Congress must address employment inequities by supporting Biden’s budget priorities

By Melissa Young

Even when economic indicators are promising, millions of workers experience challenges to getting and keeping employment. Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and immigrant workers, young people, and those impacted by the criminal legal system all face persistent economic disparities and economic marginalization caused by countless structural inequities rooted in racism and baked into our labor market. The economic devastation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has only deepened these inequities.

Last Friday’s jobs report is a stark reminder that only when we invest in solutions that directly benefit workers who’ve been most affected by the pandemic’s toll will everyone experience our nation’s economic recovery. We can’t afford to repeat the policy mistakes of previous economic recoveries that failed to address longstanding economic inequities. An equitable recovery requires policymakers to invest in an equity-focused subsidized employment initiative that supports people our nation has too often left behind.

The May jobs report tells us what we already know: millions of people want to work and are looking for work yet aren’t able to access employment and quality jobs. All told, our nation has 7.6 million fewer jobs than before the pandemic.  As the economy begins to recover, Black and Latinx workers are still facing unacceptable unemployment rates far higher than their white counterparts. Teens, and particularly young adults of color, face staggering rates of joblessness that could have lifelong negative consequences for their earnings and housing stability.

Even prior to COVID-19, the unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated individuals was over five times the national rate at 27 percent, with a disproportionately higher rate for Black men and Black women at 35.2 and 43.6 percent, respectively. The pandemic has only made this worse. And women, especially women of color, continue to bear the brunt of the economic shock of the pandemic due to many factors. Today, female workforce participation is at its lowest rate in 30 years. This means an estimated 2 million fewer women are in the workforce today than before the pandemic, in part due to a lack of available, affordable childcare.

Achieving true economic recovery hinges on all people being able to fully participate in the workforce. An essential element for reaching this goal is an equity-focused subsidized employment initiative that can benefit workers, families, and entire communities through paid work opportunities that get people back to work. President Biden’s inclusion of dedicated resources for subsidized employment in his FY22 budget is another welcome sign that the administration is committed to these goals. With the pandemic’s heightened economic devastation in communities that policymakers have long overlooked, the administration’s call for these resources to be focused within “underserved communities” is appropriate and an essential step in redressing long-standing inequities.

Without direct action by the federal government—including investments in subsidized employment at the scope, scale, and duration necessary to meet current needs—similar labor market failings that plagued the last recovery after the Great Recession will resurface. For instance, the long-term unemployed will struggle to secure jobs and many will give up looking; private sector job growth will be uneven; unemployment and underemplyment among Black and Brown workers and groups with intersectional identities will remain elevated; and income and wealth gaps will continue to widen.  Good jobs must be paired with investments in families—including affordable childcare and paid family and medical leave for all—to build a more inclusive economy.

Budgets are moral documents. They reflect our nation’s priorities by showing us how and where government officials spend public resources. President Biden’s FY22 budget demonstrates a commitment and priority to building our nation’s economy back better – and in more inclusive ways through investments in subsidized employment. And this is just a start toward realizing economic justice and equity. To truly build back better we need ongoing commitments and strategies that address historic and current economic marginalization felt by too many of our nation’s workers. Congress it’s time to act.