Are Black American entrepreneurs able to get the loans they need to grow their businesses? How does education affect the financial success of Black Americans? Are Black Americans promoted at their jobs, or are they stuck at levels that are, objectively speaking, less than worthy of their skills?
The answers to these and other questions could lead to bridging the yawning wealth gap between Black and white Americans, according to Bloomberg Philanthropies. That’s why the organization is betting on data, data and more data.
The group, spearheaded by billionaire data mogul and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, announced Thursday a multimillion-dollar investment to launch the Black Wealth Data Center, which aims to be a one-stop shop for all the information that philanthropists, business leaders and policymakers need to best allocate resources to address inequities. The data center will be “hosted and incubated” by Washington, D.C.-based racial justice organization Prosperity Now, a 40-year-old nonprofit known for its eponymous scorecard on household financial health and racial economic inequality.
Bloomberg Philanthropies is making the investment through its Greenwood Initiative, which aims to help Black people and institutions earn, keep and bequeath more wealth. The effort was named after the Greenwood neighborhood in Tulsa, Okla., also known as Black Wall Street, that was all but wiped out by murderous white supremacists in 1921.
Data sets relevant to Black wealth exist today, but they’re often disparate, outdated, incomplete or just difficult to access and understand, said Garnesha Ezediaro, who leads The Greenwood Initiative.
“The gap that we were experiencing … is one that many nonprofits, policymakers, practitioners and people in city halls face,” Ezediaro told Forbes. “They don’t have an evidence base to work from around what would actually impact this issue. If you look at climate or gender equity, the use of data has been transformative for movement-building as well as decision-making. And we believe racial wealth equity should be the same.”
Black families have a fraction of the wealth of white households, with 13 cents for every dollar held by whites.
Forbes estimates Michael Bloomberg’s net worth at $76.8 billion. The 2020 presidential candidate has given away $12.7 billion over his lifetime, according to his foundation, including $250 million over two years through The Greenwood Initiative.
The Greenwood Initiative declined to disclose the exact funding for the data platform, but said it’s in the millions of dollars and will only grow. Its role will entail helping grow the platform and providing funding and connections, such as introducing it to mayors across the country.
Prosperity Now CEO and President Gary Cunnningham said the data platform alone won’t address the racial wealth gap, but can serve as a foundation. For example, he said, only about 3% of Black-owned businesses generate more than $1 million in annual revenue. That data can help decision makers investigate the factors that inhibit revenue growth, such as access to loans, and develop solutions from there.
Cunningham said his goal is for the platform to help fuel a Black wealth movement. “You can’t build an economic renaissance on a deficit of data,” he told Forbes.
Cassandra Newby-Alexander, founder and senior scholar at the Center for African American Public Policy at Norfolk State University, said good data can broaden policymakers’ perspectives and inform their choices. But she said it’s going to be important for the organization to get feedback on how people are using it or would like to use it.
“If the people who will be using the data don’t tell you what they’re looking for, or if what you’re providing isn’t useful to them, those are things you really need to know,” she said. “And you need to know as soon as possible.”