Briefing Book

Racial Equality Under Trump

In just two months, the Trump Administration has already made it harder for African Americans to buy a house, to vote, to enjoy clean air and water, and to retire with dignity.

By Matthew Colangelo

Tagged affordable housingDepartment of JusticeHousingraceTrump Administrationvoting rights

Last year, then-candidate Donald Trump famously asked black voters the following question: “What do you have to lose by trying something new?” He then promised that, if elected President, “the result for them will be amazing.”

The opposite has been true. In just the first 60 days, this Administration’s policies have already undermined racial equality across a striking range of areas, including affordable housing, voting rights, environmental protection, and retirement security.

In one of the Trump Administration’s first actions, announced just an hour after the President was sworn in, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) canceled an imminent cut to its annual mortgage insurance premiums. Trump’s decision will effectively hike the annual premium by a quarter of a percentage point, costing around 1 million borrowers an average of $500 on their mortgage payments in the coming year alone. This change will make it uniquely more difficult for black families to afford homeownership—nearly half of all African-American homebuyers in the United States rely on FHA insurance, compared to just one in five white homebuyers.

What’s worse, the rate hike was not justified by any economic reality. FHA is required to collect enough insurance to protect against the risk of future mortgage default, but an independent analysis last November demonstrated that current premium levels were actually over-collecting from the working families using FHA programs. The Trump team’s decision to rescind the rate cut simply means that FHA borrowers are paying more for insurance than is even necessary to protect against future risk.

Notably, on the same day that the Trump Administration made it more expensive for black families to buy homes, it also signaled its intent to pull back from protecting full civic participation by black voters. On Inauguration Day, the Justice Department sought a one-month delay of court proceedings regarding the Texas voter ID law—which excludes black voters by a two-to-one margin compared to whites—in order to “brief the new leadership of the Department on this case.” Later, the Department abruptly announced that it was abandoning its position that the Texas law was motivated, in part, by a racially discriminatory intent. The Justice Department’s new political team took this position in the face of no new factual evidence, and despite the Department having advocated precisely the opposite view in multiple federal courts for the preceding five years.

The consequences of DOJ’s change of heart could be far-reaching: If the court concludes that the state acted with a racially discriminatory purpose in adopting its voter ID law, it could order that all future voting changes or restrictions in Texas be suspended until the state demonstrates that those changes are not discriminatory. By withdrawing its discriminatory intent claim in the voter ID case, the Justice Department is giving up a potentially critical tool to protect minority voters in Texas far into the future.

These are not isolated examples: President Trump’s proposed budget for the coming fiscal year would eliminate, or drastically cut, programs across the government that are central to the health and economic security of African-American communities.

Take, for example, the reported proposal to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Justice. The environmental justice office was created nearly 25 years ago to address, through grantmaking and coordination of federal policy across the entire cabinet, the concentration of environmental harms in minority communities. African-American communities face a disproportionate share of environmental risks and accompanying health threats—whether from exposure to contaminated drinking water, as in Flint, Michigan; heightened risk of chemical disaster, with African-American families disproportionately likely to live within “fenceline” areas close to chemical facilities; or exposure to industrial pollution, with black families 79 percent more likely to live in neighborhoods where air pollution from factory emissions presents their greatest health risk.

Even when it comes to saving for retirement, the Administration’s early moves signal hostility to bipartisan efforts that would help working families better prepare for retirement while also helping black families overcome the racial wealth gap. Last year, the Labor Department finalized rules to facilitate state efforts to expand access to affordable retirement options, as one step toward promoting retirement security for the tens of millions of workers without access to an employer-sponsored plan. Workers who will benefit are disproportionately minority—in the five states that have already adopted auto-IRA initiatives, 56 percent of potentially eligible workers are people of color. And black families have tons of ground to make up in preparing for retirement: The average white family has more than $130,000 in liquid retirement savings, compared to just $19,000 for the average African-American family.

Yet Congress is poised to use the Congressional Review Act to kill the Labor Department rules, and the Trump White House has already endorsed nullification on the ground that state-led efforts “give a competitive advantage to public plans.” This reasoning, of course, ignores that the private sector has had decades to reach this market and has chosen instead to leave it underserved.

So, in just two months, the Trump Administration has already made it harder for African Americans to buy a house, to vote, to enjoy clean air and water, and to retire with dignity. The President’s campaign pledge was correct: The results of his policies for African Americans have in fact been “amazing”—it is amazing how much harm can be done so quickly.

Read more about affordable housingDepartment of JusticeHousingraceTrump Administrationvoting rights

Matthew Colangelo is a Senior Fellow at Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy and Distinguished Lecturer at the Georgetown University Law Center. He formerly served as Deputy Assistant to the President for Economic Policy and Deputy Director of the National Economic Council; Chief of Staff at the United States Department of Labor; and Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at the United States Department of Justice.

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