Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg spoke about economic and racial inequality at a community leaders meeting in Birmingham Wednesday. Buttigieg fielded questions from government officials and nonprofit leaders at the meeting, only a portion of which was observed by the media.
Buttigieg expressed support for raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, paid parental leave policies and increasing union membership. The South Bend, Indiana, mayor says rural areas need investment as well, such as with broadband internet access. He says immigration plays a role, too.
“If we want a population growth strategy in rural America, let’s welcome new Americans,” Buttigieg said.
Jefferson County Commissioner Sheila Tyson pressed Buttigieg on how he would ensure his policies would benefit African Americans and not just the white community. Buttigieg proposed increased enforcement against wage discrimination, which he says would help cut the pay gap for black workers. He says more minority-owned businesses need access to loans.
Buttigieg encouraged engagement with those who oppose expanding the social safety net when they invoke religion and politics.
“Instead of ‘I was hungry and you fed me,’ it’s ‘we’re going to cut TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families).’ Instead of ‘I was sick and you healed me,’ it’s ‘we’re not going to expand Medicaid,” Buttigieg said. “Let’s talk about the morality behind these decisions that are being made.”
The visit was part of a multi-day campaign swing through Southern states, which included a stop in Montgomery Tuesday. Polls have shown lackluster support for Buttigieg among black voters, a significant constituency in the Alabama Democratic primary.