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The Illusion of Inclusion: America’s Economic Impediment

The Illusion of Inclusion: America’s Economic Impediment

The Illusion of Inclusion: America’s Economic Impediment

By Mike Green
Dec. 4, 2013

America has a black president. That’s certainly a step toward inclusion, right?

Today, one of the most recognizable names in the nation is Oprah, who stands among a handful of women in the network of America’s wealthiest elite. Power couples like Jay-Z and Beyonce, and Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, have influence beyond their race. Wealthy black celebrities are abundant in both entertainment and sports.

Even in the technology space, John Thompson excelled and stood alone at the start of the 21st century as the sole black man at the helm of a major U.S. tech company (Symantec). Thompson ultimately grew the company into a global giant worth $6B before merging it with Veritas in a deal worth $11B. For a graduate of an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) to achieve so much as a leader in the global tech space, and sit on the board of Microsoft, that would strongly suggest to many that there’s merit in the perception that we live in a post-racial society with significant (if not equal) opportunity for all.

The Civil Rights Movement appears to have unlocked the bolted doors to economic opportunity. Today, fame and fortune seems to be spreading across the multicultural fruited plains of America, accessible to those who get a solid education, work hard and follow the rules.

Or so it seems.


The perception of economic inclusion, especially for those who a hostile nation targeted for many generations, is an impediment to upward mobility today.

Some people in positions of power perceive the landscape as a level playing field. They tend to explain away the growing economic problems by categorically stereotyping people who remain disconnected from economic opportunity with broad brushes that dismiss the need for investment in inclusive economic frameworks, which were never created under the economic systems of the 20th century. This important point cannot be overstated: America has failed to invest in establishing an educational and economic infrastructure that provides strong upward mobility and access to opportunity for its low-income citizens, and in particular talented entrepreneurs.

The lack of infrastructure and access to resources for those seeking to escape low-income environments have led to severe economic apartheid that is uniformly affecting both Black and Hispanic communities and the talented innovators within who strive to develop successful startup enterprises and become the job creators the nation desperately needs.


One of the underlying problems impeding positive change is a widespread disconnection of minority communities across the nation with local innovation ecosystems, where reaching regional economic competitiveness goals requires investment in growing local talent. Why are so many of us, from the poorest to the wealthiest, so disconnected from understanding how the economy works?

In a capitalist society, it seems unconscionable that our public education system, even our institutions of higher education, would graduate tens of millions of students who lack understanding of how the nation’s economic system works today, or how it evolved to its present state during the 20th century. Shouldn’t that be common knowledge within an education system that serves as a pipeline to productivity in a fast-paced, knowledge-based, tech-driven, globally competitive innovation economy?

Furthermore, it is troubling that most teachers, principals and school administrators don’t know, and therefore cannot teach students about today’s competitive innovation economy and equip them to successfully compete for economic opportunity in the 21st century.

But, the problem runs even deeper than the lack of economic knowledge across the education landscape. Most Americans, of all ages, backgrounds, race, creed and culture simply do not have a working knowledge of how America’s economic landscape is structured.


In order to address the serious economic problems our nation faces today, solutions must be derived from an understanding of the core problem: an illusion of inclusion. America needs more job creators, more risk-taking entrepreneurs, more risk-taking investors in startups, more tech-based economic development organizations establishing resources to include more Americans in the innovation economy. Inclusive competitiveness is a key catalyst to jumpstart the nation’s economic engine.

The uniform disconnection of minority communities from local innovation ecosystems across every urban region maintains a distance from knowledge, networks, access and opportunity, and cannot slow the growing gap between the haves and have-nots. Therefore, a real and urgent movement toward establishing economic INCLUSION frameworks is essential.

Through the evolution of America’s economy in the 20th century — from Agrarian to Industrial to Innovation — the illusion of inclusion has served as the perception of reality for most of the nation. This illusion, which set in shortly after the Civil Rights Movement and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968, has enabled the rocket-propelled Innovation Economy to exponentially expand the economic inequality across America in a very short period of time.


Here’s a short reality check on what economic inequality looks like today.



Some economists explain the extreme disparities shown in the video, “Wealth Inequality in America,” by pointing to the upward mobility quotient that suggests the data regarding the wealthy, middle-class and poor isn’t static. Instead, suggest some economists, there is a continual movement both up and down the income ladder, and that the chances of someone born poor in America and becoming wealthy within their lifetime is actually pretty good. Such a perception is yet another example of the illusion of inclusion.


Here’s the reality of the economic mobility rates in America, as presented by the foremost study of actual data collected on the potential for upward mobility in the United States: The Equality of Opportunity Project. Clicking on the link below will open a window to access an interactive map.


Map of Upward Mobility Rates in the United States (produced by The Equality of Opportunity Project)

Upward Mobility Rates in the United States (Produced by: The Equality of Opportunity Project)


Another illusion is the notion that extreme income disparities is the natural outcome of winners and losers in a competitive capitalist society. But a cursory history lesson of the recent Civil Rights Movement and the following last decades of the 20th century reveals the fallacy of such an idea.

Many disconnected populations today are still unable to overcome barriers, but the landscape of economic competitiveness is one made available through those privileged institutions and organizations able to gain access to it. The barriers to entry to such a field of competition are many. A focus on economic inclusion is key to developing access to opportunity for a multicultural nation with shifting demographics toward the growing disconnected sectors of society.


Investing in developing a landscape of Inclusive Competitiveness could bolster the nation’s overall economic competitiveness and produce more jobs. Johnathan Holifield, Esq, is the architect and visionary of the Inclusive Competitiveness framework. He is the only person in America holding the position of Vice President of Inclusive Competitiveness, a seat he holds at NorTech, a technology based economic development powerhouse in Cleveland, covering 21 counties in northeast Ohio. A recent international report, funded by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust focused on the economic issue of Inclusive Competitiveness and Mr. Holifield. See the full report here or below (particularly pgs 43, 56 and 97).


Today, I’m working with my colleagues and co-founders of The America21 Project, Johnathan Holifield, Esq., and Chad Womack, PhD (National Director of STEM Education at UNCF), along with a team of supporters to produce the America21 ScaleUp Innovation Conference in Washington DC in the spring of 2014. This conference, as a commitment to the Clinton Global Initiative, will feature best practices, create new collaborations and showcase ready-to-scale enterprises  across America that deserve investment. Through the lens of Innovation, inclusion and Impact, the conference will seek to discover better pathways through University R&D, Tech Transfer, Startup Enterprises, TBED/iBED initiatives, private equity investing and public-private partnerships that lead toward a 21st century America built upon an economic foundation of Inclusive Competitiveness.

If you’re interested in joining our effort, send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information.


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