Thank you, Jessica Fulton and Paul Thornell for your leadership. I’d like to congratulate my friend and former colleague Dr. Lisa Cook on receiving the Louis E. Martin award last night.
We know from both evidence and theory that opportunity, inclusion, and growth go hand in hand. As I have noted previously, “when there are large disparities in opportunity … such that households’ enterprise, exertion, and investments are not rewarded commensurately, then families and small businesses will invest less in the future and potential growth will fall short.”
Persistent barriers to opportunity prevent not only individuals but also our nation from achieving its full economic strength. That’s why the President’s economic plan is focused on improving economic opportunity and outcomes for all Americans – including Black Americans. President Biden is focused on communities who have long been left out or left behind by decades of trickle-down economics.
The President’s economic plan is focused on growing the economy from the middle out and the bottom up. It is a sharp departure from his predecessor’s reliance on trickle down policies that just led to greater concentration of incomes and wealth. Under President Biden’s economic plan, we are seeing some real markers of progress in improving economic outcomes for Black Americans and other communities that have often been left behind.
This is the result of deliberate policies designed to restore the labor market to full strength as rapidly as possible – in the face of loud criticism from many quarters that it would take high unemployment to bring inflation down. Instead, we are seeing sustained low unemployment and inflation at levels that prevailed before the Great Financial Crisis.
Under the President’s leadership the U.S. economy is delivering better labor conditions for the American people, including Black Americans. We have seen record low Black unemployment rates and record high prime age Black employment to population rates in recent months. The Black-White unemployment gap has declined relative to its pre-pandemic level. For Black Americans, real wages are up since before the pandemic.
Just this week we learned from the Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Finances that real median household net worth over the three years since the pandemic began recorded the largest gain in the history of the survey – with Black real median household net worth 60% above pre-pandemic levels. That compares to the 7% decline in real median Black household net worth between 2007 and 2019. The Black-White wealth gap, while persistently large, has also narrowed relative to its pre-pandemic level, after staying roughly constant over the prior business cycle.
These improvements reflect deliberate policy choices to take a fundamentally different approach to this recovery compared with previous recoveries where hardworking Americans lost years of economic progress and financial security – including hardworking black Americans.
Sustaining this progress into the future requires a long-term agenda to tackle longstanding barriers. There is more to do to continue to address those systemic barriers and improve economic opportunity for Black communities.
Today, I want highlight two core areas of work that are critical to the economic future of Black Communities: Breaking down barriers to wealth building and creating pathways to economic opportunity.
Expanding capital access and breaking down barriers to wealth building
The racial wealth gap is a stark reminder of decades of policy decisions to exclude and to put up barriers to building wealth for Black Americans. Nowhere is that clearer than in the area of redlining where there were maps that literally drew red lines around areas with high density of Black Americans deemed too risky to underwrite mortgages.
The ability to build intergenerational wealth depends on expanding access to housing, as well as entrepreneurship, and lessening the burden of consumer debt on families who are just trying to keep up and get ahead. Economic studies have shown that consumer debt keeps families from buying homes and starting small businesses, activities central to building wealth.
So, it is notable that since the President took office, we’ve seen the fastest creation rate for Black-owned small businesses in over 25 years.
In the most recent Survey of Consumer Finances, the number of black households with wealth from small businesses more than doubled since pre-pandemic.
So far, the Administration has provided a record-breaking $163 billion in federal procurement opportunities to small disadvantaged businesses.
On housing, the President’s programs have delivered nearly 11 million emergency rental assistance payments, and established a first-of-its-kind national eviction prevention infrastructure that kept eviction filings below pre-pandemic levels for one and a half years after the eviction moratorium ended.
The Administration is leveraging the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to encourage state and local land use and zoning reform to help remove barriers to affordable housing production and preservation.
Cancelling student debt is particularly important to Black communities as Black borrowers have more debt on average than White borrowers. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision, the President remains committed to fighting for relief. So far, he has cancelled over $117 billion in student debt for more than 3.4 million borrowers. The Administration is also working to lessen the burden of debt going forward. For example, the Department of Education recently launched a repayment plan to lower monthly payments for borrowers who will see their lifetime payments per dollar borrowed cut in half.
Building pathways to economic opportunity
The President often talks about fulfilling the promise of America, meaning no communities left out or left behind, not just in this recovery but in the long run. This means creating good-paying jobs that lead to career pathways, expanding access to affordable high-speed internet, and ensuring everyone is a part of building the industries of the future.
With the President’s historic investments through the CHIPS Act, Inflation Reduction Act, and Infrastructure Law, we are investing in critical industries and technologies vital to the clean energy transition and America’s economic competitiveness. And we are doing so in ways that create good jobs and lift up communities. This includes the EPA’s new grant program that is investing approximately $2 billion dollars in environmental and climate justice activities to benefit disadvantaged communities.
And, it includes closing the digital divide for Black families, with funding and a commitment to connect every person in America to reliable, affordable high-speed internet by 2030. Access to the internet is critical to finding a new job, accessing educational and training opportunities, and running a small business. The Commerce Department has allocated $3 billion in funding to connect unserved and underserved areas to the internet backbone and support digital equity efforts.
We are making investments with a particular emphasis on creating good-paying union jobs and building pathways for all communities to access those jobs. Across the Administration, we have prioritized funding applications with a commitment to strong community benefits agreements and created efforts to build industry, labor, and training partnerships for further access to good jobs.
Moreover, our Administration has focused on increasing access to good construction jobs for workers who are underrepresented in the industry, including Black workers. In March, the Department of Labor launched the Mega Construction Project (Megaproject) Program, initially designating 12 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law-funded projects across the country. The Megaprojects Program provides free, continuous, on-the-ground assistance to help construction project owners, contractors, and unions ensure equal employment opportunities for underrepresented workers. Also in March, the Department of Labor announced a $20 million cooperative agreement with TradesFutures for the Scaling Apprenticeship Readiness Across the Building Trades Initiative, in partnership with the National Urban League. This first-of-its-kind initiative aims to substantially increase the number of participants from underrepresented populations and underserved communities in Registered Apprenticeship programs in the construction industry.
Earlier this year, the President kicked off the Small Business Administration’s Annual Women’s Business Summit, introduced by a small business owner who exemplifies the Administration’s agenda at work. Natalie King is the founder of a small manufacturing company based in Detroit Michigan. As a Black-owned, women-owned small business leader in the electric charging space, Natalie spoke about the importance of demonstrating that EV charging is for everyone. She expects her company to bring 100 new jobs to the area by the end of 2023, and 100 more by the end of 2025 – in large part thanks to the investments this Administration is making through the Investing in America agenda.
We are seeing progress, but there is more work to be done. I look forward to working with all of you to grow the economy by breaking down barriers and creating economic opportunity.