By Orson Aguilar
It’s encouraging to see presidential candidates of both parties talking about economic inequality, but they’re missing something important. To fix America’s economy, they must address the huge economic disparities between racial and ethnic groups.
For every dollar of wealth a white family has, the median Asian family has about 81 cents, the median Latino family has 7 cents and the median black family has less than 6 cents. And that comparatively strong overall figure for Asian-Americans masks pockets of severe poverty, particularly among Southeast Asian immigrant communities.
These gaps are not coincidental. They stem from policies such as redlining (officially supported by the U.S. government in the past), environmental racism and disinvestment that suppressed wealth and property values in communities of color. The racial wealth gap didn’t happen accidentally and won’t be fixed without a conscious, determined effort, but so far the candidates have shown little understanding.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, for example, has made the “gap between the very rich and everyone else” a centerpiece of his campaign. Yet his website page addressing income and wealth inequality doesn’t even mention the racial wealth gap. His proposed solutions, from raising the minimum wage to free public higher education, can help, but don’t address the specific issues of disinvestment in communities of color and the myriad racially skewed policies that stifle entire communities.
Similarly, Hillary Clinton’s economic proposals include lots of language about supporting working people and promoting small business and job training, but fail to address the specific issues underlying the racial wealth gap.
Republican candidates are also discussing economic disparities. Jeb Bush has talked about an “opportunity gap,” and Donald Trump takes an occasional break from bashing immigrants to call the special tax breaks for hedge fund managers “a total and complete joke.” But they’ve addressed the underlying racial chasm even less than the Democrats, who at least mention it now and then.
We need answers from our leaders. For example, The New York Times recently reported that redlining, theoretically banned decades ago, is back, and keeping African-Americans from getting mortgages. Candidates should be asked what they will do to stop this, and what their plan is for enforcing and strengthening the Community Reinvestment Act to ensure that banks don’t neglect low-income communities.
The Dodd-Frank financial reform act created Offices of Minority and Women Inclusion in the federal agencies that regulate banking. In doing this, Congress sought to ensure that the financial system respects the needs of the communities of color that were exploited during the bubble. Candidates should be asked their proposals to make certain the promise of these offices is fulfilled.
The racial wealth gap ultimately hurts our whole economy. Presidential candidates from all parties should say clearly what they will do about it.