Treasury Secretary Yellen: The Economy ‘Has Never Worked Fairly for Black Americans’

Policy

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen answers questions during the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing to examine the FY22 budget request for the Treasury Department on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., June 23, 2021. (Greg Nash/Pool via Reuters)

On the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr. Day today, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen declared that the U.S. economy has “never worked fairly for Black Americans” and that there’s still vast racial wealth disparity.

Referencing King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech in her own remarks before the National Action Network, Yellen said: “Like many people, I use this holiday to reacquaint myself with that remarkable speech and was interested to see that Dr. King uses a financial metaphor in a key passage.”

“When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence,” King said in 1963, they were signing a “promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.”

“It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned,” he added then. “Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked insufficient funds. But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.”

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The Treasury secretary suggested that the same discrimination and injustices that King fought to dismantle still persist today and are the cause of current economic inequity between minorities and white Americans.

“From Reconstruction to Jim Crow to the present day, our economy has never worked fairly for black Americans,” she said. Yellen then touted the advancements the Biden administration has made to “change that.” The Treasury department completed its first equity review recently, she said, which surveyed the department and asked, “Where are our operations not as inclusive as they should be?”

She noted that the administration recruited the “most diverse team” in the department’s history and “hired the department’s first ever counselor on racial equity.”

Noting that the pandemic response disproportionately handicapped people of color, Yellen said the administration developed relief policy, such as the Covid American Rescue Plan, “with equity in mind.”

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