7 Things To Know About Howard University Economist William Spriggs

7 Things To Know About Howard University Economist William Spriggs

William Spriggs
7 Things To Know About Howard University Economist William Spriggs. In this photo: Prof. Spriggs attends the Jackson Hole Economic Policy Symposium, Aug. 22, 2014. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Have you ever heard of Economist William Spriggs? If not, he is among the most respected Black economists in the nation. He is known for being outspoken about systemic racism in U.S. economics and has spent his career advocating how we must change it. Here are 7 things to know about Howard University Economist William Spriggs.

1. Advocates for an overhaul of economics due to its origins in systemic racism

After the murder of George Floyd, Spriggs penned an open letter to his fellow economists in which he explained how the study of U.S. economics is deeply rooted in racism. He asked if Floyd’s murder was a teachable moment and said economics needs an entire overhaul.

“Modern economics has a deep and painful set of roots that too few economists acknowledge,” Spriggs wrote. “The founding leadership of the American Economic Association deeply and fervently provided ‘scientific’ succor to the American eugenics movement. Their concept of race and human interaction was based on the ‘racial’ superiority of white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants. And they launched modern economics with a definition of race that fully incorporated the assumed superiority of that group and bought into a notion of race as an exogenous variable. … In the hands of far too many economists, it remains with the assumption that African Americans are inferior until proven otherwise.”

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He added that Black economists face the aforementioned as a “constant micro-aggression … at every meeting, and in reading every paper, and in reading every reviewer’s comments.”

2. Appointed By Obama as assistant secretary for the Office of Policy at U.S. Department of Labor

Before his current role at the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), Spriggs was appointed by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the assistant secretary for the Office of Policy at the U.S. Department of Labor.

Spriggs also held leadership positions and served on a variety of boards including as chairman of the Healthcare Trust for UAW Retirees of the Ford Motor Company and the UAW Retirees of the Dana Corporation Health and Welfare Trust, vice chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Political Education and Leadership Institute, and on the joint National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Public Administration’s Committee on the Fiscal Future for the U.S., among others.

He is a former president of the National Economics Association, the organization of America’s professional Black economists.

3. Professor and former chair of economics at Howard University

Spriggs is a professor at Howard University in the Department of Economics. He is a former chairman of the department, a position he held from 2005 through 2009 until he was appointed to his post by then-President Obama in 2009.

4. Focuses on workforce discrimination, labor, taxes and pay equity

As an economist, Spriggs focuses on workforce discrimination, labor and wages, taxes and pay equity. He believes all of these issues have not worked out favorably for Black Americans because of discrimination.

In 1995, he led a team that raised the minimum wage from $4.75 to $5.15, according to the American Economic Association.

In his open letter about George Floyd, Spriggs criticized the economists who believe that discrimination against Black Americans is caused by a deficiency on their parts.

“Among the kinder economists, the ‘deficiency’ in African Americans is caused by systemic policies that disadvantage Black people’s participation in the economy as equals. This requires real contortions, because it proclaims that there is a set of actors who have devised rules to prevent African Americans from adequate schooling (this is the primary claim), mostly through housing segregation and, depending on the economist, some learned or absorbed frustration on the part of African Americans that compounds their disadvantage,” Spriggs wrote. “That is a difficult model to accept because it means these actors who act with animus direct all their efforts at human capital accumulation but then act objectively in all of their other interactions with African Americans. I call this the two-bus theory because it requires busing out those negative actors and busing in new actors to make all other economic decisions on jobs and, in total contortion, home mortgage and home purchase decisions (since animus is accepted in creating residential segregation).”

5. Chief economist at the AFL-CIO

Affectionately known as Bill, Spriggs is the chief economist at the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations. The largest federation of its kind in America, the AFL-CIO represents more than 12 million workers across 55 national and international unions.

In this role, Spriggs chairs the economic policy working group for the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and serves on the board of the National Bureau of Economic Research, according to his bio on Howard’s website.

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6. Father was a Tuskegee airman, mother was World War II veteran

Spriggs comes from a patriotic family. In a 2011 interview for the Celebrating Black History Month Series, Spriggs said his father was a Tuskegee Airman with a Ph.D. in physics and his mother was a World War II veteran and teacher who taught him to read and write.

He credited his parents with being major influences in how he chose to live his life and build his career.

“They both instilled in me the values of hard work, honesty, and being humble; as well as my faith. My mother completed college while I was in elementary school, and I remember studying history together. She would check out children’s books covering the topics she was learning about,” Spriggs said. “Growing up when I did during the height of the Civil Rights movement and the 100th anniversary of the American Civil War were important influences on me.”

7. Well-respected, award-winning economist

Spriggs has received various awards and honors throughout his career. In 2016, he was awarded National Academy of Social Insurance’s Robert M. Ball Award for Outstanding Achievements in Social Insurance. In 2014, he received the 2014 NAACP Benjamin L. Hooks’ Keeper of the Flame Award and in 2013, Spriggs received the Congressional Black Caucus’ Chairman Award.

He has also received an array of other awards and honors not mentioned above.