Economic Policy

Biden Budget Would Make Key Workforce Investments For Black Communities

On May 28, 2021, President Biden proposed a $6 trillion budget that explicitly names racial equity as a priority. The president’s fiscal year 2022 budget proposal not only specifies structural racism as a justification for various budget items, but it also proposes several key spending boosts critical to advancing Black communities.

One way the ambitious proposal is addressing equity concerns is by reversing the underinvestment in the nation’s workforce development system, including non-degree programs, two-year colleges, and four-year colleges and universities.

The Biden administration’s approach is a sharp reversal from the previous administration. In the previous fiscal year alone, the Trump administration sought to cut more than $1 trillion from public programs crucial to Black communities. Moreover, where the Trump administration effectively banned through executive order any discussion of structural racism in the federal government, the Biden administration is addressing racial equity directly by investigating the role the government has played in creating and reinforcing unequal opportunity.

With workforce development, funding for struggling workers had fallen to historic lows prior to the pandemic. The U.S. invested 25 percent less in workforce programming in 2020 than it did before the Great Recession. In a recent congressional budget hearing, Department of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh mentioned that the United States only spends about 0.1 percent of its gross domestic product on workforce development while other wealthy nations spend on average 0.6 percent. Chronic underinvestment in affordable and high-quality education and training has made it more difficult for dislocated workers to navigate the labor market.

While the president’s proposed budget must withstand the appropriations process in Congress, many key workforce investments have already won support in both chambers. These investments serve as a downpayment on the president’s larger recovery agenda in the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan.

Some of the proposed investments to redress racial disparities for Black workers and students in education and training include:

  • A $1.5 billion increase to the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) program, which addresses the high costs of child care for student parents and workers with low incomes. Black children are the majority of those served by CCDBG
  • A $295 million increase to the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program to build the capacity of community-based organizations working to reduce poverty and increase employment.
  • A $400 increase to the maximum Pell grant. The percentage of students receiving pell grants is highest for Black students.
  • A $100 million increase in funding for programs to increase participation in science and engineering for Black students and others who are traditionally underrepresented in these fields.
  • A $600 million increase in institutional support for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs), and community colleges to improve the enrollment, retention, and graduation rates of Black students and other students of color.
  • A $203 million increase in funding for employment and training programs provided under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). The increase is intended to improve employment services for those disproportionately harmed by the economic fallout of COVID-19.
  • A $100 million increase to the Department of Labor’s budget to expand registered apprenticeship opportunities while increasing access for historically underrepresented groups, including people of color and women. Just 10 percent of apprenticeship enrollees are Black job seekers.

While the president’s budget includes several historic workforce priorities and is a promising start, opportunities abound for it to address the racial wealth gap and other disparities. For instance, the budget plan excludes $10,000 in student debt cancellation. Black borrowers typically owe 50 percent more in student debt upon graduating from college than their White peers. The budget proposal also excludes investments that would make community college tuition-free, though this plan remains a key component of the president’s American Families Plan.

Black communities were hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic downturn. They suffered higher rates of unemployment, hunger, housing insecurity, and infection rates. Even before COVID-19, Black communities had fallen behind in wages, employment, educational attainment, and other measures of economic security—even as the country enjoyed its lowest unemployment rate and longest period of economic expansion in recent history.

To ensure a just recovery for Black communities, we need bold investments. Congressional approval of the Biden budget would be a step in the right direction. Let this budget be the foundation from which the current and future administrations and Congresses build.

The FY 2022 budget proposal can be found here.