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Remarks by Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth


Thank you, David, for that introduction, and thank you to the Washington Center for Equitable Growth for inviting me to join you today.

I also want to thank you for the research and advocacy you do to support broad-based economic growth. It aligns with our work at the Commerce Department, where we’re laser-focused on improving America’s competitiveness so that all our workers and companies can succeed in the global economy.

The pandemic and resulting challenges have exacerbated inequality and increased the cost of living. This growing inequality informs the decisions we’re making daily at the department, and research provided by organizations like the Washington Center for Equitable Growth is crucial for our decision-making.

According to the Federal Reserve’s 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances, the typical White family has eight times the wealth of the typical Black family.

The gap in business ownership between Black and Latino households, relative to White households, accounted for 25 percent of the overall racial wealth gap between these groups.

Closing the opportunity gap between minority-owned and non-minority-owned businesses could add more than $6 trillion to the economy.

Since day one, the Biden-Harris Administration has recognized that the principles of diversity, inclusion and accessibility are essential to fulfilling our goals of creating a more equitable economy.

Thanks to President Biden’s leadership, Congress has passed momentous new bills that are making once-in-a-generation investments to rebuild our infrastructure, support our workforce, supercharge innovation, combat the climate crisis, and shore up our supply chains.

Using nearly $50 billion from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Commerce Department is making a once-in-a-generation investment to bring affordable, high-speed internet to every American.

The law includes nearly $3 billion in funding for the Digital Equity Act, which is being used to promote digital inclusion and equity for communities that have been historically unserved or underserved when it comes to high-speed internet access.

And the same law made the Commerce Department’s Minority Business Development Agency, or MBDA, a permanent part of the federal government, enhancing its work to support minority-owned businesses and entrepreneurs.

We’re also making new investments in American innovation. Just last month, President Biden signed the CHIPS and Science Act into law, which going to supercharge our domestic semiconductor industry with a $50 billion investment.

Through our investments in broadband and chips, we’re going to create hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs. We are doubling down to make sure communities of color, rural communities, and other underserved populations get the support they need to build a better America. It’s not just a matter of fairness – it’s essential to the success of our programs.

But we’re not making these investments in a vacuum. We’re relying on evidence, evaluation, and data to ensure that we’re bringing the best possible return on our investments.

Earlier this year, the Department of Commerce released its first-ever Learning Agenda as a companion to our department’s five-year Strategic Plan. Required by law, the Learning Agenda is meant to bring the best possible information and analysis to our decision making.

We also issue annual Evaluation Plans that pose a series of questions to ensure our work at Commerce is bringing benefits, bolstering our economic resilience, and supporting diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.

For example, the Fiscal Year 2024 Evaluation Plan asks whether NOAA’s service delivery model meets the needs of underserved communities impacted by climate change. And for the International Trade Administration, the Evaluation Plan asks whether its digital transformation has been helping underserved and historically disadvantaged businesses overcome the challenges associated with exporting.

Beyond our department-wide efforts and plans, our bureaus are using research and evidence to inform their work.

For example, the Economic Development Administration and the Census have established a partnership to collect data on EDA’s Good Jobs Challenge – one of our American Rescue Plan programs. This collaboration will leverage Census’s data and expertise to help measure and evaluate the success of each Good Jobs Challenge grantee, with a focus on outcomes for participants and workers going through training programs.

Likewise, MBDA has conducted and published research on the relationship between inequality and the broader economy and has established a unit to spearhead further research. MBDA also collects and analyzes data relating to the causes of the success or failure of minority business enterprises.

At the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the Council for Inclusive Innovation is helping to develop a comprehensive national strategy to increase participation in our innovation ecosystem, particularly for women and other underrepresented groups.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis provides an entire suite of household income inequality metrics, including distributions of disposable personal income, which help us measure household economic well-being. BEA’s next release is planned for December and will include improved methodology and a new set of metrics for an internationally-comparable measure, Adjusted Disposable Income, as specified by the OECD.

 Additionally, Commerce has launched a multi-bureau working group to develop and document metrics used by our bureaus to measure participation in our programs by historically underserved communities.

This work will fine-tune the Department’s data on the demographics of program participation and will support the development of a dashboard monitoring progress of DEIA initiatives.

Our work also wouldn’t be possible without the help and support of outside academic researchers like you.

Thank you for your partnership with the Census Bureau’s Opportunity Project to develop community-informed national-level indicators of well-being. These indicators go beyond traditional economic indicators and better capture households’ and communities' overall sense of economic stability, opportunity, health, dignity, and safety.

I also want to mention that our DOC Evaluation Officer is available to academics who are interested in doing research related to a question in the Learning Agenda or Evaluation Plans or to share existing research.

The Department also holds periodic outreach events, summits, and workshops inviting communities of interest into policy discussions. For example, MBDA is hosting its annual National Minority Enterprise Development Week this week. And our Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships is hosting an in-person National Summit in October.

If we’re going to make meaningful progress in addressing inequality in our economic system, we need your help. Engage with our department, participate in our events, respond to requests for information, and reach out if you have the expertise to share.

Together, we can create an equitable economy for all Americans. Thank you.