Opinion | The Commissioner’s Report: It’s a white Christmas after all
How the economic stress of the holiday season can be exacerbated by racial and economic inequalities
By Tara Yang
‘Tis the season of giving. It’s the time of year where companies provide bonuses to employees, families gather and exchange gifts and people enjoy a hot meal in a cozy home with their loved ones.
All of these holiday traditions might be exciting for the average anglo family, but for many families of color, the holidays are distressing. Stress levels are exacerbated due to the holiday expenses that come with the expectation of “giving” combined with existing accrued debt.
While an annual bonus may help alleviate a portion of the holiday costs, it is not a sustainable solution to the present economic inequality.
Economic inequality is the unequal distribution of income and opportunity between different groups in society. This gap widens with racial lines, contributing to a racial wealth gap.
The racial wealth gap refers to the disparity in assets of typical households across race and ethnicity. Centuries of institutional and systemic racism are the root causes for large disparities in income, housing, education, health and opportunity. All of these are factors in lifetime wealth earning potential.
Studies have shown that Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) are paid a lower income rate than their white colleagues. In some cases, they are segregated into jobs that are typically low-paying (where wages haven’t budged in decades) and have more obstacles hindering them from reaching senior-executive roles. And if a person of color is associated with numerous disadvantaged groups—such as being a woman or being disabled—the career ladder is even tougher to climb.
Women of color experience a higher rate of microaggressions in the workplace, have their expertise questioned often and are expected to demonstrate a higher level of competence compared to their white colleagues.
A low-income wage sets a family up for failure in other aspects of life and can contribute as an obstacle to their wealth building. A typical person can lose their job and still be able to have their basic needs met because they are protected by their wealth. However, because of the historical oppression, many BIPOC people do not have inherited wealth like their fellow white counterparts and may instead have generational debts.
If BIPOC communities have generational debts, it decreases their potential to own assets such as houses. Currently, the communities affected the most by the housing crisis are the marginalized communities of color. The high housing costs and limited affordable housing are burdens to low-income families of color especially those with children. If the majority of the household income is used to pay for a basic human need such as having a roof over their heads, it limits funds to spend on enrichment activities for the developmental growth of children.
Housing unaffordability also leads to problems with housing quality and instability, which can have detrimental effects on children’s mental and physical health.
Some might argue that a family can increase the household earning potential by attaining more education to develop its store of human capital. However, BIPOC families face serious education and career obstacles in the form of poor quality schools, workplace discrimination, career selection and a lack of professional mentors and role models to assist in their guidance.
All of these sectors of disparities and obstacles are tied together. If one fails, the others go down with it and widen the racial wealth gap. However, if one thrives then there is potential for success in the other parts.
If we want to improve the quality of life for everyone in our community we have to start by taking accountability, reviewing company behaviors and culture, and implementing supportive policies not only at local levels but also state-wide.
While many get to celebrate their bonus checks in their cozy houses most likely filled with warmth, a Christmas tree and presents, there are families who don’t have that same opportunity because of the color of their skin and the systemic barriers they continue to face.
So, as a City Commissioner, I kindly ask you to be an ally and help advocate for those whose voices have been oppressed and start having tough conversations about inclusion and equality with policy-making leaders in your community.
Tara Yang was born and raised in Green Bay and attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has previously written with The Badger Herald, a student newspaper in Madison. Additionally, she has worked in business development for minority-owned small businesses. She is working to transition her family’s 16-year-old Asian specialty grocery store into second-generation ownership. Tara currently serves as the Chair for Green Bay’s Equal Rights Commission and as a Vice Chair of the Economic Development Authority Committee.
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