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Social Security benefits to increase 5.9% for 2022

Don Cravins, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the National Urban League, joins Yahoo Finance to discuss what's behind the Social Security benefits increase and how Black America fared amid the pandemic.

Video Transcript

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Welcome back. Social Security recipients will receive an annual cost of living adjustment of nearly 6% next year. It's the largest increase since 1982. Joining me now to talk about it is Don Cravins. He is executive vice president and chief operating officer at National Urban League. Don, good to see you. Explain to folks why these social security payments are going to get a boost beginning next year.

DON CRAVINS: Well, Alexis, thank you so much for having me on. As you said, right now, the projection is that people who do receive Social Security are going to see this up nearly 6%. And as you said, it's just the first time in a long time that people are receiving these benefits, this adjustment. And it's based because of inflation.

Because of the economic stimulus packages that we've seen from our federal government during the pandemic, people received money, and they want to spend that money. And as a result, there's a lot of need and desire to spend that money. But as we know, goods have been hard to come by in many sectors.

And so that has created this inflation. And as a result, we're going to see people getting higher checks, bigger checks next year for 2022 in Social Security. That could be a good thing. It sounds-- you think more money is always a good thing, but not necessarily. If we continue to see inflation rise and rise and the cost of food and services continue to rise and rise, then many people who lived on a fixed income, unfortunately, are going to continue to have to fight to make ends meet.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Right, so really, it becomes a wash. I mean, they're going to be getting a slightly higher payment, but when everything else is going up in price, it's not like they're going to have any sort of discretionary money to play with. I also want to talk about something the National Urban League is out with, and that is this annual State of Black America report. It's entitled "The New Normal, Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive." Share with us what did this year's report show as it relates to how African-Americans fared during this pandemic.

DON CRAVINS: Well, Alexis, we've been doing the State of Black America report since 1976. And Vernon Jordan, who recently passed away, was our chairman and CEO at that time. And he started the report so that we could track, as a nation, the strides that African-Americans had made during the 1960s because even back in 1976, he was starting to be concerned that we were losing some of the momentum that we had gained in the 1960s civil rights movement. And so, we've been tracking it since 1976.

And as to your question, what did this year's report show, it showed that African-Americans have suffered three pandemics over the past two years. We suffered the pandemic of COVID-19 and that there was disproportionate health inequities, health impacts on African-Americans as it relates to the pandemic. We saw that there were disparities when it came to the other pandemic that struck African America, which was the economic downturn as a result of the pandemic.

And then unfortunately, we continue to suffer-- people of color, African-Americans, Latinos, continue to suffer this pandemic of racism that we saw stem from the death of George Floyd in the hands of police officers. And so, we continue to see that as well and voting suppression laws that occurred right after the election by state legislators and legislatures who didn't agree with the results of the election, as well as other racism-- bouts of racism that our country continues to endure.

So, what the State of Black America for 2021 showed is that African-Americans continue to lag behind disproportionately. The racial wealth gap in this country is growing wider and wider, despite the fact that African-Americans are more educated now than ever in the history of our country. We have more and more African-Americans who've graduated from colleges and universities and trade schools.

And yet, the racial wealth gap continues to grow. The income network between white Americans and African-Americans, we continue to lag behind. When you look at the State of Black America report in 1976 and the State of Black America report in 2021, unfortunately, Alexis, many of the issues we were dealing with in 1976, we continue to deal with today.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: You know, when you look at corporate America over the past year or so, there have been a lot of promises made, promises of big commitments to the civil rights community, especially in the wake of the death of George Floyd. From where you sit, how have those companies done in terms of living up to those promises?

DON CRAVINS: Well, there were a lot of commitments. And we saw it at the National Urban League, as well as other civil rights organizations, where companies came in, many of whom were companies we've partnered with in the past, where they've been partners with the Urban League, philanthropic partners with the Urban League. And they came in and said, look, we want to do more. We want to do more in the communities that need help. We've seen-- we see the racial disparities that exist.

