At Banking Hearing Warren Questions Fed Chair Powell on Racial Disparities in COVID-19 Economic Recovery
"The minute jobs start recovering for white Americans, we can't just say the problem is over"; "Inequality is not something that happens on its own. It's a result of policy choices: who we decide to help and whose pain matters"
Washington, DC - In a Senate Banking Committee hearing today, United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) pressed Chairman Powell on the economic crisis that has devastated millions of families and small businesses across the country and the serious racial gaps in how well Americans are doing.
Warren stressed that we cannot cut off help for people out of work -- like Senate Republicans are eager to do -- when we still have more than 20 million people out of work and the unemployment rate is still going up for Black Americans.
The full transcript and video of her exchange with the hearing witnesses is available below.
Tuesday, June 16, 2020
U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs
SENATOR WARREN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you Chairman Powell for being here with us today. We're facing an economic crisis that has devastated millions of families and small businesses across this country. Two weeks ago, many people celebrated the latest job numbers, which showed a dip in the overall unemployment rate. But we're not going to be able to build a successful recovery if we don't understand the scope of the problem, so I wanted to dig into the numbers just a little bit today. Chairman Powell, are jobs coming back at the same rate for both Black and white Americans?
CHAIRMAN POWELL: Are they coming back at the same rate. No, actually. I think the answer the -- to that is no. I'd want to check that but I believe that the Black unemployment rate did not come down as much as the white unemployment rate.
EW: In fact, Chairman Powell, you might to look at --
EW: I was going to say, as I understand it, white unemployment fell to 12.4 percent while Black unemployment actually rose to 16.8 percent. Is that right Mr. Chairman?
CP: You know, the tenths numbers -- I would have known that the day after the report but --
EW: But, but --
CP: Yes, in principle --
EW: We're right on the direction -- that is it came down for white Americans and it went up, slightly, for Black Americans.
CP: That is correct, in the May report.
EW: Yep. So, back in March, Congress passed a temporary expansion of the unemployment insurance program. Now we're only a few weeks out from that help just running out. Some people in Congress want to let that help expire. They're saying, "Mission Accomplished." So Mr. Chairman, you noted that the unemployment rate is higher for Black Americans and now we've just said it's actually increasing. If Congress lets unemployment insurance benefits expire, which families are going to find it hardest to pay their bills, to make rent, or to afford groceries?
CP: Well, the unemployed, which consist of -- people have lost their jobs -- lately here are -- minorities are well over represented in that group, as are women.
EW: So let me just ask Mr. Chairman. This crisis has been hard on millions and millions of Americans, and I know you've been thinking a lot about this issue, so I just want to ask you directly: Is it accurate to say that our economy is healthy when there are serious racial gaps in how Americans are doing?
CP: I think that's a longer run weakness in our economy. But -- you know, even when our economy is healthy, we have longer run issues and that is one that has been with us for a very long time.
EW: So I take it you would describe this as not a healthy economy?
CP: That is -- that is not a healthy feature of our economy. Now or ever.
EW: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate your focusing on this issue. This crisis has hit communities of color the hardest: they have faced the biggest decline in employment, and they have faced the largest proportion of deaths from COVID-19. The minute jobs start recovering for white Americans, we can't just say that the problem is fixed and start cutting off help for people out of work. Senate Republicans are eager to help let -- are eager to let this help expire - when we still have more than 20 million people out of work and the unemployment rate is still going up for Black Americans. Inequality is not something that happens on its own. It is the result of policy choices: who we decide to help and whose pain matters. Congress can help those who need it most by reauthorizing expanded unemployment-and by doing it now. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate you being here today.
CP: Thank you.
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