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To help everyone, help the most marginalized first, says new congressional report


Could focusing the government's attention on those who are most marginalized in the U.S. be the best way to help the entire economy for everyone? That's what a new congressional report titled "Black Women Best" aims to prove. The more-than-100-page report suggests turning trickle-down economics on its head and instead giving financial breaks, tax credits and other benefits to those who are struggling the most.

Democratic Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman is the co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls, the group that commissioned the report, and she joins us now. Good morning.

BONNIE WATSON COLEMAN: Good morning. Congratulations to you on your new program.

RASCOE: Oh, thank you so much. So the first question I wanted to ask is why focus an economic framework around Black women?

WATSON COLEMAN: Because Black women have been overburdened by the disparities. Black women have been overburdened by the inequities. If we have economic stability, predictability and dependability, if we support child tax credits, if we support additional resources into child care, then everybody benefits.

RASCOE: One thing that the report talked about, as far as changing the structure of the way things are looked at policywise, was having the Federal Reserve change the way it approaches monetary policy by targeting Black unemployment rather than looking at the overall unemployment numbers. Like, what would that mean in practical terms, especially since Black unemployment has historically been around twice as high as white unemployment?

WATSON COLEMAN: Well, that's exactly one of the historical problems that kind of would be addressed. We see announcements being made every day about where we are in our economy. We say, well, we've created 6.5 million jobs over the last two years. Our unemployment rate has gone from 9% to 4%. And then you'll see Black women are 25%, and Black men are 23%. And that information is added on, perhaps, in the announcement, but it isn't evaluated and appreciated as something that needs to be focused on. By using the "Black Women Best" thinking and their scorecard, it's a way of establishing an accountability that we think is based in reality, lived experiences, research. Even some of the proposals that seem very, very bold - it shows that they work. There are all kinds of opportunities to do the right thing and do it substantively.

RASCOE: Well, and Congresswoman, I have to ask you, because you talked about some of the bold proposals, the report does call for things like expanding the child tax credit, expanded income tax credit and expanding the social safety net. But in Congress, there has been concern about spending. President Biden's Build Back Better plan was deemed to be too expensive. So how do these things get done?

WATSON COLEMAN: Of course we need senators and Congress members who get it and will recognize that if you approach your work in this manner, you're not just elevating Black women. This is not about giving us any sort of platform that puts us up there above anybody else. What it does is it elevates the lowest among us in terms of those criteria that we think represent stability and security and good health and well-being and provides those platforms for everybody.

RASCOE: President Biden came into office promising that he would not forget the Black voters. And you mentioned the scorecard. How would you score this administration's policies in terms of "Black Women Best"?

WATSON COLEMAN: I would score his policies B, maybe B-plus. I would score his success much lower, but not because - so much of him, but particularly because of a Senate that is so out of touch. 2022 is really important so that we really got to do what we need to do to ensure that we are putting people in office that get it and they get it on behalf of the protection and the opportunity and the fairness of those who are most burdened by the systemic racism and artificial barriers that have been created that interfere with our being able to grow, raise and protect the next generation.

RASCOE: That's Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman telling us about the upcoming "Black Women Best" congressional report. Congresswoman, thank you.

WATSON COLEMAN: Thank you, and best wishes to you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.