As Black History Month comes to an end, we must take stock of the progress we’ve made as a country on civil rights and justice for all, but also reflect on the hard work still ahead to reach that lofty goal of true equality for all.
This true equality means equality of opportunity and true economic empowerment for all Americans.
While our economy has made significant strides towards full recovery from the depths of the Great Recession, many communities across our country are still struggling. Communities of color have been hurt disproportionately and still have not felt the full benefits of our economic recovery.
Although the national unemployment rate has fallen all the way to 4.8 percent from a high of 10 percent during the recent Great Recession, it remains persistently high among African-Americans. The African American unemployment rate, which reached 16.8 percent during the Great Recession, is still at 7.7 percent. As the Joint Economic Committee reported earlier this month, the median black family’s net worth still has not recovered to its pre-recession high — reached more than a dozen years ago in 2004.
We made steady progress as nation by working through Congress and with African American community leaders in building opportunity and wealth in the decade-plus before the recession. But this progress has stalled, and the wealth gap between black and white families continues to widen.
While housing prices have recovered across the country, many predominantly black communities have been left behind, with family finances still reeling from underwater mortgages and retirement savings completely spent.
We must address these persistent disparities in wealth and opportunity, so that we can act to ensure economic stability for all working families.
Rather than loose talk about urban communities, these problems demand real solutions. However, many of the policies put forth by the Trump Administration and Congressional Republicans would only increase inequality and threaten our economic progress.
Congress needs to take action and make real investments in our country’s future. We should expand the value of Pell Grants, which 64 percent of black students rely on to afford a college education; we should make real investments in mass transit projects that unlock opportunity by connecting people with good-paying jobs; and we should invest in broadband expansion that allows all Americans, no matter their zip code, to access affordable high speed internet and in turn, a world of information.
Real solutions also demand we reject proposals that would send our country backward, like repealing the Affordable Care Act. Reckless repeal of this law, without a plan to adequately replace it, jeopardizes the health coverage of nearly 3.5 million African-Americans and would almost double the uninsured rate.
As we close out Black History Month, we must not forget the real and present disparities still present in our society that prevent us from reaching true equality. It is up to us to tear down these barriers and invest in all of our people so that we may all strive for better and realize our personal American dreams.