The impact of the recent economic downturn has had a profound effect on the U.S. and global economy. While the troubles plaguing our economy have been devastating to Americans of all walks of life, the devastation is not even. The brunt of unemployment, layoffs, social service and education budget cuts, foreclosures, and bankruptcies will be borne by groups already marginalized or undervalued by the mainstream economy: people of color, women, manufacturing employees, rural residents, people with disabilities, and the like. For example, United for a Fair Economy found that although the U.S. has been in a recession for more than a year, people of color have been in a recession for nearly five years, and have entered a depression during the current economic crisis. Between 2000 and 2007, median black family incomes dropped 1.0% for all families—the overall decline is the first in a business cycle of this length since WWII. African American homeownership gains were reversed after 2004; they have reverted to 2000 levels.
As we rebuild the economy, we have to do it in a way that is consistent with American values, and that is open and fair to all populations, so that no group is limited by the plan’s design or effect. Policy makers must recognize that “universal” policies fail to acknowledge how people are differently situated. In fact, treating people who are situated differently as if they were equally able to access the benefits of “universal” policies can lead to greater inequities. In contrast to a universal approach, we advocate a “targeted universal” approach in which the needs of the particular are uplifted while recognizing that we are all part of the same social fabric. Targeted universal policies are inclusive, yet they are sensitive to the reality that the labor market and other aspects of our lives are unevenly segmented. A targeted approach takes everyone’s situated unevenness into consideration, as well as the condition of the most marginalized.