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Remarks by U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves at the Deputies' Convening on Equitable Economic Growth

AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY

Good morning, everyone, and welcome to our kickoff Interagency Convening on Equitable Economic Growth.It’s great to be here with all of you.

Thank you, Fran, for that introduction.

Thank you to my fellow Deputies for joining us today: Treasury Deputy Secretary Wally Adeyemo, Labor Deputy Secretary Julie Su, and Transportation Deputy Secretary Polly Trottenberg.

And thank you Susan Rice, the President’s Director of the Domestic Policy Council, and Gary Gensler, Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission for joining us today.

We’re also thrilled to have key philanthropic, non-profit, labor and advocacy leadership with us – including from the B Lab, the U.S. Impact Investing Alliance, the Ford Foundation, and the Families and Workers Fund.

And we’re so grateful for the participation of private sector leaders like Ariel Investments, who recognize that their participation is critical to creating real, lasting change on this issue.

This is our Administration’s largest convening on economic equity with such a broad group of stakeholders − public, private, philanthropic, nonprofit and community leaders.

The fact that we’re all here together from so many different sectors is a testament to how unified we are on the importance of this issue to the future of the American economy.

It underpins all our work across the Biden-Harris Administration.

As we emerge from the COVID pandemic, we have an opportunity to reimagine the way in which our economy serves the American people. 

That’s what the President’s Building Back Better agenda is all about.

We need to build an economy where every American worker, business, and community can thrive.

That means designing an economic growth strategy that’s inclusive and that works for all Americans – not just some of them.

It means prioritizing gender and racial diversity in our companies’ leadership − and in our workforce.

And it means creating new pathways to high-quality, family-sustaining jobs, lifelong education and training for those jobs, and an ecosystem that supports entrepreneurship in all communities.

So much of today’s persistent racial wealth gap stems from the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

It’s deeply rooted, complex, and mired in historical baggage that we as a country must address head-on.

It’s not just the right thing to do – it’s the right thing to do for our economy and our national competitiveness.

The Kellogg Foundation released a study showing that the U.S. economy could be $8 trillion dollars larger by 2050 if the country eliminated racial disparities in health, education, incarceration, and employment. 

For an economy that currently sits at almost $23 trillion, that is certainly a consequential amount.

Other studies show that racial and gender diversity improve a company’s bottom line.

And cash flows for diverse companies are more than double that of companies with less diverse workforces.

I’ve been fortunate to work across the public, private and nonprofit sectors.

And if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that the best teams are made up of people with diverse backgrounds who embrace our differences. 

Diversity challenges people to think differently and perform better.

Now, I recognize that the Commerce Department is traditionally thought of as the Department of industry, of business.

But the truth is, the Secretary and I believe that at the heart of every business are American workers, families, and communities.  

For far too many of our citizens, the promise of the American dream: to start and grow a business; to develop an idea into a product that’s sold around the world; to work hard at a job that fulfills us and allows us to support a family – is still out of reach.

Even before the pandemic, more than 40% of American families couldn't afford groceries, rent, or childcare.

That needs to change, and it needs to change now.

Because we can’t capitalize on the full productivity of America if we don’t tap into the full potential of each and every American.

That’s why the Biden-Harris Administration is committed to closing the racial wealth gap, dismantling federal barriers, and creating policies that invest in minority-owned businesses.

On Friday, the House passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal.

In addition to making historic investments in infrastructure, including in broadband connectivity and access, it included statutory authority to make the Minority Business Development Agency permanent. 

It’s the one agency in the federal government whose focus is supporting the long-term health and wellbeing of minority businesses.

Through the American Rescue Act, our Department’s Economic Development Administration, or EDA, was given $3 billion to help struggling communities.

We’ve used that funding to launch our Build Back Better Regional Challenge, which invests $1 billion in revitalizing economies for up to 30 regions across the country.

In parallel, we’ve created the Good Jobs Challenge which allocates $500 million towards industry-led workforce training programs and apprenticeships − including for women, people of color, and underserved communities.

But it doesn’t stop there.

Because to grow our economy more equitably, we need to ensure that we’re creating quality jobs.

We all know a job is about more than just a paycheck – it’s also about the dignity that comes with it.

It’s about being able to put food on the table for your kids.

It’s about workplace safety and having a voice.

It’s about opportunities to build your skills and advance your career.

The need for quality jobs is more important than ever as labor shortages risk slowing our recovery. 

The number of job openings has soared to 10.4 million compared to 6.5 million last year. 

Not only is it harder for companies to hire, it’s also harder for them to retain workers.

Over 4 million people quit their jobs in July alone, to the point where people are calling this the “The Great Resignation.”

All these data points suggest that the labor shortage businesses face today, isn’t just about workers – it’s also about job quality.

In today’s labor market, companies that provide quality jobs − where people want to work − have a clear competitive advantage.

Last month, the Department launched the Job Quality Initiative to help ensure that our economic recovery is built on quality jobs.

Several of you participated in the kickoff of that work, bringing your voice, experience, and passion to create quality jobs for all workers.

Thank you for that!

Our work together on this issue can help build a national dialogue that leads to real change. I’ll add that critical to equitable growth is having more transparency around economic data – especially as we think about allocating resources to underserved communities.

That’s why, as Secretary Raimondo and I announced last month, we’re making our data more available to the public.

Through Census' Center for Open Innovation Lab we’re partnering with academia, the private sector, and advocacy groups to leverage Commerce data for climate justice and entrepreneurship.

We’re also producing a series of Data for Everyone Summits make government data more accessible to underserved communities.

We’re headed in the right direction.

We need a whole-of-government approach to truly tackle this equity problem.

But we all know government can’t solve it alone.

We need strong public-private partnerships with all of you to scale solutions.

Today we’ll highlight leaders across sectors who’ve come up with innovative ways to make our economy more equitable, so that we can build upon their efforts.

This is a big undertaking – but we must address it now.

Our economy cannot afford to wait any longer.

It’s not just about fixing workplace policies on paper.

It’s about all of us working hand in hand to create an equitable workplace, environment, and economy for all American workers – in attitude and in action. 

And with that, I’ll turn it over to my good friend Gene Sperling, the former two-time Director of the National Economic Council and Senior Advisor to President Biden’s and the White House Coordinator on the American Rescue Plan, to get the program started.

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