By Mike Rosenbaum
In 2020, Americans across the country skipped birthdays, graduations and weddings. In a bid to slow the spread, we put off vacations, put lives on hold and missed life’s most important milestones. In this pandemic, we all suffered immeasurable pain, tragedy and loss. But we did not suffer equally.
As a former economist in Bill Clinton’s White House, I can tell you that it doesn’t take an economics degree to recognize that COVID was devastating for Black families. Since the pandemic began, the wage gap between Black and White households widened further, and companies continue to hire Black workers at slower rates.
A recent report by the Ludwig Institute for Shared Economic Prosperity illustrated how the racial wage gap increased in the first quarter of 2021, with Black workers now only making 70 cents on the dollar compared to their White counterparts, and the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics job report showed unemployment for Black workers (9.7%) remaining almost double that of White workers (5.3%).
Those statistics are alarming and all too tragically have downstream effects. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Black households (16%) are 2.5 times more likely to experience food insecurity and struggle to put food on the table than white households (6%).
These jarring figures come on the heels of already historic pre-pandemic inequality. In Baltimore alone, the median income for Black families in the city was just over half that of White families. A possible leading indicator to that disparity, six years after graduation, the average Baltimore City public school graduate earns a staggering $24,000 less per year than graduates from other school districts, including those with college degrees.
When presented with the facts, it becomes crystal clear that the pre-COVID economy wasn’t working. Maryland’s next governor will have to do more than take us back to normal. They will have to transform our state economy to be more inclusive and create more jobs much faster than what we had before. That transformation must also include targeted training for those who are underemployed, jobless, or have been pushed out of the workforce so that they can access careers in growing professions like nursing and technology. Our next governor must also know how to build upon our rich assets already within Maryland so that we recruit new industries to our state.
Maryland is one of the richest states in the richest nation on earth. There should be no poverty here. There should be opportunity and economic mobility for each and every person in our state. COVID has taught us that Maryland can and must be better for all our people. And it is possible.
Over 20 years ago, I started my first business, Catalyte, in Baltimore based on the big idea that talent exists everywhere but opportunity does not. We used data to remove bias and identified potential candidates that were overlooked by an unfair system. In the process, we helped thousands of people – fast-food workers, farmers, and gas station attendants – become some of the most talented software engineers and app developers in the world. Our company and training program helped the average Catalyte employee boost their income from $25,000 to $98,000 in just five years.
My career in business and as an economist has proven that when we challenge the systems of systemic bias that exist within our society and government, we can unlock opportunity and pathways into the middle class for everyone, particularly those from underserved, rural, and urban communities.
Emerging from this pandemic, we are at a historic moment. While we can never reverse the suffering of the last year, we can choose to tackle the historic and implicit racism permeating in our economy. But to do that, our next governor needs to acknowledge the disparities that COVID made worse, commit to building an inclusive economy, and put forward a roadmap that empowers every Marylander, no matter their race, gender, or class.
Mike Rosenbaum is a former businessman and economist running for the Democratic nomination in Maryland’s governor race. His companies, Catalyte and Arena, helped thousands of people – fast-food workers, farmers, and gas station attendants – become some of the most talented software engineers and app developers in the world.
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