Economists must do "a huge amount of work" to eliminate racial biases from their profession, according to the AFL-CIO's chief economist.
In a CNBC interview, William Spriggs said economists' models and assumptions often include racist ideas that perpetuate inequality.
"The polite way of looking at it is that somehow Black workers or Hispanic workers are deficient," Spriggs said. "So the view is projected, well, they're high unemployment, that's because they're deficient."
Companies and policymakers have been reevaluating how to address systemic racism in the American economy since the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Spriggs, who is also an economics professor at Howard University, said he hopes this can be a "teachable moment" for his profession.
In an open letter earlier this month, Spriggs urged colleagues to rethink how they study racial disparities and to question institutions that reinforce economic inequality.
"We ignore the constructs that our society has created," he told CNBC. "The purpose of those constructs are to create inequality. That naivety, it's painful if you're a Black economist to listen to people think of the world in this way."
Economists and policymakers have been increasingly pointing to the economic harm of social and racial inequality as the coronavirus pandemic has hit minorities especially hard. Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic said earlier this month systemic racism is a "yoke that drags on the American economy."
"Our policymaking has to consider diversity of the workforce," Spriggs said.