Forum explores education-based solutions for economic inequality


TUSKEGEE, Ala. (March 18, 2014) – As America slowly pulls itself out of the worst financial decline seen since the Great Depression, the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots” seems to be widening beyond the recovery. Economists and policy advisers from around the nation gathered at Tuskegee University on Monday to examine ways that workers can use education to help make that gap smaller. 

Dr. Esther Brimmer

Dr. Roger Ferguson

Dr. David Bronner
The Brimmer Forum on Education, Economic Growth and Opportunity held at this historic institution is the first in a planned series of discussions to address financial trends and problems. The all-day event honored the legacy and work of Dr. Andrew F. Brimmer, the first African-American to serve on the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve Bank and a longtime member of the Tuskegee University Board of Trustees. He is also the namesake for the university’s Andrew F. Brimmer College of Business and Information Science. Brimmer died in 2012. 

Before his death, Brimmer made it his personal mission to point out how economic inequalities, especially among racial lines, were detrimental to the state of America. 

“He had an innate sense of fairness which lead him to advocate for the individual,” said Dr. Roger W. Ferguson, Jr., president and CEO of TIAA-CREF. “He did not combat Civil Rights purely as a moral issue. He took the issue of Civil Rights and married that to his great intellect.” 

Chief among the day’s themes was how economic inequality continues to damage the overall health of America. Dr. Esther Brimmer, J. B. and Maurice C. Shapiro Professor at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, is Andrew F. Brimmer’s daughter. She said the impact of inequality in this nation also has international implications. She said it damages America’s credibility as an example of a fair economy and hinders the nation’s ability to be an effective agent of change in other nations who are looking for economic solutions to their problems. 

“One of our strengths is that we have connected to people and we need to benefit from those connections,” Esther Brimmer said. “We will not be playing on all fields unless we ensure that every individual can contribute.”

Getting ahead of the gap

Ferguson said that although some gains have been made in improving inequalities since the Civil Rights era, the socio-economic gap still exists. Ferguson said lack of education is among the chief factors supporting inequality. Among Millennials, he said the unemployment rate is 12.2 percent for those with just a high school diploma and 3.8 percent for college graduates. 

“Education and economic growth are intertwined,” Ferguson said. 

He urged people to not only become college educated, but also to be better informed about a number of topics. He said it was important for young people to know how to communicate effectively and build an extensive vocabulary as well as be more financially literate. 

“Take that great education you’re going to get and link it to those softer skills,” Ferguson said. 

Dr. Bernard Anderson, Tuskegee University trustee and Whitney M. Young, Jr. Professor Emeritus at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, was a student of Brimmer. He said it is important that people are empowered to manage their finances, be informed and act on that knowledge. But, he also urged government action focused on reducing the gap. 

“The problem will not be solved without an emphasis on education, economic growth and opportunity,” Anderson said. 

© 2014 Tuskegee University

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