As National Black Business Month comes to a close, many cities are still grappling with the inequalities facing Black business owners. Among them is the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia. Though the city has policies intended to promote equity, more than $560 million in local government contracts for public works, professional services, supplies, and equipment were awarded to white non-Hispanic men in fiscal year 2021.
According to The Philadelphia Tribune, those numbers account for nearly 80% of all such funding.
The remaining 20% of the contracts were split among three other demographics: women, minorities, and disabled businesses. With major contracting projects around the city, the disappointing discrepancies in who benefits from them stem from a controversial ruling by the United States Supreme Court. In 1989, the highest court in the nation struck down ordinances that would set aside a percentage of government contracts for minority-owned businesses. They argued that general assertions of racial discrimination could not solely be used to justify equality initiatives and that there should be ‘strong evidence’ of disparity in order to prove that special allowances should be made. “At that point, the idea was in order to effectively establish goals that were going to stand up in court,” Matlock Turner, CEO of the Urban Affairs Coalition, said. “So if 30% of the electricians in Philadelphia were people of color, you could establish that as a goal because it’s based on real data. So that’s how we ultimately were able to create a legal system in Philadelphia.”
Even with legality cleared and proper ordinances in place, minority-owned businesses still lag significantly behind their white counterparts in the city. After years of systemic inequality, advocates suggest that the gap between the different demographics isn’t close. “If you haven’t afforded the people a chance to work on $200,000 or $300,000 projects and think they’re magically going to be capable of doing $2 billion — it’s illogical,” Carlos Jones, executive project manager for economic development projects at the Urban Affairs Coalition said. “You have to build a pathway for success.”
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