With more than 23 million disproportionately black and brown workers unemployed and public health data showing African Americans, Latinx, and Native Americans with COVID-19 infection and death rates two to five times higher than white Americans, it’s clear that our history of racial inequality in the U.S. is still very much a part of our present.
If the disproportionate racial impact of the pandemic continues unabated, we can expect dramatically larger racial disparities in income, wealth, and health: that is, if policymakers do not take appropriate action now.
While many have received some relief through the recovery packages passed by Congress so far, the implementation of these packages has had the unfortunate effect of privileging whites over people of color and the wealthy over everyone else.
For example, the IRS had to figure out a process after the fact of getting stimulus checks to those who did not file income taxes in 2018 or 2019 because the CARES Act overlooked these disproportionately black and brown households whose incomes were lower than the threshold amount required to file taxes.
Similarly, the federal Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loan for small businesses included in the CARES Act did not consider how to provide relief for small businesses that do not have traditional mainstream banking relationships; an approach that excluded the vast majority of businesses owned by people of color.
People of color—whether as business owners, essential workers, or consumers—contribute greatly to the economic productivity of our nation. Our food production and service industries rely heavily on people of color. Latino-owned small businesses employ more than three million people and add $500 billion to the US economy; 20% of African Americans are employed by black-owned businesses. If these sectors and businesses are restored and strengthened, the micro-and macro-economic effects will have multiplier effects on our nation’s economic recovery.
Congress and the White House should work to secure the economic future of these groups by using the 3 + 5 approach: incorporating three overarching values and five essential actions within subsequent stimulus bills and beyond.
Inclusion is the first value that must be front and center. COVID19 demonstrated that we are all connected so we must lift all boats. The second value is equity. Universal policies should include targeted strategies that address the needs of people of color. The final value is fairness. People who have been historically denied must not continue to be overlooked.
Using these values as operating principles, policymakers in Washington must then take five crucial steps, three short-term, and two long-term.
- Protect health. Since African Americans, Native Americans, and Latinos are most at risk of contracting and dying from the virus, these groups must be priority recipients of needed personal protective equipment, testing, tracing, and healthcare supports that facilitate ease of access.
- Protect income. Automatic payments to all workers regardless of immigration or previous incarceration status, hazard pay to essential workers, and unemployment benefits for all who have lost jobs including single proprietorships will enable families to color to survive the crisis. Income protection also means providing federal funds to state and local governments and to the U.S. Postal Service, both important sources of good jobs for people of color.
- Protect wealth. Families of color have not yet recovered from the financial strain caused by the housing market collapse—in which they were targeted for unsustainable and irresponsible mortgage products—and the 2008 Great Recession. A moratorium on home foreclosures and adding any principal and interest owed to the back end of a mortgage payment plan would stop the bleeding. A small business loan program that puts money directly in the hands of minority-owned businesses and those businesses without traditional banking relationships would help save the critical small business sector.
The final two steps require longer-term policy changes.
- Promote health security. Future health crises can be prevented by re-building our public health system and implementing a truly universal and affordable national health insurance program that provides culturally appropriate and quality care for urban, rural, and tribal communities.
- Promote economic security. Ensure that all families have income and realistic opportunities to build assets so that they are better able to weather future economic storms. A progressive basic income program that is in addition to and not a replacement for an expanded Social Security program, is a viable approach. A federal job guarantee could include a vastly expanded AmeriCorps program for youth and jobs for adults that address a range of public needs. And, asset-building policies like a Baby Bond program that allows children to accumulate assets with interest over time, are doable.
Our nation will be majority-minority within 25 years. It is in the interest of all Americans to embrace a federal investment strategy that prioritizes inclusion, equity, and fairness. The time to begin that strategy is now.
The authors of this article, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, MA, Ph.D., Meizhu Lui, and Jim Carr are members of the Experts of Color Network, a national collective of more than 200 experts from the nonprofit, academic, corporate, and government sectors working to close the racial wealth gap.