What United Ways prioritize is most often a reflection of multiple factors including, what donors and community residents care about and will devote resources to, United Way leadership commitment and organizational capacity (ability to fundraise to support), and what your United Way can make a meaningful difference on. United Way’s priorities are a signal to community residents and other constituents about what matters most. United Ways whose priorities (and related strategies) reflect, at least in part, the intent to close persistent gaps and disparities, to ensure a more equitable distribution of opportunities and resources, and who employ strategies that go beyond direct services to address the root causes of inequality are embedding equity in the work.
The case for intentionally focusing on equity becomes clear when we examine the persistent disparities present in every aspect of social and economic well-being in the United States. Although disparities and inequities exist based on multiple dimensions, including race/ethnicity, gender, ability status, and income – the data show that the most enduring, pervasive, and intractable disparities are those based on historical patterns of structural and institutional oppression and discrimination based on race. Many current disparities in economic mobility, education, and health owe their origins to intentional policies and practices, undergirded by a belief system of inequality.
A FEW KEY DATA POINTS TO HELP ILLUSTRATE THE CASE:
The ability of Americans to improve themselves and their families’ economic condition, in other words, to access the American dream, is highly correlated with racism and patterns of discrimination, that constrain opportunities and limit choices for some and create privilege for others.
The net worth of the average white household in the United States is 13 times that of the average African American family. Given that a home is typically a family’s greatest single asset and accounts for a significant portion of overall wealth, the legacy of discrimination in housing and lending in the U.S. are major contributors to this disparity.
21 percent of African Americans and 18 percent of Hispanic Americans live below the poverty line, in contrast to 10 percent of white and Asian Americans.
Median household income is $87,194 for Asian Americans and for $70,642 for whites in contrast to $41,361 for African American and $51,450 for Hispanic households.
EDUCATIONAL ACHIEVEMENT AND ATTAINMENT
At every key milestone, from cradle to career, significant gaps persist and remain strongly correlated with race. On average, white and Asian Americans have greater access to educational resources (e.g. early childhood programs, quality K-12 schools, enrichment opportunities) and experience stronger outcomes (reading proficiency, high school, and college graduation) than their American Indian, African American, and Hispanic counterparts:
18 percent of African American, 19 percent of American Indian, and 23 of Hispanic 4th grade students are proficient or above in reading, in contrast to 45 percent of white and 57 percent of Asian American 4th grade students.
18 percent of African American, 13 percent of Hispanic, and 30 percent of American Indian youth, ages 16-24 are neither in school or working, in contrast to 7 percent Asian Americans and 9 percent of white youth. Although numbers have improved over time for Hispanic youth, disconnection rates have worsened for African American youth.
68 percent of Asian Americans and 54 percent of whites have some form of post-secondary degree; in contrast only 33 percent of African Americans, 27 percent of Hispanics and 27 percent of American Indians have attained the same level of education.
HEALTHCARE ACCESS AND OUTCOMES
Gaps in access to quality healthcare and disparities in health outcomes also correlate with historical and current unequal treatment based on race. African Americans and Hispanics are more likely to experience chronic health conditions, to live in communities that are unhealthy, and to lack adequate health insurance. These gaps have their origins, in part, to patterns of access to health services that are correlated with place of residence, a lack of affordability, and patterns of differential treatment of patients based on race, resulting in a legacy of distrust of the medical profession.
11 percent of African Americans and 16 percent of Hispanics are uninsured, in contrast to 6 percent of whites and 7 percent of Asian Americans.
Although obesity is a widespread issue in the U.S., with 4 in 10 American adults considered obese, significant disparities exist: 47 percent of African Americans and Hispanics are considered obese; in contrast to 38 percent of whites and 13 percent of Asian Americans.
African American mothers are 3.3 times, and American Indian mothers 2.5 times more likely than white mothers to die from pregnancy-related complications. Children born to African American and American Indian mothers are also significantly more likely to die before their 1st birthday than those born to white, Hispanic or Asian American mothers.
Place matters as well. The legacy of discrimination in housing and mortgage lending practices has created communities where the extent to which individuals can access a good education, quality healthcare services, and proximity to well-paying jobs is often highly correlated with race. These realities reinforce and amplify each other. Individuals who are more educated are more likely to live healthier lives and earn a sustainable income. The inverse is also true in that individuals who lack access to quality education, are less likely to earn a living wage and to afford and/or have access to high-quality healthcare.
