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Summary - White House Women’s Economic Briefing: Alarmingly High Black Maternal Mortality Rates Still Not Worth a Mention - Matthew Weinstock, ESG Intern, American University

On November 1, 2022, at 12:30 pm EST, the White House hosted the “Women’s Economic Briefing.” This served as an information session regarding the Biden Administration's approach to issues pertaining to women. As is always the case with White House Briefings, the agenda consisted of several speakers, each honing in on their area of expertise. They touched on different issues, with the only real tie being the focus on issues that primarily affect women.

Compared to recent White House briefings, this event was slightly less self-congratulatory, but not necessarily more informative. While it got better as it went on, with more competent speakers in the second half, the event also had speakers who simply did not belong in a White House event. The meeting also lacked a clear call to action, (aside from the unspoken urging of attendees to vote blue in the midterms) and was not thematically consistent despite a clearly laid out agenda.

No meeting in the Biden Administration would be complete without a cute and harmless demonstration of a lack of understanding of modern technology, and this meeting was no exception. The event started three minutes later than its scheduled starting time, which is slightly less of a delay than can be expected with the average briefing from this Administration. The slightly more cute mishap came when meeting hosts struggled to end the meeting. While not in any way significant, I still found it entertaining to see flustered members of the most powerful organization in America attempt to end a Zoom meeting. Speakers would ‘talk’ for ten seconds before being alerted by another speaker that they were on mute.

Keeping with the theme of the Biden administration utilizing media as effectively as the average 20 year old, this briefing also included their signature plea for attendees to utilize the White House’s student debt relief program. As Creative Investment Research has noted, the Biden administration continues to misdirect their well-intentioned messaging, especially regarding programs the average American wants to learn more about. The administration has shared information about the student debt relief program in press hearings countless times. This, unsurprisingly, is a mostly fruitless approach, since they are failing to account for the fact that these messages likely reach politically active people and these individuals are probably already well aware of the student debt program. If the White House wants to reach people not currently aware of their student debt relief program, the best course of action would be to broadcast that information on platforms less politically involved Americans spend their time on, such as TikTok, or through television ads and celebrity spokespeople. It is a waste of time to continue informing people already familiar with the program. While time spent discussing the debt relief program was thematically consistent, since women hold two thirds of all student debt in America. Creative Investment Research has gone into depth on this issue elsewhere. It is still worth noting that the Biden administration, though well intentioned, desperately needs to shift their approach to reaching everyday Americans, especially concerning their new student debt relief program.

Additionally, meetings like these move at too fast to thoroughly process everything said, and they don’t make recordings of the events publically available to be viewed afterwards. If a viewer misses something, they have no way of going back and listening to the speaker again. They do have transcripts, but these are generated using AI. This, unsurprisingly, leads to many typos and grammatical errors. In contrast with the Biden administration’s previously mentioned technological shortcomings, this is an actual technical issue that needs fixing if these meetings are to be seen as professional and accessible. This is an easy fix. Releasing a video recording of these conferences after the fact, or having a real person proofread the transcript and undo the AI’s mistakes, would likely do the trick. (I would be very pleased if the administration were to fix this problem going forward.)

As for the meeting itself, much of the information shared was important, but obvious. Speakers would state that we need to promote economic equality for women, which, while true, is not very insightful, and could be said by any adult political activist. “Insights” like this made up most of the briefing. While current Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers Cecilia Rouse shared engaging insights, most of the speakers stuck to agreeable, progressive, and uncontroversial sentiments, while interjecting a few interesting tidbits. Most of the speakers were decent.

While most of the speakers were adequate, one speaker did not fit this description. Kamala Harris’s husband, Douglas Emhoff, was the first speaker to get significant time. I found Mr. Emhoff's talk below average. He was bad. I feel his selection was bizarre to begin with, as he does not hold public office, and is male. A man speaking at the White House Women’s Economic Briefing would be understandable if he were either exceptionally qualified, or exceptionally insightful, but he did not appear to be either. Arguably the most noteworthy thing he expressed was his belief that the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade was bad. He didn’t offer any more insight than a typical political activist would have also shared. He didn’t represent diversity and doesn’t hold a position that qualifies him to speak at a meeting like this. He was just a slightly smarter than your average old white dude who happens to be married to a powerful politician. While Mr. Emhoff appears perfectly decent and kind and is certainly qualified for other challenging undertakings, I found his selection to speak perplexing and a factor contributing immensely to the meeting’s lack of impact and meaning. 

