Racial Equity and Economic Development

Economic development tools can promote racial equity and other forms of social justice. But too often they merely enrich large, wealthy corporations and politically connected individuals. That’s because subsidies disproportionately benefit large corporations, and because most corporate shares are held by wealthy white people.

These injustices are revealed in multiple ways in our work when we apply a racial equity lens to economic development. Our studies, for instance, document how school districts comprised of low-income students of color lose the most to corporate tax breaks and how subsidies fund suburban sprawl that moves jobs out of communities of color. 

Addressing these problems, we have for more than 20 years been proposing policy reforms to reverse these harms and drive reinvestment to communities most harmed by previous exclusionary practices.

In 2023, we started publishing a series of quarterly records focused on “Race and Economic Development.” We’ve reported on how the 50 biggest subsidy packages have gone to companies led by white men; how reforms to a notorious Louisiana corporate welfare program led to $112 million being returned to schools in Cancer Alley (a region with high populations of Black and brown students); how some of Michigan’s biggest polluters get huge tax breaks that especially impact poor, racially segregated communities; and how private state economic development boards are comprised of people who don’t look like the communities they serve.

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