Creating Economic Prosperity for All
America's economy is at a critical juncture
By Marla Bilonick
We can all agree that America's economy is at a critical juncture. While our country is heading in the right direction, Latinos who were hit especially hard during and post-pandemic face increased economic uncertainty. Only by supporting a more resilient economic outlook for Latinos and immigrants - a critical economic engine for the U.S. - can we ensure a thriving economy for the country as a whole.
As the head of the National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders (NALCAB), I aim to make sure we are helping Latinos exercise economic agency over their lives. Economic equity and opportunity are essential components of social and racial justice. Latinos contribute so much to the American economy - in areas such as consumer buying power, entrepreneurship, workforce participation, and homeownership, to name a few - but there is a significant opportunity gap that limits our ability to prosper fully and thrive. To fix this problem, we must increase economic parity, access to capital, and investment in our nation's Latino communities and businesses. The fight to create more opportunity for Latinos and our country is at the core of what we do at NALCAB.
NALCAB is a network of nearly 200 nonprofit organizations dedicated to growing wealth among U.S. Latinos. Our focus is on helping close the racial and ethnic wealth gap, and our members do that through various innovative and culturally-relevant interventions that build assets and advance economic mobility for diverse Latino populations.
These assets we are building include homes that can appreciate and passed down to future generations; businesses that are being launched and expanded; creating jobs, and developing financial investments and security. By building such assets that can set future generations up for success, we are taking a pivotal step toward closing our country's racial and ethnic wealth gap.
NALCAB has engaged in our work because of institutional and systemic racism in our financial services, housing, and community development for hundreds of years. We are working towards more significant equity by supporting existing and creating more Latino-led Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs).
CDFIs are financial institutions that serve disadvantaged communities with little or no access to traditional banking. There are currently around 1400 CDFIs operating in the U.S., of which less than 100 are Latino-led and Latino-serving. This stark imbalance in representation and cultural competence provides an opportunity to serve Latino families, business owners, and communities.
In 2020, the HOPE Policy Institute conducted a study on racial disparities in CDFI fund awardees. Over 14 years, among CDFI Fund awardees, white-led CDFIs had a median asset size 2.5 times larger than minority-led CDFIs. This asset and capital gap gains gap persists, and minority-led CDFIs face more challenges in gaining access to philanthropic and bank funding than their white counterparts.
As a US Treasury-certified CDFI intermediary with a network with over 50 current CDFI members, NALCAB recognizes that CDFI certification is a "seal of approval" that opens the door for organizations to receive and deploy funding from the Treasury's CDFI Fund, private foundations, and other federal sources. In turn, our member network's Latino and immigrant communities will benefit from new and additional capital flowing into their neighborhoods.
Our latest initiative, the National Alliance of Latino CDFI Executives (NALCE), is a cross-collaborative initiative that unites and amplifies the voices of Latino-led CDFIs and drives capital towards these groups to benefit Latino and other underserved communities further. NALCE will establish a space for Latino CDFI leaders from the U.S. to address challenges and resolve issues facing their local communities and the national CDFI lending landscape.
Our work to grow the number of Latino CDFIs in this country is just part of our work to create more significant economic opportunities for Latinos. NALCAB is also at the table demanding that the government collect better data to protect minority entrepreneurs from discrimination. We are fighting to ensure Congress robustly funds the federal programs that support our communities with resources like housing counseling, entrepreneurial development, financial coaching, and much more.
We are at the table with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau discussing the financial needs of immigrants and how the government can support them. We also meet regularly with the Small Business Administration about lending programs designed to meet the capital needs of underserved entrepreneurs and with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on how best to get their programs and resources into our communities. In addition, our CEO is the first Latinx Chair of the CDFI Fund's Community Development Advisory Board and only the second female Chair in the Board's 27-year history.
The NALCAB network actively invests in Latino communities by providing training, resources, and tools individuals need to prosper and thrive. We know that the more options we create for Latinos, the greater the distribution of wealth will be for all.
While we have certainly seen improvements, there is still much work for our community and America to reach their full economic potential. We need measurable actions, not just platitudes. We need significant changes in public policy, collecting complete and transparent banking data, increasing access to capital for traditionally underbanked groups, and investment, both federal and private, directly into the Latino and immigrant communities that need it most. Our actions today will affect the recovery and resilience of our country's economy for years to come.
Marla Bilonick is President & CEO, NALCAB.