More about the complex history of our past economic recoveries

Although COVID-19 emerged as a new challenge, the disproportionate impacts of crises such as COVID-19 on black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) are not new. Rather, disproportionate health and economic impacts on BIPOC communities directly correlate to a history of structural and institutional racism. From housing segregation to community disinvestment to the criminalization of poverty, our history is polluted with structural barriers to economic opportunity for BIPOC communities. 

With an economic recession on the rise, policymakers and impacted communities alike are calling for a large-scale economic recovery. As Washington state prepares for an economic recovery, it is vital that we look back at our country’s past economic recoveries to explore how recovery policies of the past have many times exacerbated institutional racism and economic inequality and work to ensure we do not make the same mistakes. 

During the Great Depression, a New Deal affordable housing program was created with the intention of helping lift up economically impacted families. However, the New Deal housing program also helped fortify racially segregated neighborhoods by compounding redlining and mortgage discrimination in home loan programs.1 During this same time, black workers had the highest unemployment rates and were often ‘the last hired, and first fired’.2 Since New Deal programs were often implemented at the state level, local Jim Crow era racist policies structurally kept black workers and workers of color out of New Deal job opportunities and recovery benefits.2

More recently, during the Great Recession of 2008, Washington state lawmakers made the harmful decision to cut more than $10 billion from foundational public services.3 As a result of these cuts, more than 70,000 working adults lost their health care coverage, 7,000 parents lost crucial child care support, around 20,000 adults lost workforce assistance, and roughly 20,000 people who were not able to work due to disabilities lost income support.3 The decision to cut spending on vital community programs and public services disproportionately impacted the health and well-being of low-income, black, indigenous, and communities of color across our state. 

Our past economic recoveries demonstrate that recovery decisions can perpetuate systemic racism and economic inequality. As we prepare for a recovery from COVID-19, we must learn from our history to make sure we do not perpetuate and expand economic and health inequity for our most impacted communities.

Read these articles to learn more about the complex history of our past economic recoveries: 

  1. “A ‘Forgotten History’ Of How The U.S. Government Segregated America” By NPR
  2. “Last Hired, First Fired: How the Great Depression Affected African Americans” by History
  3. “Investments Today Can Lead to Better Health Outcomes Tomorrow” By Washington Budget and Policy Center 
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