“Five Streams of Income”
22 September 2011
So much of my colleagues’ work on urban development emphasizes the prevalence of poverty, unemployment, and crime in American cities after 1960. These histories emphasize the lost opportunities of the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements. Despite the election of unparalleled numbers of African American local and state leaders between 1965 and 1985, cities like Philadelphia and municipalities like Norristown struggled to grow their economies as thousands of businesses and residents nationwide rejected the federal government’s commitment to racial integration. Worse, the community action programs that grew out of the War on Poverty never moved beyond the citizenship and employment education strategies to teach wealth creation and management for immigrants and African Americans who needed this knowledge most.
Reverend Leon Sullivan attempted to develop an infrastructure for black capitalism in partnership with President Richard Nixon’s administration between 1970 and 1973. The products of this collaboration were the local Opportunity Industrialization Centers. These organizations, especially in suburban communities like Coatesville, West Chester, and Norristown, provided crucial interventions to encourage the completion of high school, college enrollment, and job training. However, the lessons of entrepreneurship and corporate management received less attention. As Michael Katz, Michael Stern, and Jamie Fader showed in their 2005 research, “The New African American Inequality,” the failures of the national effort to open opportunities to people of all races led to a black middle class that relied on public employment. Few corporations matched the records of county offices and the American military in hiring and promoting people according to a true meritocracy. As a result, the racial integration of American politics that produced the election of Barack Obama in 2008 ran afoul of the persistent racial segregation within American banks and corporations that sustained historic levels of unemployment in 2011.
In the largest cities and suburban boroughs across the United States, it is past time that we educated our citizens about producing greater wealth. No household in these communities should have fewer than five streams of income. My students this semester have begun to study the ways that they can become less reliant on the money they earn and more effective with the money they invest. They understand that having a full-time job is just the first step in the process of wealth creation. A part-time job, rental real estate, short-term investments, and long-term investments are essential in pursuit of the American dream of financial freedom. Further, these new enterprises in places like Norristown must target regional and global markets. Imagine if the Municipal Council designated renter and residential enterprise zones that seized on our history as a destination for immigrants throughout the twentieth century. Norristown’s celebration of its Italian, Latino, Polish, and Irish traditions make it a global community. It could inspire the entire region by embracing its European and Pan-African heritage through tourism businesses based on local historic sites connected to the Founding Fathers, the Underground Railroad, and the Industrial Revolution. Encouraging local families – renters, landlords, homeowners, and business owners – to create and manage new ventures based on local strengths and appealing to global markets is the key to the revitalization of American democracy we need right now. Let’s get going.