There has been a steady stream of tributes paying homage to William E. Spriggs, the noted economist and longtime HBCU professor who died on Tuesday at 68.
Aside from being the chief economist for the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) — the first Black person to serve in that position for the influential labor union — Spriggs was also a longtime economics professor at Howard University. Spriggs is remembered in part for his supreme ability to address race and the American economy and offer precious context whenever those two factors collided, which is often.
When he wasn’t in academia, Spriggs was busy working for economic advocacy groups and supporting presidential administrations, including Barack Obama’s, in influential advisory roles.
Notably, Spriggs would routinely chime in on the state of Black unemployment regarding labor statistics provided in the federal government’s monthly jobs report. NewsOne religiously employed his sage reactions to those job reports in related news coverage.
NewsOne is joining the parade of condolences to Spriggs, including tributes from the larger economic community, President Joe Biden, Howard University and plenty of others.
Journalist Roland Martin tweeted Wednesday about Spriggs’ death and remarked how the economist was just at Howard’s commencement weeks ago. Martin said Spriggs was his longtime “go-to guy” for economic commentary and analysis on his current and past news shows.
Dr. Greg Carr, Spriggs’ colleague and associate professor of Afro-American Studies at Howard University, remembered the late economist as “a giant” and a “brilliant, principled scholar” who was also an “iron link in the genealogy” of HBCU professors. Spriggs’ father, Thurman Edward Spriggs, was a scientist and professor emeritus at Norfolk State University in Virginia.
The Economics Department at Howard University said in a tweet that it “lost a pillar” not just at the HBCU but in the greater economics community. Calling Spriggs a “mentor to countless and an advocate for all,” the Howard Economics Department said it was “forever indebted to [his] leadership.”
The Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a nonprofit organization that frequently addresses racial disparities in the economy and counts Spriggs as a former employee, mourned his death by remembering him as “a fierce proponent of racial and economic justice whose influence as a public intellectual and economist reached across academia, labor, think tanks, positions in the Clinton and Obama administrations, and the civil rights community.” Springss broadened “discussions about race and economics within these critical institutions” and “worked tirelessly behind the scenes to expand representation of people of color within the economics profession and mentor the next generation of economists,” EPI said.
One of Spriggs’ mentees is Valerie Wilson, the director of EPI’s Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy.
“There is no exaggeration in saying that I owe my career as an economist to my friend and mentor, Bill Spriggs,” Wilson said in a statement. “Not only did he convince me to finish graduate school, but when Bill hired me for my first job as a research analyst at the National Urban League, he would often tell me that I was his retirement policy. Bill gave meaning to those words by selflessly giving his time, incredible intellect, wisdom, and personal connections while advocating for me on numerous occasions. I learned so much of what I know about economics and economic policy from Bill Spriggs, but more than that, I learned to lead with principles and purpose. I am deeply saddened by his loss, and I hope to do justice to his remarkable legacy as an unapologetic advocate for racial and economic justice.”
President Biden also expressed his condolences upon learning of Spriggs’ death, saying in a statement that the economist was “a towering figure in his field, a trailblazer who challenged the field’s basic assumptions about racial discrimination in labor markets, pay equity, and worker empowerment. His work inspired countless economists, some of whom work for our Administration, to join him in the pursuit of economic justice.”
The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) recalled how Spriggs was “one of the leading economists in the effort to get the Federal Reserve Board to reconsider its approach to monetary policy, arguing that the Fed had to give its mandate to promote full employment at least equal importance to its commitment to price stability.”
Referring to Spriggs as “Bill,” CEPR reminded in a statement emailed to NewsOne how he “pointed out that African-Americans and other disadvantaged groups were disproportionately the victims of the increased unemployment that results when the Fed focuses on price stability with insufficient regard for the other part of its dual mandate, full employment.”
NewsOne will also miss Spriggs’ valuable insight on the economy.
In one glaring example of that truth, Spriggs accurately predicted in the months after the election of Donald Trump in 2016 that the then-new president’s economics plan — derided by critics as “MAGAnomics” — would add at least $8 trillion to the national debt, hurt the economy significantly and kill jobs.
Appearing on Roland Martin’s NewsOne Now show, Spriggs panned Trump’s plan for the American economy as “sort of George W. Bush’s tax plan rehashed,” cautioning: “We know what that experiment got us – absolutely nothing.”
Spriggs continued: “We’ve run this experiment for 30-something years. We know that trickle-down doesn’t work. So what we’re essentially doing is cutting a huge hole in the federal budget, it goes to the top and we’ve seen no evidence that this generates investment. It definitely doesn’t generate jobs.”
Spriggs concluded: “It exasperates inequality and the current number one problem we have with growth is inequality.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
May William Spriggs rest in peace.
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