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The Institute for Economic Equity’s Work and Its New Director

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

By Daniel Paul Davis, Vice President and Community Affairs Officer

Other members of the Institute for Economic Equity team contributed to this blog post.

Earlier this year, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis launched the Institute for Economic Equity. The Bank formed the Institute with the understanding that economic well-being—as shown through indicators such as housing security, wealth, income, access to education and health, among others—varies by race, ethnicity, gender and geography. One’s generation also influences these outcomes.

Among other goals, the Institute seeks to identify disparities that make it difficult for historically marginalized communities to participate in and derive benefit from the economy. The Institute also is examining how low- to moderate-income (LMI), low wealth or systemically disenfranchised individuals and communities interact with today’s economy.

We understand that these groups’ economic experiences, which result from historical policies, practices and societal norms, make it harder to thrive. This means that if the U.S. is to reduce gaps in economic well-being, we as a country must provide the needed resources and opportunities to affected individuals, their families and their communities.

Inaugural Leadership and Future Work

William Rodgers III

William M. Rodgers III, inaugural director of the St. Louis Fed’s Institute for Economic Equity

During the summer, the Bank concluded its national search for the Institute’s inaugural director and hired William M. Rodgers III as vice president and director. Bill, who has a doctorate in economics from Harvard University, brings almost 30 years of experience as a scholar, practitioner and policymaker. Before joining the Fed, he served as professor of public policy and chief economist at the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.

Bill is leading the Institute’s staff through its first strategic planning process. Some of Bill’s plans are to convene public meetings for dialogues with thought leaders, researchers and policymakers, and to offer regular commentary, such as that in his Aug. 6 interview on Yahoo Finance, on important Eighth Federal Reserve District and national economic indicators, particularly those that impact equity.

The Institute’s first major release under his leadership is a Labor Day 2021 Message. In it, the Institute will discuss how U.S. workers and their families are faring today compared with last year’s Labor Day, a time when the nation was deep in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and the public was demanding greater diversity, equity and inclusion in all aspects of American life. (Read the message on our On the Economy blog.)

Staff are committed to listening and learning from leaders and residents throughout the St. Louis Fed’s District. Virtual and, in time, in-person conversations are planned to enable residents to get to know the Institute’s staff and new director and to inform and shape the Institute’s District research and community development efforts.

Institute Members’ Backgrounds and Recent Work

Through its research and community development activities, the Institute is committed to sharing its knowledge and expertise to inform how decision-makers and the public in the Eighth District and beyond advance equitable outcomes. (See box.) Many of these efforts represent a continuation of the outstanding knowledge that the Center for Household Financial Stability generated.

Promoting an Economy That Works for All

The mission of the Institute for Economic Equity is to inform decision-making on advancing equitable outcomes. In the six months since its launch, staff at the Institute for Economic Equity have shared their knowledge and expertise through a variety of outlets.

Senior Advisor Ray Boshara, in partnership with the Aspen Institute, has edited a forthcoming comprehensive volume on the future of building wealth.

The research of Senior Researcher Ana Hernández Kent and Data Scientist Lowell Ricketts continues to receive widespread attention. Their findings on racial wealth inequality, millennials’ lack of wealth and the diminishing returns from college have been featured in major media outlets including CNBC, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

Several of our colleagues are monitoring the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on our cities and towns in the Eighth District and across the nation.

Earlier in the year, Director of Community-Based Policy & Analysis Nishesh Chalise and Lead Analyst Violeta Gutkowski shared their knowledge about barriers and opportunities for communities, as well as the impediments to economic recovery.

Community Development Advisor Faith Weekly has discussed how important the eviction moratorium has been for providing housing stability during the pandemic. She pointed out that since the recovery had yet to fully gain footing in many low- to moderate-income (LMI) communities, there could be an upward spike in homelessness if the moratorium was not extended.

Our Community Development Advisor in Workforce Development Samantha Evans continues to highlight and share observations of the pandemic impact on the child care sector and on working parents with young children.

Before joining the Fed, Bill served in many public capacities, including as chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor from 2000 to 2001. He also served on the U.S. Board of United Way Worldwide.

Bill is no stranger to the Fed. Most recently, he served as a visiting scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, where he extended his recent work on racial inequality. Before that, he played a key role in the development of the United Way of Northern New Jersey’s A.L.I.C.E. (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) concept, which gives community leaders the ability to develop narratives that describe the challenges that LMI households face.

Just before coming to the Institute, he co-authored a study on the mental health challenges that individuals are facing during the pandemic. For several decades, he has studied the contribution of macroeconomic policies and conditions to racial equity, including editing with Robert Cherry the book “Prosperity For All? The Economic Boom and African Americans,” which was published in 2000.

“My personal mission is to empower people and communities with economic thought and analysis,” Bill said in a press release when he joined the Bank. “The opportunity to serve as the Institute’s inaugural director allows me to continue this work with an outstanding team, not only in the Eighth District but across the Federal Reserve System.”

Daniel Davis 

Daniel Paul Davis is vice president of community development and community affairs officer at the St. Louis Fed.

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