Neal Opening Statement at Hearing on Overcoming Racism to Advance Economic Opportunity

Apr 6, 2022
Press Release

(As prepared for delivery)

In declaring our nation’s independence nearly 350 years ago, our founders affirmed the belief that “all men are created equal.” But as our nation evolved, that founding principle did not result in equal opportunity or equal outcomes for all Americans. When I became Ways and Means Chairman, I made it a priority that our Committee would explore why that’s the case and what Congress can do to level the playing field for everyone.

For more than three years now, examining the health and economic inequities engrained in our systems has been central to our work. Our hearings on these issues have looked at a range of topics, from the maternal mortality crisis to the ways the tax code subsidizes hate, to the need for trade policies to include workforce protections.

Our experience with COVID-19, in particular, has heightened the Committee’s focus on the overlapping issues of health and economic disparities. Early in the pandemic, Ways and Means held the first virtual hearing in the history of the House of Representatives to examine the disparate impact COVID-19 has had on communities of color.

Throughout the pandemic, this Committee has led Congress in crafting policies that promote an equitable recovery, so that all Americans can see their lives improve. 

Today’s hearing is our next step in this continuing equity work. From health to tax to trade to worker and family support programs, today, we will seek to understand how racial biases have been baked into our policy choices and resulted in stark inequities for communities of color.

In the 20th century, Congress passed several socially transformative pieces of legislation that we all know well. Landmark policy initiatives like the New Deal, the G.I. bill, and the Great Society built out our middle class in unprecedented ways, but they did so unequally. Simply because of skin color, some Americans were left standing on the sidelines without access to the supports that brought the American Dream within reach for many White Americans.

The repercussions of decades-old policy decisions that intentionally excluded communities of color reverberate through our society today. We still see significant gaps in income and wealth accumulation that have compounded over generations.

For example:

  • In 2016, White Americans had 10 times the median wealth of Black Americans and 8 times that of Latinos. And,                                          
  • Black households headed by a college graduate have less wealth than White households headed by a high school dropout.

There is no denying that the American economy does not work for everyone.

Just as these inequities have stemmed from policy choices made decades ago, we now have the opportunity to make different choices.

Enhancing the EITC and closing the Medicaid coverage gap are examples of policy decisions that can help change our nation’s trajectory and improve outcomes for everyone.

The zero-sum mindset that the advancement of some people holds others back is false. Fuller participation in our economy means a stronger economy for everyone.

We have an opportunity and a responsibility to address racism – to build the inclusive and equitable benefits and shared prosperity that all of us deserve.

This is not an easy conversation, but it is one we need to have. I am reminded of the words of our dear friend, the north star of the Committee, John Lewis.  He said:

“When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.”

With an honest dialogue and intentional policies, we can improve our laws and public programs to truly deliver on the promise of the American Dream – so that all Americans have the opportunity to experience economic advancement and live healthy lives.

And with that, I would like to yield the balance of my time to the co-chairs of the Committee’s Racial Equity Initiative. Representatives Terri Sewell, Steven Horsford, and Jimmy Gomez have spent considerable time focusing on these issues and spearheading this important work and I think their brief remarks can help us frame today’s discussion.