(Bloomberg) -- William Spriggs, the AFL-CIO chief economist and outspoken critic of how the profession has addressed racial disparities in the US, has died. He was 68.

He died on June 6, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations said Wednesday in a tweet, without citing a cause.

Spriggs, who also taught at Howard University, was one of the profession’s most prominent Black voices, and he did not shy away from taking his colleagues to task over the way they handled racial issues.

Following the death of George Floyd in 2020, Spriggs, who went by Bill, wrote an open letter to economists warning their methods were “perpetuating the very things they wish to recoil from” and imploring them to “reflect and rethink how we study racial disparities.”

“Bill was a towering figure in his field, a trailblazer who challenged the field’s basic assumptions about racial discrimination in labor markets, pay equity, and worker empowerment,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. “His work inspired countless economists, some of whom work for our administration, to join him in the pursuit of economic justice.”

In recent years, Spriggs also criticized the Federal Reserve, arguing aggressive monetary tightening would disproportionately harm Black workers without addressing the root causes of inflation.

He served as an adviser to the Minneapolis Fed’s Opportunity and Inclusive Growth Institute, which the reserve bank launched in 2017 to study economic disparities.

“Bill was always gracious with his time and insights, helping to shape our thinking on labor markets, economic opportunity, racial wealth gaps, and many other key issues,” Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari said in an emailed statement.

“Never one to hold back, Bill told us when he thought we were going in the wrong direction and those debates were always robust, but respectful.”

William Edward Spriggs was born on April 8, 1955 in Washington, DC. His father was a Tuskegee Airman and Ph.D. physicist, while his mother was also a World War II veteran and school teacher, according to an autobiographical blog post Spriggs wrote in 2011.

He attended Williams College as an undergraduate before earning a Masters and Ph.D. in economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He served as an assistant secretary of policy at the US Labor Department from 2009 to 2012, under President Barack Obama.

National Treasure

In the 1990s, Spriggs served in various government positions, including at the Joint Economic Committee and the Commerce Department. He played a key role in urging President Bill Clinton to appoint a Black person to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, which at the time had only had one Black governor before, decades earlier.

“Bill Spriggs was a national treasure to all economists, helping advance the profession, and generously giving his time and talents to training the next generation of leaders in the field,” said Fed Governor Lisa Cook, who last year became the first Black woman to serve in the position.

Spriggs became an economics professor at Howard University in 2005. In 2012, he joined the AFL-CIO, a federation of labor unions that represents 12.5 million workers, according to its website.

Spriggs was widely recognized as a friend and mentor to many younger Black economists.

When Michelle Holder, an associate professor of economics at John Jay College, City University of New York, entered academia, “he was one of the first to really reach out and say, ‘Hey, you have a community of other Black economists here, ready and willing to support you,’” she said.

Spriggs often pointed out that the unemployment rate for White high-school dropouts is usually lower than the rate for the Black population overall, using it as evidence that racism is a more important factor in employment disparities than educational attainment.

“I think what motivated him was the fact that if Black people in this country are doing well and doing better, it’s better for the country overall,” Holder said. “To me, his legacy was really about making a stronger country by ensuring that Black people weren’t left behind.”

--With assistance from Josh Eidelson.

(Updates with comments from President Biden, Fed Governor Lisa Cook)

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