All in all, the White House Women’s Economic Briefing wasn’t terrible, but it definitely wasn’t good. The speaker list was perplexing, there were several tech issues, and the substance of the hearing was rather pedestrian and more self-congratulatory than is optimal. The meeting wasn’t horrible in any single way, but there weren’t many positive takeaways from the 45 minute event.

From my perspective at Creative Investment Research, however, the failure to mention the alarmingly high Black maternal mortality rate was notable. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Black maternal mortality currently sits at 43 deaths per 100,000 live births. It is disheartening to see the continued lack of attention given to this issue. According to the CDC, Black women are around three times as likely as a white woman to experience maternal mortality, and the majority of these deaths are preventable, and could be stopped if we were to dedicate adequate resources to addressing this problem. According to Statistica, the U.S. has the fifth highest maternal mortality among countries with available data, trailing Costa Rica, Mexico, Latvia, and Columbia. Even disregarding race, America's maternal mortality rate is a serious issue, far higher than the majority of first world countries, and around ten times worse than countries like Denmark, Poland and Spain. Many have called America's sky-high maternal death rates a national embarrassment, and it is sad that this issue is still not garnering significant attention. I think the fact that our elected officials are not putting more effort into reducing Black maternal mortality, considering it is around three times higher than the already alarmingly high rates of white maternal mortality, is pathetic.

It is worth noting the legislative efforts that have been taken to deal with Black Maternal Mortality. In February of 2021, Lauren Underwood, Cory Booker, Alma Adams, and members of the Black maternal health caucus introduced the “Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021.” Led by Congresswoman Lauren Underwood, the bill has 12 primary objectives:

  1. "Make critical investments in social determinants of health that influence maternal health outcomes, like housing, transportation, and nutrition.

  2. Provide funding to community-based organizations that are working to improve maternal health outcomes and promote equity.

  3. Comprehensively study the unique maternal health risks facing pregnant and postpartum veterans and support VA maternity care coordination programs.

  4. Grow and diversify the perinatal workforce to ensure that every mom in America receives culturally congruent maternity care and support.

  5. Improve data collection processes and quality measures to better understand the causes of the maternal health crisis in the United States and inform solutions to address it.

  6. Support moms with maternal mental health conditions and substance use disorders.

  7. Improve maternal health care and support for incarcerated moms.

  8. Invest in digital tools like telehealth to improve maternal health outcomes in underserved areas.

  9. Promote innovative payment models to incentivize high-quality maternity care and non-clinical perinatal support.

  10. Invest in federal programs to address the unique risks for and effects of COVID-19 during and after pregnancy and to advance respectful maternity care in future public health emergencies.

  11. Invest in community-based initiatives to reduce levels of and exposure to climate change-related risks for moms and babies.

  12. Promote maternal vaccinations to protect the health and safety of moms and babies." Source: Black Maternal Health Caucus.

This Bill would have been an excellent starting point for reducing the likelihood that woman, especially Black woman, would die during pregnancy. Unfortunately, in the 21 months since this bill’s introduction, it has only 187 of the 218 cosponsors needed to pass the House and reach the Senate. There have been no new cosponsors in the last four months. While I would be beyond thrilled to be proven wrong, it seems that, in all likelihood, this bill is dead. 

Still, the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021 provides a solid framework for future legislation, and I see no excuse for such legislation not being enacted. These obscenely high mortality rates are a direct result of decades of racism, and government incompetence. Black women are responsible for creating black lives. Any Congressperson who believes Black lives matter  would support legislation that would save the lives of pregnant Black women and those assigned female at birth (AFAB).

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