The U.S. Treasury took key steps over the past year to address longstanding economic injustices facing Americans of color, but still has “much more work” ahead to narrow the racial wealth divide, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on Monday.
Yellen told a meeting hosted by Rev. Al Sharpton and his National Action Network rights group that Treasury was working to right economic wrongs called out by slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr in his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963.
“He knew that economic injustice was bound up in the larger injustice he fought against. From Reconstruction, to Jim Crow, to the present day, our economy has never worked fairly for Black Americans – or, really, for any American of color,” Yellen said at a breakfast in King’s honor.
Jim Crow refers to laws put in place in southern states in the decades after the 1861-65 U.S. Civil War to legalize racial segregation and disenfranchise Black citizens.
Over the past year, she said, Treasury completed its first equity review, hired its most diverse leadership team ever, and named its first counselor on racial equity, while building a COVID-19 rescue plan to better serve communities of color.
In addition, Treasury also pumped $9 billion into Community Development Financial Institutions and Minority Depository Institutions, while trying to get corporations more engaged in those institutions and underserved communities.
“Of course, no one program and no one administration can make good on the hopes and aspirations that Dr. King had for our country,” Yellen said. “There is still much more work Treasury needs to do to narrow the racial wealth divide.”
Federal Reserve data shows white households owned 85.5 percent of the wealth of the United States in 2019, although they comprised 60 percent of the population, while Black households owned 4.2 percent and Latino households owned 3.1 percent. Those numbers are little changed from 30 years ago, according to USAFacts.org, a non-partisan non-profit organization.