Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says American economy is unfair to black people

In her Martin Luther King Day speech, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the United States economy “has never worked fairly for black Americans or, really, for any American of color.”

Yellen took the words from the late civil rights leader’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and interpreted them in light of economic differences. “Dr. King knew that economic injustice was bound up in the larger injustice he fought against,” Yellen said in her remarks.

The treasury secretary’s works had been recorded for delivery at Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network breakfast in Washington. Yellen noted certain financial metaphors that Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. used in his address, which had been delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963. 

“It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned,” King said. He later went on to use the metaphor of a bad check in his speech. “In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’”

Yellen said that King’s metaphor showed he “knew that economic injustice was bound up in the larger justice.” Monday would have been King’s 93rd birthday. He was assassinated in 1968 at 39-years-old while he was helping sanitation workers strike for workplace safety as well as better pay in Memphis, Tennessee. 

Yellen continued on that the Biden administration was working to change economic injustice, “to ensure that neither the figurative bank of justice, nor any literal economic institution, fails to work for people of color.”

She noted step that had been taken by the Biden administration to confront economic inequalities, such as building equity into the American Rescue Plan as well as pushing $9 billion into community development financial institutions and minority depository institutions. But, “There is still much more work Treasury needs to do to narrow the racial wealth divide,” she commented.




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