Occupational segregation in economics not only results in loss of opportunities and wage gaps for qualifying women, candidates of color, and others who are discriminated against, but undermines and narrows access to innovative solutions, diverse strategies, broad-based data collection, targeted recommendations, and practical remedies for societal inequities. Incoming Secretary of the Treasury and former Chair of the Federal Reserve Chair and 2020 American Economic Association (AEA) president Dr. Janet Yellen has acknowledged that ineffectual economic responses to the Great Recession due to biased data collection likely exacerbated the crisis especially for communities of color who suffered and continue to suffer devastating financial losses. Although Congress charged the Federal Reserve Board with combating racial discrimination in the economy, the Board has only one Black woman among its 406 economists.
Occupational segregation in economics is broader than lack of diversity on the Board. In 2017, only seven Black women received a Ph.D. in economics in the United States. In 2018, the number dropped down to four out of the more than 1,000 economic doctoral degree graduates. A 2018 AEA report found that Black, Latinx, and Native American students were less likely to complete degrees in economics compared to any other subject. In 2017, only 16% of all economics degrees were awarded to these students of color; a modest increase from only 12% over more than 20 years. At the intersection of race and gender, only 2% of undergraduate economics degrees go to Black women. The AEA found that women of color who do pursue a career in economics face significant challenges with bias in the profession.
Given the lack of diversity among economists, most economic research and scholarship notably exclude race, racism, and racial inequality, issues that the Biden Administration must address to improve America’s health, welfare, and financial well-being in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis. Three nationally recognized economists provide a deep dive into institutional and systemic discrimination in economics discussing why lack of diversity significantly undermines a functioning society. The focus then turns to specific recommendations for the Biden Administration to address debilitating inequality as it relates to the catastrophe of COVID-19 and beyond.