Where They Stand: How the Democratic Candidates Say They Will Address Wealth and Pay Inequities

As we move through the primaries, Higher Heights for America is committed to providing Black women with the information they need to make informed decisions at the polls. Our recently launched Lunch and Learn series, Where They Stand: Our Voices, Our Issues, is designed to ensure that you know where each candidate stands on key issues affecting your life and community. Over the next few weeks, we are highlighting candidates’ responses to some of the most critical issues covered in our recent candidate questionnaire.

Biased economic policies were among the problems Black women said they aim to address with their votes this year. Their views were solicited as part of a Higher Heights survey taken at the beginning of the 2020 election season. 

We subsequently issued a candidate questionnaire that allowed the Democratic presidential contenders to tell us in their own words their plans for addressing Black women’s economic concerns, including the racial/gender wealth and pay gaps, fair participation in the green economy, reparations, access to capital for Black-owned businesses, raising the minimum wage, and investment in underserved communities. 

This week, we’re drilling down on candidates’ plans for addressing the racial/gender wealth and pay gaps. Data and lived experiences tell us that the much-heralded booming economy isn’t working for the majority of Americans. Black women in particular are hard hit. Low unemployment may be pushing some workers’ wages higher, but ours are falling. On the whole, in 2019 Black women earned just 61 cents (a 2 cents drop) for every $1 white men earned. What’s more, our families have about one tenth of the wealth of white families. Here in their own words is how the candidates say they will level the financial playing field for Black women and address historical wealth inequity if elected. 

The question posed to the candidates

How will your administration address the racial wealth gap, the pay gap for women, and promote economic security for middle- and low-income Americans?

Joe Biden

My vision for America is based on a middle class where everyone—regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or disability — comes along. I will increase the federal minimum wage to $15; ensure federal dollars do not flow to employers engaging in union-busting activities or wage theft; stop employers from denying overtime pay; and eliminate non-compete clauses and no-poaching agreements that hinder employees’ ability to seek higher wages by changing jobs. I will provide a federal guarantee for public sector employees to bargain for better pay, benefits, and working conditions. I will support legislation, like the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, that expands federal protections to domestic workers, ensuring they have the right to basic workplace protections. 

I will support the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment—as I have for over 45 years—and I will build on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first bill the Obama-Biden administration signed into law, with the Paycheck Fairness Act. 

Homeownership is how many families save and build wealth. I will end redlining and other discriminatory and unfair practices in the housing market by protecting homeowners and renters from abusive lenders and landlords, eliminate local and state housing regulations that perpetuate discrimination, hold financial institutions accountable for discriminatory practices, restore the federal government’s power to enforce settlements against discriminatory lenders, and tackle racial bias that leads to homes in communities of color being assessed by appraisers below their fair value.

Pete Buttigieg

The racial wealth gap is the most visible economic consequence of our long history of discrimination against Black Americans. My Douglass Plan for Black America proposes ways to invest, at an unprecedented scale, in Black Americans and to intentionally dismantle racist systems. We do this through several policies. For example, we propose a 21st Century Community Homestead Act to launch a public trust that would purchase abandoned properties and provide them to eligible residents in pilot cities while simultaneously investing in the revitalization of surrounding communities. This plan will attack the racial wealth gap by directly fostering asset ownership among those previously prevented from accumulating capital. We plan to pair this with the Walker-Lewis initiative to address the entrepreneurship gap and create jobs in minority communities. 

Our nation’s pay gap for women, which is worse for women of color, is unacceptable. In my plan for empowering workers, “A New Rising Tide,” we share policies to ensure that women are equally compensated as well as promoted into and retained in the well-paid jobs they deserve. This starts with gender pay transparency. Total pay-gap transparency would be a down payment on more granular reporting requirements, such as by gender, race, and jobs within companies–building on the Obama Administration’s Equal Opportunity Office compensation data collection. 

We will also pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, raise a $15 federal minimum wage that is indexed to wage growth, end the tipped minimum wage that disproportionately affects women, and end the subminimum wage for workers with disabilities. My administration will also strengthen labor protections for domestic workers who have historically been excluded from such protections. 

In addition, I will ensure that my policies promote the economic well-being of middle-income and low-income Americans. For example, in my Medicare for All Who Want It plan, I propose generously expanding premium subsidies for low-income people to make marketplace coverage more affordable for individuals and families. I will also cap marketplace premium payments at 8.5% of income for everyone, which will primarily help middle-income families. In my climate change plan, Mobilizing America: Rising to the Climate Challenge, I propose a carbon tax with revenue rebated to low-income and middle-income families. Through policies like these, my administration will strive to safeguard economic security for all low- and middle-income Americans.

Amy Klobuchar

Senator Klobuchar believes we must beat back decades of systemic racism, discrimination and inequality. She believes this begins by focusing on economic justice and opportunity, which means investing in underserved areas; providing early-childcare; fixing our education system; addressing racism in health care such as disparities in maternal and infant mortality rates; overhauling our country’s housing policies by totally eliminating the Section 8 backlog and ending housing discrimination; and tackling racial disparities in wages and retirement savings. 

Today, Black and Latino households have only about a tenth of the median net worth of white households. Senator Klobuchar’s proposal to establish portable, employer-funded UP-Savings Accounts for retirement savings will help address this disparity. She is also co-chair of the Diversifying Technology Caucus and the Entrepreneurship Caucus with Senator Tim Scott. As President she will work to get more women and people of color in STEM jobs, and she will fully empower agencies to aggressively fight modern-day redlining that prevents businesses owned by people of color from getting loans. She will also take on predatory lending that results in higher interest rates in low-income communities of color. 

