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Congressional Black Caucus: Wealth Creation and the Opportunity Gap

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. PAYNE. I would like to thank the gentleman from New York for that kind introduction.

I want to also say that we are here tonight on a very serious issue in tonight's Special Order. As so aptly put by the gentleman from New York, it feels like pneumonia in a lot of communities that we represent. I would dare to say that we might even need to call it an epidemic, because it has risen to epidemic proportions.

Mr. Speaker, this Nation is supposed to be the land of opportunity, the land of equality. We are a Nation that says that if you work hard and you do the things you are supposed to do and you do everything that we ask you to do, you too can be successful and provide a better life for you and yours. That is the promise of America.

Unfortunately, for too many in this country, this promise has been broken.

Generation after generation, millions continue to experience generational poverty in this country--and this is especially true for people of color.

Too many of the people in the district I represent in New Jersey have worked their entire lives. They have endured hard labor. They have worked two or three jobs. They have made minimum wage their entire lives. Yet they are still in poverty. The same is true for their parents before them and their grandparents and their great-grandparents.

Unfortunately, for too many people of color, the opportunities to succeed and move beyond circumstances of poverty are too little and far between. This leads to the wealth gap we see today. That wealth gap, Mr. Speaker, is unconscionable.

In the 21st century, African Americans own just 5 cents for every dollar of wealth Whites own. More than 62 percent of African American households do not have assets in a retirement account. The median income of an African American is just over $33,000, barely above the poverty line. And African Americans are less likely to own homes, with just 44 percent of African Americans owning homes compared to 74 percent of Whites.

In New Jersey alone, the poverty rate has grown to a staggering 28 percent. Many economists believe that this is an underestimate of the number of people falling into poverty in New Jersey.

How can those who are clawing just to get by even begin to think about creating wealth for their children or future generations? How can a single mother who works 40 or more hours a week still find herself in poverty? How does she begin to dream about saving for her children's college education or to save for a home or to plan for her retirement? The simple answer is they can't. And the racial wealth gap will continue to grow even wider.

Mr. Speaker, there is so much Congress can do to change the course of this country and to help those who are working hard and playing by the rules.

The priorities we place within our national budget determine whether we strengthen our economy and grow our middle class or whether we create a greater wealth gap between the haves and the have-nots.

This Nation has a clear choice, Mr. Speaker. The Ryan Republican budget cuts hundreds of millions of dollars in vital education investments, ends the Medicare guarantee for seniors, and it will cost this country more than 1 million jobs next year alone. And if that is not bad enough, the Ryan Republican budget asks working and middle-class Americans to pay for the thousands of dollars in tax breaks given to the wealthiest among us. That is why, in good conscience, I cannot support such a budget.

At a time when too many people are still desperately struggling to make ends meet, I know that the people in my home State of New Jersey deserve better. I believe that all Americans should demand better as well.

In contrast, the budgets that the Democrats and the Congressional Black Caucus have proposed recognize the dangerous course this country is on and work to move us forward rather than divide us deeper.

The Democratic budget builds ladders of opportunities to grow our middle class by investing in education, strengthening Social Security and Medicare, and protecting the 8 million people who, for the first time, now have access to affordable, lifesaving health care.

The proposals within the Democratic budget would restore the American promise that if you work hard, you can succeed. And not only can you succeed for yourself, but you can generate wealth and create a better life for your children and your grandchildren.

That is the choice that each Member in this Congress has to make, and it is a choice every American has to make. This choice will determine the direction of this country, not only for this generation, but for generations to come.

Mr. Speaker, it is not a zero-sum game. We all can be winners with the right kind of focus and investment; and in doing so, we will strengthen this country for future generations.

As I stated and made clear, we are talking about people that have played by the rules and have worked hard, working 40 hours-plus, and yet still find themselves on the margins. We are not even talking about the hundreds of thousands of citizens that I represent that we don't even want to help with programs such as SNAP anymore.

I am not even talking about the needy in this country, Mr. Speaker. I am talking about the people that play by the rules and that are doing everything that they have been asked to do in this great Nation and still find themselves on the margin.

So we will continue to raise these issues. We will continue to talk to the American people and get them to understand that we cannot continue down the path that we are headed. It is bleak. It is grim. It is a total U-turn in where this country has gone.

I can only think of the statements that have been made by several individuals in this country that are distasteful and disgusting over the past several weeks. We need to keep the American Dream alive for everyone.


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