William E. Spriggs, Economist Who Pushed for Racial Justice, Dies at 68

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By Ben Casselman June 9, 2023


William E. Spriggs, who in a four-decade career in economics sought to root out racial injustice in society and in his own profession, died on Tuesday in Reston, Va. He was 68.

The A.F.L.-C.I.O., for which Dr. Spriggs had been chief economist for more than a decade, announced his death. His wife of 38 years, Jennifer Spriggs, said the cause was a stroke.

One of the most prominent Black economists of his generation, Dr. Spriggs served as an assistant secretary of labor in the Obama administration and held other public-sector roles earlier in his career. But he was best known for his work outside of government as an outspoken and frequently quoted advocate for workers, especially Black workers.

In addition to his role at the A.F.L.-C.I.O., based in Washington, he was a professor at Howard University, where he mentored a generation of Black economists while pushing for change within a field dominated by white men.

“Bill was somebody who was deeply committed to the idea that we do economics because we have a social purpose,” William A. Darity Jr., a Duke University economist and longtime friend, said in a phone interview. “That this is not a discipline that should be deployed just for playing parlor games, and that we should use the ideas that we develop from economics for the design of social policy that will make the lives of most people far better.”