Black Voters Matter co-founder LaTosha Brown never minces words. Once again, she hit it out of the park in remarks about the “disconnect” between reporting on the economy and people’s actual economic conditions.
“When we’re talking about the economic well-being of this nation, it has to be based on the economic well-being and health of the people of this nation,” Brown said in a panel interview with MSNBC’s Ayman Mohyeldin.
Reports of the economy as “strong” or “rebounding” don’t help alleviate the burden felt by people absorbing the high costs of gas, food, housing and other services. Over the past several years, economic justice advocates and left-leaning economic policy organizations have been pushing for a reframing of the economy to focus on people and their well-being.
Brown’s comment echoes the positions of economic organizations like the Groundwork Collaborative, Economic Policy Institute and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. These groups are at the forefront of shifting how people interpret and discuss economic gains and challenges.
One topic that needs a refresh in how it’s discussed is inflation. Instead of treating it as an accepted part of operating within the American system of capitalism, advocates and some elected officials are pushing for a more reflective approach to economic conversations. Dr. Rakeen Mabud, chief Economist and managing director of Policy and Research at Groundwork Collaborative, explained that high inflation was draining families across the country, particularly Black and other families of color.
“Because of deeply baked inequities in our economy, communities of color tend to earn less and have less money in savings,” she explained. “As a result, rising costs on essentials means that for families of color, a bigger and bigger proportion of household budgets goes towards trying to make ends meet.”
Mabud also noted that with Black unemployment still twice as high as their white counterparts, Black workers could be disproportionately harmed by the Fed’s decision to raise interest rates to minimize inflation.
“Raising rates will push more people into unemployment and slow down wage growth for exactly those communities who have been hit hardest by inflation,” she said. “Rate hikes will also do nothing to address one of the root causes of these price hikes: Corporations unfairly raising prices on consumers to increase their profits.”
She also pointed to research from the Economic Policy Institute showing that corporate price gouging is partly to blame for the current economic pinch felt by many communities. The president and some members of Congress have called for federal legislation to curtail the price burden on the average citizen.
Citing a May article by the Guardian documenting record-breaking profits for oil and gas giants as Americans struggle to fill up at the pump, Mabud said prices aren’t increasing because they need to go up. People are being squeezed because of corporations’ desire for profit by any means.
“The bottom line: corporations aren’t raising prices because they have to; they’re raising prices because they can,” Mabud said. “And they are able to get away with this kind of aggressive and extractive pricing precisely because of the current inflationary environment.”
Overall there are positive indicators compared to the economic crisis that emerged after the 2008 crash. Unemployment rates are back to pre-pandemic levels, but there’s still room for improvement.
“While it is encouraging to see Black employment recovery so quickly, we must not get complacent,” Mabud explained. “Even before the pandemic, the labor market and economy writ large was broken for workers of color, especially Black workers. The best path forward is to continue to make the long-overdue investments that have started to put us on a path to a more inclusive, equitable economy where everyone can thrive.”