(FORBES) – Since the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. economy, economic and racial opportunity gaps and overall inequality have risen sharply.
Unemployment for minorities and younger workers has skyrocketed beyond the national unemployment rate, which economists now peg at 20%. To date, data from credit monitors indicates service workers, those in tourism states, and low-income workers have been hit the hardest financially and haven’t seen any recovery.
Now, America’s second-largest bank by assets is making an almost unprecedented commitment to help alleviate the widening inequality brought on by the pandemic, and accentuated in recent national protests.
Bank of America said on Tuesday morning it will make a $1 billion commitment over four-years to help local communities address the widening economic and racial inequality stemming from the pandemic.
“Underlying economic and social disparities that exist have accelerated and intensified during the global pandemic,” said CEO Brian Moynihan in a press release unveiling the program.
Bank of America’s programs will focus on assisting people and communities of color, which have seen the greatest negative impact from the pandemic. The four-year plan will build on the work it already does to develop workforces and improve economic mobility in local communities across the country.
Areas of focus for Bank of America’s will be on improving access to jobs and helping build skills and training for workers. Additionally, the firm is committing to supporting local small businesses and housing. Due to the pandemic, it said added attention and resources will be committed to health services.
BofA said it will roll out the $1 billion program through the leaders of its businesses in local markets. Some 91 U.S. market presidents at BofA nationwide and some international personnel will develop plans to execute the commitment in their local markets.
Specific areas of focus will be building partnerships with historically black colleges and universities and Hispanic-serving institutions that help with hiring, research programs.
It will also support to minority-owned small businesses, including clients and vendors, and work with high schools and community partnerships to give workers new skills.
The bank’s housing efforts will support investment for affordable shelter and neighborhood revitalization, building on the bank’s $5 billion in existing Community Development Banking. Furthermore, BofA is continuing to commit to hiring low-to-moderate income workers and those from disadvantaged communities.
Overall, the $1 billion commitment is a major redoubling of BofA’s efforts in a national emergency.
Bank of America said its proposal is aligned with the firm’s broader for-profit motives, characterizing the effort as aligned with its “commitment to responsible growth for clients, shareholders, employees and communities.”
“The events of the past week have created a sense of true urgency that has arisen across our nation, particularly in view of the racial injustices we have seen in the communities where we work and live,” said CEO Moynihan, “We all need to do more.”