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At Yellen Hearing, Waters Seeks Answers on the Wealth Gap

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Washington, DC, February 25, 2015 | comments

In opening remarks during today’s semi-annual Humphrey-Hawkins hearing with Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Committee, touted the effectiveness of the Federal Reserve’s post-crisis monetary policy and outlined the remaining work left to do to close the wealth gap – which has been exacerbated by the devastating effects of the recent financial crisis.

Waters asserted that while our economy continues to witness unprecedented growth for big banks, Wall Street and the wealthiest among us, little has been done to address the plight of millions of Americans who continue to teeter on the brink of poverty and financial distress – particularly low and middle income Americans and communities of color.

Highlighting some of the more astonishing statistics, Waters noted severe disparities in home values, general asset levels and retirement savings, which continue to distort progress for historically-disadvantaged communities, and on a broader scale, our national economy.

The top Democrat also challenged politically-motivated efforts by Republicans to undercut the Fed’s effectiveness, noting that recent proposals to “audit the Fed” and scale back its independence do nothing to build on our nation’s recent economic progress but actually harm the Fed’s ability to promote growth, stabilize the economy, take action to avoid an economic collapse and put forward effective rules.

 

Full text of the statement is below:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And welcome back, Chair Yellen.

Since you last joined us in July, the economy has enjoyed a string of positive developments. In the past three months alone, we’ve seen the best stretch of hiring in 17 years, GDP growth is up, and the outlook for inflation continues to remain low.

There’s no doubt now that the post-crisis policy of quantitative easing – which you have so extraordinarily championed in the face of countless Republican attacks – has played a major role in turning this economy around.

But while I could talk all day about the macro-economic gains we’ve made, the brutal truth is millions continue to teeter on the brink of poverty and financial collapse. People in my district are still struggling to recover from the crisis. Systemic inequities distort progress and opportunity for tens of millions of Americans – most especially low and middle-income Americans and communities of color.

A look at the data presents a staggering picture of the racial wealth gap, which continues to widen.

While some home values have increased, black communities have failed to bounce back. In 2013, the number of white families with underwater mortgages was 5.45 percent – compared to 14.2 percent for African-Americans.

One-in-nine white Americans have less than $1,000 in assets – but for Latino Americans, that ratio is one in four. For African-Americans, its one-in-three.

The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis reports that the average wealth level for whites is $134,000 dollars– as compared to an astonishing $14,000 or Latinos and $11,000 for African-Americans.

And in retirement, there is a dramatic disparity.

In 2013, White families had over $100,000 more in average liquid retirement savings than African Americans.

Meanwhile the rich get richer, and Republicans push policies that would only exacerbate this inequity – not stem it.

Chair Yellen, as you discuss the state of our economy, I am particularly interested in hearing how the least fortunate among us are faring in this time of unprecedented growth for big banks, Wall Street and the wealthiest among us. And I would like to hear your view on how we can provide more opportunity to this often overlooked segment of our population.

And in light of this sobering wealth gap, I’m astounded that Republicans continue politically-motivated efforts undercut the Fed’s ability to promote growth, stabilize the economy, take action to avoid an economic collapse – and effectively promulgate rules.

So welcome Chair Yellen, I look forward to your views on these important issues, and I yield back.”

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