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Groups in Atlanta take aim at income inequality

In this America Forward story, we look at the strategies different groups in Atlanta are using to attack the gap.
Groups in Atlanta take aim at income inequality
Posted at 5:46 PM, Sep 14, 2023

A drive through the streets of Atlanta reveals images of icons. But when we meet with Kweku Forstall, the image on his mind is of a blank field in a small neighborhood.

He's thinking of both the field and what took place there the night before we met.

"We had National Night Out on the James Bridges Field," Forstall said. "And children were playing, with each other, with their parents. That's what a community should be doing, not struggling to survive."

Over a three-day span, we spoke with Forstall in Atlanta's Pittsburgh neighborhood. Scripps News spoke with Hope Wollensack in the Old Fourth Ward area, and we spoke with Lauren Thomas Priest from the heart of downtown.

Each individual is using a different method to attack one of the city's most persistent issues.

In this city of icons, the gap between those with the most and those with the least is among America's widest. It's called income inequality, and nowhere in America is immune.

"We're talking about inequality that was created over generations, and it's going to take generations to fix," Priest said.

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Even in cities where income inequality is less extreme, the top 20% make roughly ten times as much as the bottom. This isn't new, but it's gotten worse every year. The people we interviewed believe solutions are obvious, and they're pursuing them in Atlanta.

Priest works for the Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta. Their data says one of the biggest hurdles toward wealth is debt. So they're forming a pilot to relieve tens of thousands of dollars of student debt from a handful of Atlantans.

Forstall runs the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Atlanta Civic Site. He oversees Pittsburgh Yards, a massive co-working and development space for Black entrepreneurs.

"One thing that's missing is real talk about the racial aspects of all of this," Forstall said. "That's because they need the extra support to level up to show what they can do to earn their way to prosperity just like everybody else."

Wollensack runs the Georgia Resiliency and Opportunity Fund. They're providing hundreds of monthly dollars in guaranteed income to hundreds of Black women in the Old Fourth Ward and beyond.

"We know that this works really well," Wollensack said. "There's a ton of evidence, but oftentimes evidence alone isn't sufficient to actually move the needle on public policy."

Often the needle stops at City Hall. There are efforts from leaders in Atlanta that take aim at income inequality. But equally as noteworthy are those from outside groups, sometimes with city help or involvement, working to dent an issue that has been a problem for so long.

It stems back to what Forstall saw that night on that field: Families thriving in a neighborhood, rebuilding. It's a future he sees from the solutions at play in this city of icons.

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