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Yellen: Banks play vital economic role in poor communities

By on March 28, 2017

By Martin Crutsinger

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said Tuesday that U.S. banks must do all they can to promote economic development in low-income areas where high unemployment has persisted despite the overall job market’s significant gains.

Yellen told community development groups that banks are needed not just to provide home mortgages in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods but also to support educational opportunities and to bolster the development of small businesses.

Yellen noted that this is the 40th anniversary of the Community Reinvestment Act, which requires banks to meet the credit needs of the communities they serve, including low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. She said the Fed takes the law’s requirements seriously, including making public each bank’s performance ratings under the law.

In this Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017, file photo, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, before the Senate Banking Committee. The Fed seems all but sure to raise rates during the week of Monday, March 13, 2017, and to signal that more hikes are likely coming. Fed watchers appear buoyed by signs of a stronger economy than worried about whether slightly higher rates might slow growth. (Andrew Harnik, File/AP)

In this Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017, file photo, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, before the Senate Banking Committee. (Andrew Harnik, File/AP)

Over the past four decades, Yellen said, the law has “helped channel capital into communities, and, in the process, supported innovative and effective approaches to community development.”

Yellen noted that the Fed recently revised its guidance to clarify how it and other bank regulators plan to assess banks’ support for workforce development in low-income neighborhoods.

The Fed chair said workforce development is especially important to allow job seekers in such communities to keep up with changes in the economy caused by global competition and advances in technology.

“While the job market for the United States as a whole has improved markedly since the depths of the financial crisis, the persistently higher unemployment rates in lower-income and minority communities show why workforce development is essential,” Yellen said in a speech to the annual conference of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition.

She noted that unemployment averaged 13 percent in low- and moderate-income communities from 2011 through 2015 — nearly double the 7.3 percent average in higher-income communities. The jobless rate in census tracts where minorities made up a majority of the population was 14.3 percent during the same period, she said.

Yellen said that probably the most effective workforce development strategy is to improve the quality of education, especially given the disparity in such measurements as dropout rates between low and higher income neighborhoods.

To narrow that gap, Yellen said it’s critically important to “improve access to quality education in early childhood and improve the quality of primary and secondary schooling.”

Yellen said key areas to support include career and technical education programs, apprenticeship programs and training in the skills needed to establish businesses.

She pledged that the Federal Reserve and the Fed’s regional banks are ready to support commercial banks to encourage workforce development programs.

“In the ways that we can, with the different tools we each have, our aim is the same: to make the economy work for the benefit of all Americans,” she said.

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