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Economists call on Obama to deal with economic discrimination

11th February 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Hazel Trice Edney
Contributing Writer

( – A day-long summit to scrutinize the economic policies of the Obama administration has ended with clarion calls for the President to become more specific in dealing with racial discrimination that is causing economic and social injustices.

“As of last year, babies born in America are now majority children of color…This is really imperative and it’s a point that we need to really drive home to make more clear to policy makers,” said James H. Carr, a housing finance, banking and urban policy consultant with Opportunity Agenda, a New York City-based research center. “If we have a financial system—particularly housing finance—that can’t accommodate the fastest-growing ultimately majority population, can that be long-term healthy for the U.S. financial system? It certainly won’t be long-term healthy for wealth-growth and economic mobility in America.”

Carr was the luncheon keynote speaker for the nine-hour summit, sponsored by Howard University, February 1. It drew hundreds of economists, activists and public policy makers to the campus from around the country. Carr told the audience that the “single largest contributor to the racial wealth gap” is the home ownership rates of Latinos and African Americans in comparison to whites.

The home ownership rate for Latinos and African Americans is in the mid to low 40 percentile in comparison to Whites, which is around 75 percent, Carr said. He called it “silly” to argue that people of color have reached the bounds of homeownership. “There’s a lot more room for home ownership among our population and that’s where the wealth creator is.”

Throughout the day, expert panelists outlined statistics and struggled to present solutions. But, most resolved that just about every new answer presents a new problem.

“We have to make sure that when we pay for these new tax cuts that we voted for, that we do it in a rational and comprehensive way,” said U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), who serves on the House Committee on Education and Workforce. “The last thing we want to do is to cut Social Security, Medicare, or education—things like that—in order to provide for these tax cuts and not have any money left over for a jobs bill.”

The economic summit was the fourth in a series and the second at Howard during the Obama Administration. In his first term, the summit was held to specifically discuss jobs.

At times, the experts appeared to struggle to explain why the Obama administration is not more forthcoming on the issue of race and the part it plays in America’s economic pains.

“The administration seems to be following an indirect approach for assisting distressed members of the community,” said Rodney Green, an urban economics professor at Howard who also serves as executive director of the university’s Center for Urban Progress. “A more direct approach would seem appropriate,” he said. “Racial inequalities have deepened in the last decade. While incomes for African-Americans have fallen 10 percent, they have fallen only 1 percent for white families. Relative Black wealth has fallen even further.”

Howard professor of political science, Lorenzo Morris, predicted that the President will eventually come around on the specific issue of race, but, by then it may be too late to invoke policies to deal with it. “I certainly believe he will find his voice, but he won’t have a big stick to carry with it. It will just be a voice,” Morris said.

Perhaps the strongest outright criticism of the Obama administration came from economist Bernard E. Anderson, a professor emeritus at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.

“Let’s be clear about what we’re talking about here,” Anderson said. “We’re talking about an economic system that is shot through with institutional discrimination against Black people that denies them opportunity to participate fully in this economy. And until we attack that head on we are going to continue to have racial inequality.”

He continued, “That’s why I think we need to not let the President off the hook in his second term. Black people are smart. They gave him a pass in the first term because they knew that if he ever raised the question of race in the first term he would never have a hope of being re-elected. I like to be candid about this. I’m unusually frank about this. He is not going to run again for anything. He does not deserve a pass anymore. Let him not only find his voice, but summon his courage and use his political capital to address racial inequality. He owes that to the African-American community.”

Anderson pointed to the President’s inaugural address as clear evidence that he will continue to keep the issue of race on the back burner.

“What were the priorities he mentioned in his second inaugural address—wage equality for women, gay rights, immigration and energy; not a single blessed word on race,” he said. “Don’t let him off the hook. He doesn’t deserve to be let off the hook. I am not going to understand why he will not address this issue.”

Carr concluded his luncheon remarks with a list of recommendations on how to close the housing/wealth gap. Among his points:

• Make sure that the system actually provides credit to alternative forms of housing like cooperatives and small rental properties. “These are things that people of color, low income can afford to buy but they’re not supported by the mortgage finance systems of today.”

• Support comprehensive community reinvestments such as a housing and community infrastructure bank that has been proposed by Opportunity Agenda.

• Make sure that the system does something radically different than it does today like to support comprehensive community reinvestment.

Comprehensive community reinvestment is something that President Obama has stressed since his first term, but it needs to broaden to America’s grassroots communities, Carr said.

“The president when he was candidate Obama was eloquent and masterful in explaining all the reasons why investment in infrastructure as a stimulant for the economy would actually create long-term jobs and real economic growth and prosperity across race, ethnicity, income and wealth,” he said. “But, we also believe there needs to be an infrastructure bank that is on a more local level that focuses on the rehabilitation and new construction of rental and owner-occupied units that are designed for community residents.”

This redevelopment would include repairs of streets, roads, sewers, schools and perhaps even local mass transit opportunities, he said. Carr concluded that it would make no sense to argue that there’s no money for such initiatives.

“We had no money for the wars we just fought but we spent a whole lot of it,” he said to applause from the audience. “We need to ask for what we need… We need to make sure that the market is designed to take care of the need and the aspirations of people of color. And when it does, it will only be taking care of the needs and aspirations of the majority of America.”

This article was originally published in the February 11, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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