2022 Explanatory Reporting, Small Newsroom finalist

The Wealth Vortex

About the Project

The United States’ civil-rights laws of the 1960s banned racial discrimination. But the country has never redressed the severe economic impacts of the century of legal discrimination that came before, let alone the slavery before that.

Meanwhile, the gap in wealth between Black and white Americans keeps growing.

That’s the backdrop of our Wealth Vortex project. In a longform story and a five-episode podcast, the latter in partnership with Transmitter Media, the Center for Public Integrity followed the efforts of Iowa entrepreneur ReShonda Young to address that gap in her hometown. She’s trying to open the only Black-owned bank in her state — and the first in the country in more than 20 years.

A bank can do only so much, even one founded with a mission to confront wealth inequities. But the more immediate challenge she faces is raising the money to get it started in the first place.

You need a lot for a new bank. If you’re aiming for majority Black ownership, the wealth gap will fight back every step of the way.

Other elements in the project included stories about equity efforts in Young’s hometown, the long fight to get data on small-business lending, the continuing impacts of redlining and the recommendations we heard about ways to reduce the wealth gap; drone footage showing the present-day differences between a redlined neighborhood and a “greenlined” one; and a pop-up newsletter with behind-the-scenes details.

As a whole, the project invites people to consider: What can one individual do about the wealth gap? What can an entire country do?