(Reuters) - The United States needs a “structural” response to the lack of Black economic progress, St. Louis Federal Reserve president James Bullard said Wednesday, noting that decades of efforts to improve outcomes had so far failed.
Citing the perhaps 10 to one gulf in white to Black wealth, Bullard said that early in his career he would have expected that to narrow over time as employment and educational opportunities expanded and Blacks gained more political representation.
Decades later, “what is very distressing and disturbing is that it does not seem to be getting much better...We are going to have to roll up our sleeves and get much better at this,” Bullard said. “And I think without putting words in their mouth that is what protesters are saying – this has been going on too long and the solutions we have tried are not working.”
His remarks, in a webcast to the Greater Louisville Chamber of Commerce in Kentucky, come amid a broad national conversation about racial equity sparked by recent killings of Blacks by police, including an incident in Louisville.
Fed officials including Fed Chair Jerome Powell and the central bank’s only Black policymaker, Atlanta Fed chief Raphael Bostic, have all spoken out on the issue recently.
“I am outraged and horrified by injustices toward the Black community. Racism has no place in our society, and each of us has a responsibility to combat it,” Chicago Fed President Charles Evans said in a separate event on Wednesday.
Bullard cast it in more structural economic terms, suggesting the need for a systemic response to match what are increasingly recognized as embedded, systemic problems.
He did not offer specific proposals. Fed officials have typically downplayed their ability to influence how wealth is distributed, arguing that the best thing they can do is set conditions to keep the unemployment rate as low as possible.
But there has been a debate developing within the central bank over how its employment goals should be interpreted given the persistent gaps in the unemployment rate, with Black joblessness consistently twice that of whites, and even more in times of recession.
More broadly, some economists have proposed the need for reparations to offset decades of slavery and subsequent segregation.
“Structural and historical factors continue to suppress the ability of Black Americans to accumulate wealth,” Bullard said. “To promote racial economic equity we as a nation must consider structural or institutional responses.”
Reporting by Howard Schneider; Editing by Andrea Ricci