The Boston metropolitan area is one of the richest in the country with a median household income over $82,000 but it also the 7th most unequal city in terms of income inequality, according to Mary Jo Bane of the Harvard Kennedy School and moderator of our panel, Poverty & Inequality: A Tale of Two Cities. “We need to build a city that is inclusive and good for both the rich and the poor,” she said.

Bane was joined by John F. Barros, Chief of Economic Development for the City of Boston, and Deborah Kincade Rambo, LICSW, President and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston for a conversation about inequalities in Boston and what we can do about it.

Much of the conversation focused on the inequities and income segregation across neighborhoods as well as the city’s housing crisis as contributing factors to the inequality in both income and wealth. Bane referenced a recent study that found that in Boston, a child’s zip code is a significant determinant of a child’s access to opportunity.

To demonstrate this point, Barros referenced a study conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston that found that in Boston, a white household’s median net worth is $247,000 whereas in an African American household, it is $8. “That wealth disparity follows families into the neighborhoods,” he said. “This is not just a problem of income inequality, but wealth disparities.” The conversation turned to a discussion about intergenerational poverty and an ongoing study that is finding that there are families in our city that have been poor since their families were freed from slavery.

Rambo made the point that one in seven children in Massachusetts are living in poverty and there is a $30,000-$35,000 wage gap between what families are earning and what they need to earn to make a living wage in Boston. She also made the point that part of the problem is the shrinking middle class – we’ve seen an increase in high-earning and low-earning jobs, but not for those in the middle and we also have a mismatch of the skills of those seeking jobs with the jobs that are available. This is where job training, and retraining, become important strategies in building a workforce for today’s economy.

Attendees also heard from Christine, a Boston resident who is experiencing poverty. Christine is a single mother of four, one of whom she adopted through the Department of Children and Families. Despite a master’s degree in social work, she has experienced job turmoil in an unstable labor market. Christine’s underemployment could not support her family but didn’t allow her to qualify for food and cash assistance benefits, plus high housing prices have forced her to move in with family members and are again threatening her housing stability. Christine bravely shared her story to demonstrate the dichotomy of experience and opportunity in the city and the challenges faced by those living in poverty.

So, what is the solution? The panelists discussed key strategies around workforce development and training, financial literacy, integrated neighborhoods, and access at an early age to quality education. They also discussed initiatives to support new housing that is 1/3 affordable, 1/3 working class (considered affordable for the middle class), and 1/3 market rate. These initiatives are intended to reduce the income segregation we see across neighborhoods and create more dynamic, mixed-income communities.

During the Q&A, audience members asked what they can do as individuals and business owners. The panelists suggested volunteering with organizations such as:

We encourage you to live the lessons learned from this discussion and put your faith into action. We all have a part to play in elevating consciousness about the injustices of the world and taking actions to ensure that all God’s people have equal access to a life of peace and prosperity.