For far too long, ZIP codes have had the power to shape people’s access to opportunity, upward mobility, and even how long they live. This fundamental injustice—birthed from generations of spatially distributed structural racism—has only become more apparent and devastating amid today’s public health, economic, and police violence crises.

As communities of color contract and die from COVID-19 at higher rates, experience disproportionate job and income losses, see their small businesses close without sufficient support, and face ongoing police violence, we are witnessing a new inflection point against the systematic disinvestment of communities. Many are demanding to know: Is this the time we’ll actually do something about it?

This paper argues that without economic recovery in communities facing disproportionate structural harm, there can be no real recovery at all. For our cities, regions, and nation as a whole to emerge stronger from this crisis, we must not only address the symptoms of disinvestment that COVID-19 has magnified, but holistically tackle their systemic root causes through locally empowering community investment.

To this end, we provide guidance for community, city, and regional leaders to work across multiple levels of governance and policy domains—bridging community, economic, and workforce development efforts, among others—to advance community-led recovery strategies that address persistent structural inequities and expand community wealth and opportunity over the long term.

Steps to advance community-led economic recovery in places confronting structural inequities:

  1. Target the historical and current structural injustices attached to place.
  2. Value, invest in, and build upon places’ assets, strengths, and local capacity.
  3. Work across multiple levels of governance to connect people with local, citywide, and regional economic opportunity.
  4. Tackle the interconnectedness of places’ challenges with holistic solutions.
  5. Advance a long-term theory of change.

Read the full article about community-led economic recovery by Hanna Love, Tunua Thrash-Ntuk, and Jennifer S. Vey at Brookings.