A recent study by the Pew Research Center came out with staggering numbers that lent evidence to those crying out for higher wages and wealth equality. Taking into account income, investments, retirement plans, pensions, etc. as of 2013, a white household's wealth was nearly 13 times higher than a minority household's — and that gap is growing! To put this in more tangible terms: From 2010 to 2013, the median wealth of white households increased from $138,600 to $141,900, or increased by 2.4 percent. Meanwhile, the median wealth of black households fell 33.7 percent, from $16,600 in 2010 to $11,000 in 2013. These are numbers I might expect to see in Third World countries, but not in the world's most thriving democracy. When put into the larger societal context, it's no surprise that racial tension exists in midst of this tumultuous economic conditions.
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What can we do to help close the wealth gap and create equal financial opportunities for minority Americans? We can focus on fair capitalism while investing in improving educational opportunities for our lower-income citizens. Providing free admission to trade schools and community colleges in order to build a more educated workforce is a great way to bridge that gap. With increased education comes more access to middle- and upper-management jobs, which can encourage investment and retirement savings for struggling minorities. A Tennessee initiative (Drive to 55) offers free education to all resident adults at any of its 27 state institutions. This is having positive impacts on the Tennessee economy and even presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders has recently proposed a bill titled The College for All Act in an effort to make free education a nation-wide phenomenon.
Capitalism is the only solution to our wealth inequalities in America. Fair and just practices of capitalism while maintaining principles of social empowerment don't happen by chance, half-measures or handouts. The byproducts of fair capitalism are competition, accountability and opportunity. Unfortunately, some of our nation's entitlement programs are not allies to capitalism. The problems with many of our welfare programs, which are aimed to assist much of our lower-income citizens, is not the program itself, but rather the lack of capitalistic ideals within them.
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Receiving public assistance should be a safety net that helps people get back on their feet — not a lifestyle. Welfare-recipient programs should include and mandate educational programs and job training. If anyone fails to comply with these government-funded programs, then they should lose some or all of their entitlement. These ideals may come across as a bit harsh, but tax money should be used to empower people if they are physically and mentally able to work. This is accountability. Once this is accomplished, it would hopefully directly lead to people becoming more competitive in the workplace.
As long as such a disproportionate number of our minorities are living in poverty, we will continue to see the inequality that provokes acts of discrimination and racism. If we really want to reach a post-racism America, we need to start closing this wealth gap and using fair capitalist ideals to focus on opportunities for EVERY American. This takes a solution based approach that may require states, municipalities, and local governments to redefine their history and design creative solutions.
Commentary by Jack Brewer, a former NFL safety who played for the Vikings, Giants, Eagles and Cardinals. He is also the founder and CEO of the Brewer Group. He has a master's degree in sports management from the University of Minnesota. He serves as an ambassador for peace and sport for the United States Federation of Middle East Peace at the United Nations. Follow him on Twitter @JackBrewerBSI.