Many families—especially people of color—were already facing severe economic challenges because of structural barriers preventing them from reaping the benefits of a strong economy before the pandemic hit. These families sometimes rely on federal safety net programs to access the resources they need to afford food, rent, and other necessities.

But the social safety net is fundamentally inequitable. The structure of programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) ignore systemic barriers rooted in structural racism that disproportionately affect people of color, especially Black Americans. Instead, these programs are meager and punitive, designed to blame individual shortcomings—even though evidence debunks the myth that laziness or poor choices cause poverty.

These ideas about who experiences poverty and why are flawed because they ignore the structural forces that contribute to poverty. Numerous interrelated systems and structures make it more difficult for some people to provide for their families. These structures drive disparities in access to transportationeducationchild carehealth carehigh-quality jobs, and affordable housing near work, as well as in interaction with the justice system and mass incarceration.

Racial disparities and discrimination are embedded in each of these systems. Racial gaps in educational access and attainment, as well as Black workers’ overrepresentation in low-wage industries and occupations, contribute to a Black-white earnings gap. And even among people with comparable education, Black people receive lower wages than their white peers. These disparities are what contribute to economic insecurity and poverty.

Fundamental solutions to the economic inequities facing people of color in the United States are needed to address the structures and narratives that force so many families to experience economic insecurity.

Read the full article about the social safety net by Heather Hahn and Margaret Simms at Urban Institute.