Wally Adeyemo at CNBC’s Delivering Alpha, September 28, 2022.
Scott Mill | CNBC
Wally Adeyemo is the Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury Department.
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s final speech was delivered in Memphis in support of sanitation workers who are striking for safer working conditions and better pay. dr Recognizing that economic opportunity is inseparable from civil rights, King had come to Memphis as part of his broader campaign of the poor for economic justice. His approach was rooted in the belief that ending racial inequality was impossible without economic justice and that racism stunted economic growth for all.
As we approach both the second anniversary of America’s $1.9 trillion rescue plan on Saturday — and the 55th anniversary of Dr. King – it’s worth considering why economic justice is so central to President Joe Biden’s economic strategy. It is part of an economic agenda that Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has called “modern supply-side economics” – expanding our country’s economic capacity by investing in its human capital, labor supply, public infrastructure and sustainability – particularly in underserved communities.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks to reporters in an auditorium on the White House campus in Washington, United States, September 2, 2022, following an event to discuss his investments in the American Rescue Plan in regional communities.
Jonathan Ernest | Reuters
The Biden-Harris administration has spent the past two years making just these types of investments. The historic gains our economy has made over the past two years support our economic strategy to unlock the untapped potential of marginalized Americans to build an economy that works for all.
When President Biden took office, our country faced its greatest economic challenge in generations. One of our main goals was to prevent economic damage. This is the long-term, lasting economic damage from shocks such as job losses or evictions that prevent people and households from fully recovering. Ultimately, it also slows down overall growth, as those affected are prevented from realizing their potential.
This started with policies like the Advance Child Tax Credit, which offered monthly payments to families as part of the bailout plan and helped lift 3.5 million children out of poverty. Additionally, eviction prevention measures such as the Emergency Rental Assistance program, which provides rent payment assistance to families at risk of eviction, have helped prevent more than 1.3 million evictions during the pandemic.
Last year I met a woman named Diamond who lost her job – and nearly lost her home – due to the pandemic. Instead, federal funds to prevent evictions kept a roof over her head, allowed her to enroll in training for a new career, and helped keep her daughter in the same school. That support did more than just prevent the worst-case outcome — it helped open new opportunities for Diamond and her daughter.
Expanding our workforce is another area where efforts to support communities of color and other underserved communities help unlock economic gains for all Americans. Today, employers across a wide range of industries are reporting that they are struggling with labor shortages. We have already made great strides in getting more workers into the labor market. But still, allowing more Americans in communities of color and rural areas access to strong job opportunities would benefit the entire US economy, both by addressing labor shortages and expanding our economic capacity.
President Biden’s policies have attempted to address this challenge head-on. Last year I visited Orlando, Florida, where the mayor took me to a tour of a workforce training center funded by the President’s American Rescue Plan. And last month I attended Spelman College, a historically black college in Atlanta that will receive new Satcher grants that will create opportunities to enter the cybersecurity field at HBCUs and institutions that serve minorities and help create a Fill gap of more than 700,000 cybersecurity vacancies across the country.
Finally, the Biden administration is building the physical and digital infrastructure needed for all Americans to participate and compete in the 21st century economy. There’s no better example of this than the more than $75 billion we’re dedicated to bringing reliable, high-speed Internet to all Americans. Expanding access to high-speed internet will be the electrification of the 21st century, bringing opportunities to regions that have long faced barriers to full economic participation.
The benefits of these efforts will be especially great in underserved communities. In densely populated urban areas, black households are twice as likely to lack high-speed Internet as white households. And across the country, at least 17% of rural Americans don’t have access to fixed broadband, compared to 1% of Americans in urban areas. The investments we are making will finally close that gap and ensure that all Americans have the Internet access needed to thrive and compete in today’s economy.
For too long, racism and discrimination have limited the ability of underserved communities to fully contribute to our social and economic progress. It is worth remembering that in Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech wasn’t just about civil rights; it was delivered as part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which explicitly recognized the link between economic and racial equality. The only way Dr. Making King’s dream a reality is to continue our work to build an economy that works for everyone.
Martin Luther King speaks during the March On Washington at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC, where he delivered his 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech.
Central Press | Getty Images