Minnesota must not waste this historic opportunity to close racial gaps | Opinion

The Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul as the sun sets on Election Day, November 3, 2020. Photo by Tony Webster.

We are at a critical point in our state. We can — if we choose to — decide that our collective investments ensure the dreams for ourselves and our loved ones are fulfilled. 

Minnesota has a historic opportunity to use federal relief and long-term state investments to dismantle the structural inequities that made COVID-19 and its economic harms so much worse for Minnesota’s Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC). Policymakers should rebuild toward an antiracist, equitable and stronger economy using the three policy principles set out in a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

1. Target Minnesotans with the greatest health and economic needs. Policymakers should direct investments towards Black and Indigenous Minnesotans and communities of color who have borne the brunt of the pandemic’s harmful health and economic impacts. Because of past policy and budget choices, our state has a history of deep and persistent racial disparities in education, health, employment, homeownership, and other areas.

2. Dismantle Minnesota’s persistent racial, gender, and economic barriers to opportunity. We can begin to reverse the impacts of our history by investing in the public support that we know allows people to thrive: paid leave, just policing standards, tax credits for lower-income workers and families, affordable housing, education, and support for BIPOC-owned businesses.

3. Strengthen Minnesota’s revenue system to sustain long-term investments in Black, brown, Indigenous and immigrant communities, as well as low-income communities. Policymakers can sustain these investments in transformational change in our state by asking those with the most resources to pay a bit more. A recent survey shows two-thirds of Minnesotans support increasing income taxes on high-income households and increasing taxes on profitable corporations.

It makes sense for those with the most resources to contribute to support the transformation to an economy that works for us all. Today, the wealthiest 10% of white households hold nearly two-thirds of all the country’s wealth, and other white households about another fifth, leaving only 13% for everyone else. 

These disparities were made worse by the pandemic. High-wage jobs, which are held disproportionately by white workers, have largely rebounded while low-wage jobs, held more heavily by workers of color, remain far below pre-pandemic levels. People of color are also over-represented in COVID-19 cases and among coronavirus-related hospitalizations and deaths — a result of the economic and social inequality built by the nation’s racist past and related structural inequities that meant they were more likely to work on the front lines and have less access to health care. 

The hardships of the pandemic are ongoing. The need for policy choices and long-term investments that prioritize Minnesotans of color and those with low incomes has always existed — but it is more important now than ever before.

We can sustain transformational change with new revenues

The American Rescue Plan provides direct economic support to millions of people through extended federal unemployment insurance, and expanded income-boosting tax credits for lower-income workers and families. More than 1.1 million Minnesota children will benefit from the expanded Child Tax Credit, for example. Over 450,000 Minnesotans will see an increase in food assistance. In addition, this round of stimulus payments includes teenagers, young adults, and adults with disabilities who were previously left out. 

Importantly, the federal plan also directs billions to the state of Minnesota, and local and tribal governments, to pay for crucial public services that more of us are relying on to get through these crises.

Resources from the federal American Rescue Plan offer a once-in-a-generation chance to begin to reverse the systemic barriers to opportunity BIPOC Minnesotans have faced. However, it is ultimately up to policymakers to implement and build on the federal relief in ways that will have a long-term impact. By passing new revenues, Minnesota can sustain those investments and begin to build a more just and equitable state, where all Minnesotans can thrive.