We also saw companies who had not engaged in that way in the past. And we welcomed those companies with open arms and said, hey, where have you been? We absolutely have a lot of work to do in this country. What we are hopeful is that this is not a flash in the pan, one-time gift to the National Urban League because people are feeling bad about something that has just happened.

We're hoping that this is an end to corporate philanthropic redlining, that people understand that the wealth of this country that has been built by all Americans, we need to look down sometimes and look backwards and extend a helping hand to those Americans who may need an extra hand. And so, that's what we're hoping that the corporate philanthropy that we're seeing as a result of George Floyd and some of the other things that have happened in this country, we're hopeful that these companies are in for the long haul, and they really want to see us make some lasting-- long lasting change in America.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: And Don, finally, as the Biden administration looks to solve problems related to the pandemic, what are some of the important components of the infrastructure legislation still trying to make its way through Congress and in that reconciliation package that can assist the African-American community in particular?

DON CRAVINS: Well, Alexis, we're hopeful that they will pass an infrastructure bill and then move to a reconciliation package. As you know, there's a lot of money, a lot of resources in that bill to help all Americans, but will help African-Americans as well. Jobs is a big issue, as you've shown on your program time and time again that the racial wealth gap and the jobs that people of color, we're still looking for those jobs and those opportunities.

We think the infrastructure package can provide some much needed help. It can also benefit the country as a whole by building new bridges and roads and infrastructure, providing universal broadband services so that all Americans and their children have access to broadband. We saw during the COVID pandemic when we all went to a virtual society that many Americans, their children were left behind when they had to go to the entire virtual classroom.

And so, we're hopeful that the Democrats and the Republicans in Congress will pass an infrastructure-led piece of legislation. They'll also look at the reconciliation. And all I would suggest to them is if there's anything missing from this legislation, it's the-- it has great intention, but someone or some agency needs to also ensure that the equity, the principles behind the legislation, that this is supposed to go to all Americans. It's supposed to be shared equitably. The jobs are being shared equitably. That someone is tasked with ensuring that equitable outcomes are a result of the infrastructure.

I would hate for us to look back five years from now and say, great intent. We spent a lot of money to change things, but we missed the mark because we didn't invest in all of America's people. And so, I'm hopeful that the administration, as well as our leadership in Congress, will not only pass it and get it into the streets, literally and figuratively, in America, but will also ensure that all Americans have a fair share to participate in the benefits of the infrastructure and the recovery package.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: You know, Don, part of what you're talking about is the fact that a lot of Black households, 17% actually lack basic financial services or the access to banks that many whites have access to. What can the government do in particular to help change that scenario?

DON CRAVINS: I think the government can help educate people. I think the government can also work with banks to ask why that is. You make a great point, Alexis. There's a large number of African-Americans who have no credit score. They are not even on the radar of the credit agencies because they don't even participate or can't qualify for a credit score. And so, a lot of that is going to come from education. A lot of that is going to come from exposure.

And all of it is going to have to come from an intent, an intentional effort to bridge that gap from the banks and the people. We believe organizations like the National Urban League and others, we can help bridge that gap. We have credibility with the sector, the industry, but also credibility with the people in the neighborhoods.

And so, we've got to do something. You cannot achieve the American dream of buying a home or owning a car, transportation, to get around to go to work if you have no credit score, if you don't have a bank account. Things are becoming more and more automated. So cash is not the way to do it. And so, if people don't have bank accounts, they don't know how to bank virtually or electronically, then they continue to fall behind.

And so, if you're wondering, if your viewers are wondering, why does this racial wealth gap continue to widen when more and more people are going to college and becoming more educated, it's because a large group of people in this country, many of whom are African-American, are just being left behind. And that's not good for the country. It's not good for the country.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: All right, Don Cravins of the National Urban League, thanks so much for spending time with us today.