Decreasing the wealth gap

Eugene Scott

WASHINGTON — Most presidential candidates understand that to win black voters, they need to address the prevalence of racism in America. Nearly nine in 10 — 89 percent — of black Americans say that racial discrimination against black Americans is a serious problem, according to a 2018 NBC News/Survey Monkey poll.

But racism isn’t just about words and mistreatment, it’s about policy — and for many who study race, decades, centuries even, of policy decisions are partly responsible for the wealth gap between black Americans and white Americans. The Washington Post’s Tracy Jan previously wrote about how the median net worth of white Americans remains nearly 10 times that of black Americans.

But several Democratic candidates laid out plans this past weekend to bring black Americans and white Americans closer to equity economically at the Black Economic Alliance’s Presidential Candidates Forum.

Former representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas, Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Cory Booker of New Jersey, and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Peter Buttigieg answered questions about how they would address some of the economic issues plaguing black communities most. Here’s a look at some of their ideas:

O’Rourke spoke about his plan to sign into law the Paycheck Fairness Act in response to data that shows that people of color are paid less on average than white Americans for the same job.

“It would stop discrimination in the workplace by allowing employees to be able to share salary, income and wage information without being punished for doing so,” he said. “It would stop using past history as a basis for future salary going forward.”

“Only then do you get African American women from 61 cents to 100 cents on the dollar,” O’Rourke added.

Warren explained what she is calling for the Economic Patriotism Plan to help more black Americans become entrepreneurs.

“You need access to capital. This is something the United States government should be able to provide. I have a plan to set aside $7 billion to be there for equity investments for black and other minority-owned business,” she said. “It would support about 100,000 black and other minority-owned businesses to get them up and started and create about 1 million jobs across the country. That’s a win-win for everyone.”

Buttigieg discussed examining ways that people of color are discriminated against in the credit industry that limits their ability to get the loans needed to start businesses.

“We know that there are a lot of issues with the way that credit scoring and credit assessments are done right now,” he said. “I’m very worried, living in an era where more and more of this is going to be done by algorithms and big data, that we’re going to automate inequality.

“We need to look wholesale at how things likes access to credit and scoring of credit work to break down racial bias,” he added.

Booker addressed the racial wealth gap and how he’d combat that by helping make college more affordable with his “baby bonds.”

“Data shows that a child just knowing they have an interest-bearing account there for them increases college attendance rates threefold,” he said. “The baby bonds legislation that I have puts $1,000 into a savings account for every child born in America.”

“By the time that you’re 18, if you are (among) the lowest-income Americans, you actually would have up to $50,000 to put towards training, to put towards college or buying a home — the things that we know, the data shows, create generational wealth.”

Eugene Scott writes about identity politics for The Fix. He was previously a breaking news reporter at CNN Politics. © 2019 Washington Post.

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