Understanding the systemic causes that contribute to current disparities also illustrates why United Way’s holistic approach, to fight for the education, health, and economic mobility of everyone is made more powerful by applying an equity lens. When we have a better understanding of the underlying causes of disparities, we can implement strategies explicitly designed to address them.
THE EQUITY CHALLENGE – A SELF-GUIDED LEARNING JOURNEY
Food Solutions New England developed the Equity Challenge, United Way of Washtenaw County successfully implemented the challenge, engaging over 5,000 participants in January this year. Now United Ways statewide plan to implement an Equity Challenge. The Equity Challenge is an interactive digital resource for individuals to take it upon themselves to deepen their understanding of, and willingness to confront racism.
What happens during the Challenge?
For 21 days, participants receive an email “prompt” with a short reading, video or audio file. Participants are encouraged to take about ten to fifteen minutes each day with the material in the prompt, though extra resources are provided in case they want to dig further into the day’s topic.
What types of topics do the daily prompts cover?
- Personal Racial Identity
- Personal Reflection & Implicit Bias
- What is Privilege?
- What is White Fragility?
- Trauma to Healing
- Levels of Racism
- Opportunity in Michigan
- Segregation in Michigan
- Housing Affordability & Homelessness
- Healthcare & Health Outcomes
- Environmental Justice
- The Wealth Gap & Financial Stability
- Early Childhood
- Education & School-aged Children
- Adverse Childhood Experiences
- Equity & the LGBTQI+ Community
- Building a Race Equity Culture
- Being an Ally
- Tools for the Racial Equity Change Process
- Final Reflections
- Take Action in Your Community
Financial Hardship In Black Households
Poverty and racism have been inextricably connected since this country’s inception, yet official federal statistics have never fully portrayed the economic impact of that link. United For ALICE was founded on the need to more accurately measure and track financial hardship nationwide. For more than a decade, our research has been shedding light on the disparity of economic opportunity that exists in every community, in every state. The data show that while hardship is pervasive, the history of slavery and its ongoing legacy of systemic and institutional racism stigmatizes Black households uniquely. In every state, our research unequivocally documents the persistent and widening disparities in income and wealth between Black households and households of other races and ethnicities.
United For ALICE data show that more than 40% of American households do not earn enough to cover basic expenses, including housing, child care, food, transportation, health care, and a basic smartphone plan. This is a structural economic problem; wages are not keeping pace with increases in the cost of living. But for Black households, those numbers are far higher. Our analysis of the real cost of living in every U.S. county shows that 60% of Black households are unable to afford basic household essentials in their communities. This is three times the rate of hardship shown for Black households by the antiquated and arbitrary Federal Poverty Level (FPL). And it is nearly double the rate of hardship for White households.
KNOW THE FACTS
United For ALICE will continue to provide the data needed to recognize and upend racial barriers to financial stability and reform institutional bias. The coronavirus pandemic has thrown our broad, systemic failures of economic and racial justice into even sharper relief; going back to pre-COVID-19 norms will not produce a sustainable or growing economy. By more accurately identifying needs, the ALICE measures can guide better policies and practices to help families and communities thrive. We know that:
- Racial and ethnic disparities in hardship are growing, not shrinking. From 2010 to 2018 — which covers the “recovery” from the Great Recession — the number of Black households below the ALICE Threshold (the minimum income needed to afford household basics) increased by 12%, while the number of White households struggling to make ends meet barely changed, increasing only 2%.
- Black families continue to have persistently lower wages, fewer educational and job opportunities, poorer health, and lower life expectancy. Structural racism and discrimination continue to restrict job opportunities and wage levels for Black workers. Even when controlling for age, gender, education, and region, Black workers are paid 16% less than White workers (up from 10% in 2000). This disparity directly impacts the quality of life for Black households and communities. Black families remain disproportionately likely to live in substandard housing in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty — those with few grocery stores, banks, parks, or recreation facilities, with inadequate health care and under-resourced public schools, and with high levels of violence and exposure to environmental hazards.
- Black households continue to be less able to accumulate and pass on wealth. Like disparities in income disparities in wealth and assets persist for Black households. Unable to save, many Black families do not have the means to build assets, let alone catch up to those who have been building assets for generations. The discrimination that these families face in areas from hiring to housing to lending when compounded, creates an even bigger wealth gap.
- Black households are at greater risk from COVID-19. Black people are contracting COVID-19 at higher rates and dying at higher rates than their White counterparts. These disparities are being fed by multiple factors — including more Black workers in “essential” jobs that require on-site, frontline presence with a higher risk of exposure, and historically poorer access to quality health care for Black communities.