Bucknell economics professor Nina Banks is set to release a new book on Sadie T.M. Alexander, the first Black American to receive a Ph.D. in economics, which offers a detailed look into Alexander’s push for economic justice even in the face of racial and gender discrimination.
Alexander went on to become an attorney, and no economists were aware of her continued economic contributions until Banks’ research findings in 2003 on Alexander’s writings and speeches. Now with research assistance from Bucknell student Lily Shorney, a Presidential Fellow and psychology and women’s & gender studies major, Banks has edited a new book titled “Democracy, Race, and Justice: The Speeches and Writings of Sadie T.M. Alexander.” The book will be released by Yale University Press on June 15 on the 100th anniversary of Alexander receiving her economics Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania.
“Alexander’s public addresses left a record of her economic thought and an economic history of African Americans,” says Banks, who is president of the National Economic Association. “They gave voice to the Black communities’ hopes, fears and frustrations about their economic condition throughout the 20th century.”
According to a release from Bucknell, the book represents “a recovery of Alexander’s economic thought,” and “provides a comprehensive account of her thought-provoking speeches and writings on the relationship between democracy, race and justice. Banks’ introductions bring fresh insight into the events and ideologies that underpinned Alexander’s outlook and activism.”
“Racial discrimination undermined Alexander’s life as well as the collective memory of her work and breadth of economic thought. But the speeches that she left behind attest to her brilliance and prescient observations about our current political economy,” Banks says.
Alexander believed that unemployment was the primary economic problem the nation faced, according to Banks. Full employment policies, she believed, would alleviate the problems of marginal work, income inequality and inadequate wages.
Banks’ economics research has found that the legacy of those problems persists today, particularly in a lack of worker protections and benefits. Black Americans continue to be overrepresented in low-paying occupations without employer-provided retirement plans, health insurance, paid sick and maternity leave, and paid vacations. Prior to the pandemic, nearly 40% of Black workers lacked paid sick leave and only 43% had employer-sponsored retirement plans, compared to 50% of white workers, she reports.
“Recessions worsen racial inequities,” says Banks, who is an affiliated faculty member in women’s and gender studies and in Africana Studies. “Black men have always been hardest hit with job losses and longer durations of unemployment. In the pandemic-led recession — dubbed the ‘she-cession’ for the disproportionate impact on women — Black women have suffered the greatest job losses among women, although Black men have the highest overall unemployment rates. Because African American women are more likely than white women to be breadwinners in their families, income loss for Black women is particularly devastating for Black families.”