By Sophia Kerby | February 22, 2013
Thanks to congressional Republicans putting the economy in jeopardy
during the debt ceiling debacle in the summer of 2011 and again in
2012, a package of automatic across-the-board spending cuts known as
sequestration is set to go into effect on March 1, 2013. Senate
Democrats have proposed a balanced approach to resolve this crisis,
urging congressional Republicans to avoid the damaging sequester cuts
by accepting a package of more tax revenue coupled with targeted
spending cuts. But once again Republicans are threatening the economy
by risking massive and harmful spending cuts that will hurt the middle
class, damage the economy, kill hundreds of thousands of jobs, and
harm the most economically vulnerable among us.
Sequestration will impact all Americans but will have a particularly
harmful effect on communities of color, who were hit first and worst
by the Great Recession and have yet to significantly feel the effects
of the recovery. Our nation’s demographics are changing, and
communities of color are the fastest-growing group of Americans. It is
important that we invest now in these communities, as we prepare for
our nation’s economic future and upcoming workforce needs.
Our driving focus should be on averting crises that slow our economy
and instead, promoting policies that help all Americans.
Below are the top 10 reasons why communities of color should pay
attention to sequestration and the impact it will have in these
1. Deep cuts to long-term unemployment benefits will
disproportionately affect people of color. Extended federal
unemployment benefits remain vulnerable under sequestration, and the
long-term unemployed—those out of work and searching for a new job for
at least six months—could lose almost 10 percent of their weekly
jobless benefits if the sequester cuts go into effect next week. These
cuts will have a greater impact on people of color, as 10.5 percent of
Latinos and a staggering 13.8 percent of blacks are unemployed,
compared to only 7 percent of whites. What’s more, in 2011, 40 percent
of unemployed Asians, 38 percent of unemployed blacks, and 28 percent
of unemployed Latinos were unemployed for more than 52 weeks.
2. Workforce development programs that are vital to communities of
color such as YouthBuild and Job Corps face significant cuts.
YouthBuild, a program connecting low-income youth to education and
training, could be cut by about 8 percent under sequestration. Coupled
with previous federal appropriation cuts in fiscal year 2011 by 37
percent, the program could see about one-third of its federal funding
cut between fiscal year 2010 and fiscal year 2013. In 2010, 54 percent
of YouthBuild participants were African American and 20 percent were
Latino. Job Corps, an education and training program geared toward
young adults, faces about $83 million in cuts in FY 2013 under
sequestration. In 2011, 72 percent of Job Corps participants were
people of color.
3. Cuts to critical job-creating programs such as the Build America
Bonds program are also on the chopping block. Build America Bonds,
which were created in the 2009 stimulus bill, provides incentives for
infrastructure investments through the tax code. Since its inception,
the program has helped states and cities fund thousands of
job-creating infrastructure projects at lower costs than traditional
tax-exempt municipal bonds. Build America Bonds could see budget cuts
of up to 7.6 percent, however, if sequestration goes through. Build
America Bonds benefit all Americans, as more than $106 billion of
Build America Bonds have been issued by state and local governments in
49 states and the District of Columbia since the program started.
Infrastructure investments stimulate employment in sectors that employ
disproportionately high rates of workers of color, such as
construction and public transit.
4. Federal budget cuts under sequestration would quickly mean cuts to
federal, state, and local public-sector jobs, which disproportionately
employ women and African Americans. In 2011 employed African Americans
comprised 20 percent of the federal, state, and local public-sector
workforce, and women were nearly 50 percent more likely than men to
work in the public sector. According to the Congressional Budget
Office, scheduled cuts in federal spending were the primary driving
force behind slow economic growth projected for this year, meaning
thousands of lost jobs and cuts to federal contractors.
5. Early child care funding could be cut by more than $900 million,
impacting the thousands of children of color who benefit from these
programs. Such cuts will mean 70,000 children will be kicked out of
Head Start, a federal program that promotes the school readiness of
children from low-income families from birth through age 5. Sixty
percent of program participants are children of color.
6. Programs that directly help the most vulnerable families and
children—such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women,
Infants, and Children, or WIC—are threatened by sequestration. WIC
serves as a supplemental food and nutrition program for low-income
pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women and for children under
age 5. The program could be cut by $543 million—a devastating loss to
the more than 450,000 people of color who benefit from its services.
7. Federal education funding cuts will disproportionately hurt
students of color. If the sequester goes into effect, nearly $3
billion would be cut in education alone, including cuts to financial
aid for college students and to programs for our most vulnerable
youth—English language learners and those attending high-poverty,
struggling schools—impacting 9.3 million students. Such cuts will
affect key programs that receive federally funded grants such as
Education for Homeless Children and Youth and federal work study. The
lack of access to financial aid for people of color will further
exacerbate the student debt rates in these communities. In the 2007-08
academic year, 81 percent of African Americans and 67 percent of
Latinos with a bachelor’s degree graduated with student debt, compared
to 64 percent of their white peers. Cutting access to these vital
financial aid programs will curtail the higher education aspirations
of tens of thousands of students of color.
8. Cuts to critical medical research put patients at risk. The
National Institutes of Health would lose $1.5 billion in medical
research funding, meaning fewer research projects would be aimed at
finding treatments and cures for diseases such as cancer and
diabetes—both of which are among the leading causes of death for
9. Since 2010 funding for housing has been cut by $2.5 billion,
meaning any additional cuts would significantly hurt low-income
families and communities. Many housing programs such as Section 8
Housing Assistance provide vouchers to low-income families for
affordable housing in the private market. In 2011 Section 8 aided more
than 2 million low-income families across the country. Data from 2008
indicate that 44 percent and 23 percent of public housing recipients
are African American and Latino, respectively.
10. As the nation continues to endure a cold winter, programs such as
the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, which helps
bring down the cost of heating for low-income households, are crucial.
The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helped about 23
million low-income people pay their winter heat bills, is in jeopardy
of being cut in FY 2013. Low-income communities, which tend to
disproportionately comprise of people of color, depend on such
programs to make ends meet during these tough economic times.
In order to avoid significant damage to the U.S. economy—and
particularly to communities of color across the country—congressional
Republicans should agree to a balanced package to replace the
sequester and its damaging cuts.
Sophia Kerby is the Special Assistant for Progress 2050 at the Center
for American Progress.