During her first 100 days as president, Senator Klobuchar will work to close the pay gap for women and women of color. Senator Klobuchar is also a co-sponsor of Senator Patty Murray’s Paycheck Fairness Act to ensure that employers pay employees equally for equal work — including by prohibiting employers from asking about the salary history of prospective employees — and she will get this important legislation passed as president. 

Senator Klobuchar has also released a plan of more than 100 actions she will take during her first 100 days as president, which includes immediately reversing the harmful administrative actions taken by the Trump administration. That means priorities like implementing rules to prevent pay discrimination that the Trump administration has tried to block; restoring and strengthening the Obama administration’s overtime rules to expand overtime pay to millions of workers; protecting student borrowers who believe they were defrauded by their colleges and holding for-profit colleges accountable if they put profits above students; restoring staffing levels at the Office of Civil Rights and the Office of Federal Student Aid; combatting segregation in housing; putting back in place rules protecting workers’ rights; and ending attempts to reduce federal housing subsidies, which would be particularly harmful for seniors, families with children and people with disabilities.

Additionally, Senator Klobuchar has committed to cutting child poverty in half within a decade and ending it within a generation. To lift millions of children in our country out of poverty, she released a plan based on a National Academies of Sciences report to expand the earned income tax credit, the child care tax credit and nutrition benefits, and  increase affordable housing opportunities.

Bernie Sanders

Bernie will treat the racial wealth divide like the crisis it is. He’ll work to end the especially pernicious racial wealth divide that exists today in America within the gap between millionaires and the poor, working, and middle classes of all races. 

He’ll raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Raising the minimum wage will increase the wages of 38% of African-American workers and 33% of Latinx workers. He’ll also guarantee Equal Pay for Equal Work. 

Raising the minimum wage is not enough. Black students, particularly black women, are saddled with more student debt than their white counterparts, and because of income disparities, take longer to pay it off while paying more interest. Canceling student debt would cut the racial wealth gap for young Americans by more than half–from 12:1 to 5:1. 

He’ll guarantee housing for all, significantly expand sustainable homeownership in this country, and end the structural racism in our housing system. He’ll also create a commission to establish a financial relief program to the victims of predatory lending, mortgage fraud, redlining, and those who are still underwater on their mortgages as a result of the 2008 crash–which will address the fact that Black Americans lost 40% of their wealth in the 2009 housing crisis and were directly targeted by predatory lenders. 

Bernie will end the discriminatory practices in our financial services. He will allow every post office to offer basic and affordable banking services and end lending discrimination once and for all.

Tom Steyer

Black women are paid 39% less and Latinas are paid 47% less than white men. My People Over Profits Economic Agenda advances the economic and civic value of shared prosperity above the pursuit of monetary profit. When corporations threaten this value, they and their executives must be held accountable by a government of the people. We must enact new laws and strictly enforce existing rules to hold corporate power in check. 

My People Over Profits Economic Agenda recognizes that American economic productivity and sustained economic growth is rooted in the health and welfare of its people. Unchecked capitalism takes away workers’ healthcare, dismantles pension programs, and curtails workplace protections — hard fought victories that must be built upon, not reversed. My plan will: 

  • Guarantee that Americans have five new constitutional rights — the right to healthcare, clean air and water, a livable wage, an equal vote, and a quality education. Government must work in partnership with all sectors of the economy to advance policies and programs that effectively, equitably, and efficiently deliver services that promote upward mobility and provide economic opportunity.
  • Make our federal tax system more equitable. I will enact policies that ensure that all corporations and all income classes pay their fair share. I will repeal the Trump tax cuts and institute a wealth tax that will generate over $1.7 trillion for healthcare, education, environmental and criminal justice programs.

Elizabeth Warren

Over the years, America’s middle class has been deliberately hollowed out. And families of color have been systematically discriminated against and denied their chance to build some security. Washington has worked great for the wealthy and well-connected, but after decades of largely flat wages and exploding household costs, millions of families can barely breathe. For generations, people of color have been shut out of their chance to build wealth. And our society and our economy demand so much of women, with a particular burden on Black, Latina, Native American, Asian and other women of color. 

We need to make big structural changes to the economy so that it works better for everyone. Each of my economic plans aims in that direction: 

  • My Valuing the Work of Women of Color plan lays out the set of executive actions I will take on day one of the Warren administration to boost wages for women of color and open up new pathways to the leadership positions they deserve. 
  • WIth my new Ultra-Millionaire Tax on wealth above $50 million, we can bring in nearly $3 trillion in revenue over ten years — enough to cancel student loan debt for 42 million Americans, provide universal free two-year, four-year, and technical public college, and universal child care and early learning for every child ages 0 to 5. 
  • My housing plan builds or rehabs 3.2 million new housing units, bringing down rents by 10% and creating 1.5 million good new jobs. It also creates a first-of-its-kind down-payment assistance program for first-time homebuyers who live in formerly redlined neighborhoods or communities that were segregated by law and are still currently low-income. If they qualify, they are entitled to a substantial grant they can put towards a down payment on a home anywhere in the country. Its cost is covered by returning the estate tax to the levels at the end of the George W. Bush administration and instituting more progressive rates above those levels. 
  • My economic patriotism agenda would use every tool the government has to create and defend good American jobs — which means overhauling our approach to trade, manufacturing and financial regulation. My Green Manufacturing plan alone would invest $2 trillion over ten years in clean energy technology made right here in America, creating more than one million good new jobs. 
  • My Accountable Capitalism plan would empower American workers by authorizing them to elect 40% of board members of big American corporations and by legally obligating companies to consider the interests of their workers, not just their shareholders.