Economy League report focuses on structural racism and education

As the country was buckling under the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic, the widely broadcast killing of an unarmed Black man, George Floyd, by a white Minneapolis police officer along with Amy Cooper's threatening use of police force to confront Christian Cooper in Central Park added to a litany of events that precipitated renewed protests against police brutality across the nation.

While some protests remained peaceful, like those in Camden, New Jersey, peaceful protests in Philadelphia incited civil unrest and resulted in violent confrontations. It is not the first time that communities in Philadelphia have protested against racial injustice and police brutality, and the events of recent weeks are not isolated. Rather, they exist within the historical context of the intersection of race and economic opportunity – and for Black Americans and many other communities of color in the U.S, economic opportunity and mobility still remain out of reach.

To provide context and data to inform ongoing conversations about structural racism and illustrate how these enduring inequalities have shaped present-day neighborhood and civic relations in Philadelphia, the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia is launching a special Leading Indicator series called The Color of Inequality. The series will highlight measures of racial and ethnic inequality in the City of Philadelphia to contribute to ongoing conversations about racism and prejudice.


The landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education deemed the “separate but equal” system of racial segregation unconstitutional. Despite this momentous legal victory, most school districts in the United States have remained woefully segregated. In this week’s Color of Inequality, we provide some context for understanding unequal access to quality education and examine some of the lasting effects of this inequality in present-day communities across Philadelphia.

From neural development to social skills, a child’s early learning years set the foundation for future educational attainment. In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the importance of early learning has been highlighted by significant state investments in the form of Pre-K for PA. Previous research conducted by the Economy League has shown the far-reaching benefits of investing in early learning—from individual student outcomes to overall taxpayer savings.

Despite these investments, access to quality early childhood education is starkly unequal – often falling along racial lines. Private and public Pre-K or daycare tends to be readily accessible to wealthier Non-Hispanic White communities while many communities of color lack access or the financial resources to compete for space in better-quality early-learning facilities. In fact, assessments of early childhood reading and math abilities usually show large discrepancies along measures of socioeconomic status, race, and ethnicity that correlate to the differences in access – with wealthier Non-Hispanic White children showing more preparation for kindergarten than their Black and Brown classmates due primarily to disparate access and financial resources.

For the full report, go here.