Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen delivered her semiannual testimony on the U.S. economy and monetary policy to the Senate Banking Committee Tuesday. In her prepared remarks, Yellen acknowledged that the country’s economic recovery has not fully extended to the African-American population.
“Jobless rates have declined for all major demographic groups, including for African-Americans and Hispanics,” Yellen said. “Despite these declines, however, it is troubling that unemployment rates for these minority groups remain higher than for the nation overall, and that the annual income of the median African-American household is still well below the median income of other U.S. households.”
An accompanying report revealed that the median Black household income in 2014 was $40,000, which means African-American households are earning just 88 percent of their pre-recession incomes.
The 2014 median white household income was $67,000. According to the report, white, Asian and Hispanic households have regained 94 percent of their pre-recession earnings.
Furthermore, unemployment rates for African-Americans continue to be lower than they were prior to the recession, compared to white unemployment rates, which have nearly returned to original levels.
The Fed has faced growing criticism from activists and lawmakers who accuse the banking system of ignoring the economic disparity faced by minorities in the U.S. Supporters say Fed-controlled interest rates have a direct impact on the economic success of Black Americans.
Tuesday’s comments were a stark contrast to the position taken by Yellen last July, when she argued there was nothing the Reserve could do “about any particular group.”
The statements fired up Connie Razza, director of strategic research at the Center for Popular Democracy, who issued a statement in response.
“With African-Americans still mired in our own Great Recession, we should be hearing a positive vision from the Fed on how to foster full employment,” Razza said on behalf of the Fed Up Coalition. “While the economy is complex and the Federal Reserve’s tools are limited, there is plenty the Fed can do to improve the labor market for Black workers and to reduce racial inequality in the job market.”
The Fed Up Coalition is a consortium of labor unions, community-based organizations and policy think tanks fronted by the Center for Popular Democracy and Action for the Common Good. The group maintains that the economic upswing is a myth for most demographics and stresses that keeping interest rates low will give the economy a chance to truly recover for everyone. Modest rates will raise wages, bringing the country closer to full employment and eliminating the need for discriminatory hiring practices, according to the campaign.
During Yellen’s February address to the House Financial Services Committee, several Democrats pressed the issue of Black unemployment rates.
“Nobody is suffering from unemployment like the African-American community,” Georgia Rep. David Scott said at the hearing, per CNN. “We have got to get the Fed to get off the dime and put the issue of African-American unemployment on the front burner. That is the core of all of the domestic issues that we’re facing.”
The unemployment rate for African-Americans in May was 8.2 percent, which was double the rate of whites at 4.1, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.