This year, as the importance of Juneteenth is finally being more widely recognized, its commemoration has taken on increased significance and poignancy. The disparate impact of COVID-19 on Black and Brown communities and the most recent incidents of police brutality have laid bare the structural inequities and racism that persist in our country, prompting a national cry for social justice from a broader swath of society.
Prudential was founded on the principle of equity—that financial security should be within reach for everyone. And yet, we haven’t always been on the right side of history with Black consumers. Examining our past revealed business practices as a legacy company that we are not proud of, including practices that negatively impacted Black Americans and other under-served communities.
We know we have much important work to do and are prepared to be judged by our actions. It is important not only to publicly own that history—and apologize for it—but most crucially to work aggressively to close the enduring racial wealth gap that our practices further widened.
Our philosophy was forged in the crucible of our hometown and headquarters, Newark, New Jersey, after the civil unrest in 1967, while we chose to stay in the city when others fled. We recognized that systemic issues require systemic change. This ethos has informed our policies and practices, and how we show up for our customers and neighbors across the country and world ever since.
We are moving forward with our focus on building pathways for Black Americans to achieve financial security with even greater urgency. Our efforts include:
- Advocacy for paid family leave. Prudential, which has long provided paid leave programs to its employees, has been a champion of a permanent, comprehensive, national solution for providing paid family and medical leave since 2017. According to a Pew Research Center report from that year, more than 69% of people don’t take off work because they cannot afford to lose those wages. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that when more than half of U.S. workers cannot afford to stay home when they’re sick, it puts all Americans’ health and financial stability at risk, and we continue our advocacy of this essential policy.
- Building awareness and participation in workplace retirement plans. Employer-sponsored retirement savings plans are the bedrock of the U.S. private retirement system. Small businesses account for 99.7% of all of the employer firms in the U.S. and employ large numbers of people of color, but they haven’t been able to easily offer this benefit to their workers. For over a decade, Prudential advocated for increased access to retirement plans for small business workers through open Multiple Employer Plans, or MEPs. The groundbreaking SECURE Act legislation, passed in 2019, brought this important benefit to life.
- Removing systemic barriers to asset-building. To ensure that our hometown communities have access to wealth-building opportunities, in January 2018 Prudential came together with local nonprofits, government officials and other corporations to create the Newark Asset Building Coalition to offer tax preparation help, financial coaching, assistance for first-time homebuyers and other wealth-building programs for all Newarkers.
- Innovating to offer emergency savings programs. We have a long history of supporting organizations that develop innovative ways to help financially fragile populations lay the foundation for economic health. Prudential has supported the nonprofit organization Prosperity Now since 2013, and in 2018 together we launched an after-tax, payroll-contributed in-plan savings feature that offers employees of our defined contribution plan clients a new way to save for retirement but still have access to their money in case of an emergency, which thousands of people are putting to use.
- Addressing systemic barriers. Our $40 million in annual grants, in addition to our $1 billion impact and responsible investing portfolio, are squarely focused on equity issues such as education, affordable housing and financial inclusion. This includes $7.7 million in contributions currently invested in organizations that are tackling racial justice issues specifically, such as criminal justice reform and narrative change. This month, Prudential committed additional support totaling $1.25 million to The Equal Justice Initiative, Center for Policing Equity, BMe Community and Race Forward.
- Partnering with faith-based organizations to deliver financial education. Since 2014, Prudential has partnered with dfree to deliver financial seminars to church-affiliated participants in the Black community. The seminars start with financial management skills around debt and credit use, and lead to planning for creating savings and wealth. dfree is led by Dr. Reverend DeForest B. Soaries Jr. and has reached more than 30,000 community members through its programming, events and curriculum.
Our public voice on these topics is not new. The Prudential-funded documentary “Legacy Lives On” premiered on June 19, 2019, examining the historic societal and economic injustices that have influenced today’s financial realities for the Black community.
Juneteenth is a day to celebrate emancipation. It is also a day to reflect on what freedom really means. In today’s reality, we have to ask not just what we can each do to be part of the solution, but what is the most we can do? There are hopeful signs that, as a nation, we are finally coming to terms with the thinking, traditions and institutions that have, intentionally or unconsciously, kept Black Americans from fully and equitably sharing in America’s promise of freedom. We must all take the necessary steps to create a more just and equitable world.