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Janet Yellen says in MLK Day speech that the US economy has ‘never worked fairly for Black Americans’

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen attends the House Financial Services Committee hearing in Washington on September 30, 2021.

Al Drago/Pool/Reuters

  • Janet Yellen said on Monday that the US economy has “never worked fairly for Black Americans.”
  • The US Treasury Secretary’s remarks were delivered on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
  • Yellen also said there’s “much more” work to do to narrow the racial wealth divide.

The US economy has “never worked fairly for Black Americans” and there’s more work to do to narrow the racial wealth divide, Janet Yellen said during a speech delivered on Monday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. day.

The Treasury Secretary referenced in her remarks Dr. King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech, in which he likened the words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence to a “promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.”

“It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned,” Dr. King said, in the 1963 speech. “Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked insufficient funds.”

During her pre-recorded remarks, which were delivered during Rev. Al Sharpton’s annual National Action Network breakfast in Washington, DC, Yellen said Dr. King’s words were more than a metaphor.

“He knew that economic injustice was bound up in the larger injustice he fought against,” Yellen said. “Our economy has never worked fairly for Black Americans, or really any American of color.”

Yellen said the Biden Administration is working to change that. She pointed to recent achievements within the Treasury Department, including:

  • the completion of its first equity review
  • the appointment of a diverse leadership team, including the department’s first counselor for racial equity
  • a plan to invest $9 billion in minority communities

But, she said, “there’s much more work the Treasury needs to do to narrow the racial wealth divide.”

Yellen is one of many US leaders, including President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, who spoke on Monday to commemorate what would have been Dr. King’s 93rd birthday.

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