For the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the world. Not only has it changed the way we interact, but it has also reaffirmed the need for strong connections with each other and the communities that have made us who we are.
The Biden Administration and Congress passed historic investments in our nation’s infrastructure last November. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes an additional $550 billion to rebuild our roads, bridges, and ports, ensure clean drinking water, expand access to high-speed internet, improve public transit systems, and address the climate crisis. According to the Economic Policy Institute, this law will create roughly 772,000 jobs per year, in addition to strengthening our supply chains, improving productivity, and reducing long-term inflation. We are already witnessing announcements of infrastructure projects as a direct result of this bill. The benefits of this historic bill being passed into law will be felt for generations to come, as numerous studies have shown that infrastructure yields up to a 17 percent return on investment on average, which is why we need to ensure that all Americans will have the opportunity to share in this economic activity.
While federal infrastructure projects of the past have increased economic growth, many large-scale federal projects, such as highway construction during the urban renewal in the 1950s, have negatively impacted minority communities and their wealth. According to the Small Business Administration, just 1.7 percent of federal contracts went to Black-owned small businesses and 1.8 percent to Hispanic-owned small businesses. Historic lack of access to capital, delayed payments from contractors, and lack of credit and insurance all contribute to these dismal numbers.
The power of our connections as Americans is strong, and we must capitalize on the ties that bind us to create a society equitable for all.
Additionally, in 27 states, there are no explicit statewide laws protecting people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations. At the federal level, there are no fair housing or credit protections based expressly on sexual orientation or gender identity. This puts many LGBTQ+ individuals, including LGBTQ+ youth, at risk of experiencing chronic homelessness, unemployment, and being unbanked.
We are a nation of many colors, a rainbow if you will, and lawmakers must fully investigate the systemic barriers to financial inclusion and employment that minority and LGBTQ+ communities face simply because of who they are. These communities have fought for decades for the right to be seen and respected—from LGBTQ+ activists at Stonewall in New York City to minority trailblazers in the hallways of corporate America. The fight for justice and equality continues.
Today, 18 million adults identify as LGBTQ+. Additionally, almost 40 percent of Americans identify with a non-White racial group. Every day, these individuals face bigotry and discrimination—especially when it comes to securing safe and stable housing. The COVID-19 pandemic has further shown minority-owned small businesses, in particular, are the least able to suffer a sizeable impact on their business. And with historically lower homeownership rates and lower appraisals, they have fewer options to tap equity to save their businesses from unforeseen events, such as a global pandemic.
Fortunately, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, coupled with the passing of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan last year, has put into place several programs that will assist minority, LGBTQ+, and women-owned businesses to access the capital necessary to receive work opportunities through these federally-funded projects, including investments in the State Small Business Credit Initiative and the Minority Business Development Agency, amongst others.
Even with these investments, the hurdles and challenges associated with minority and women-owned businesses accessing capital required to bid on these infrastructure projects will not be solved overnight. In fact, we all have a lot to learn in this regard. Congress must identify what is needed at the federal level to ensure the mistakes of the past do not repeat themselves and become the missed opportunities of the future. Only by naming these challenges and addressing them systematically will we be able to eliminate them. The power of our connections as Americans is strong, and we must capitalize on the ties that bind us to create a society equitable for all.