Advancing Economic Inclusion in Southern Cities


In 2015, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, in partnership with PolicyLink, launched Southern Cities for Economic Inclusion, a cohort of seven cities dedicated to advancing economic equity for low-income communities and communities of color. Comprised of city officials and staff, local philanthropy, and business and community partners from Atlanta, Asheville, Charlotte, Memphis, Nashville, New Orleans and Richmond, the group convenes regularly to share best practices and learn from experts. Their next meeting will be in Richmond from October 23-25.

This group explicitly identifies and addresses the unique historical, political, and legal obstacles to achieving economic inclusion in the South; namely, the region’s deeply entrenched legacy of racism and segregation, as well as the structural limitations imposed by state laws that strip cities of the authority to advance economic inclusion policies such as local hiring or inclusive procurement.

Leaders from the seven cities are advancing real solutions by:

  • Establishing an economic agenda that both acknowledges and confronts the legacy of race. City and community leaders in New Orleans and Atlanta have created economic opportunity plans that set a proactive agenda to invest in people of color and others who have been left behind and demonstrate how equity will lead to everyone being better off.  
     
  • Bringing together diverse stakeholders to advance an economic inclusion agenda. In Memphis, Nashville, and elsewhere, anchor institutions such as universities and medical facilities, along with business and other leaders in the private sector, are coming together with city partners to encourage growth in the minority business community and bring new investments into communities without causing displacement. 
     
  • Innovating policies and programs to support minority-owned businesses and connect people to jobs. In Charlotte, Richmond, and Asheville, cities have developed pilot procurement programs and incentives to support minority businesses and to help connect individuals with barriers to employment to good jobs.
     

These projects and initiatives are changing the cultural silence on race in economic development policy and strengthening local positions despite state restrictions on local authority. We applaud these city leaders for their work thus far.  Reaching this point has required creativity in policy design, political deftness, and most of all, resilience.  However, advancing this work will require additional investment and strong partnerships across a wide range of stakeholders, including local and national philanthropy, the private sector, and community-based organizations. We hope you will join us to advance an economically inclusive and prosperous South.

California Leads on Juvenile Justice Reform

This week, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 190, co-authored by Senators Holly Mitchell and Ricardo Lara — ending the regressive and racially discriminatory practice of charging administrative fees to families with youth in the juvenile system.

California and nearly every other state charge parents of youth involved in the juvenile justice system with various fees, including fees for detention, legal representation, probation supervision, electronic monitoring, and drug testing. These fees trap poor families in debt, particularly families of color, and according to a study by the U.C. Berkeley Law School Policy Advocacy Clinic, significantly increase the likelihood of recidivism. Though the fees are designed to reimburse local governments for costs related to a child’s involvement in the juvenile justice system, counties often spend as much, if not more, to collect the fees as they take in. 

PolicyLink, working in coalition with state advocacy organizations, co-sponsored and advocated for SB 190, which will prevent California counties from charging juvenile administrative fees. As the first state in the nation to eliminate the fees, the passage of Senate Bill 190 could spark similar reforms in other states. According to PolicyLink senior associate Lewis Brown Jr., “Imposing fees on poor parents who are struggling to make ends meet is not the way to fund our juvenile justice system. Hopefully, Senate Bill 190 is the first step toward eliminating these destabilizing and counterproductive fees throughout the country.” 

We applaud our coalition partners, as well as Senator Mitchell, Senator Lara, and Governor Brown, for their leadership in addressing this important issue. We look forward to working with others to ensure that SB 190 will serve as a model for other states looking to address juvenile, and other types of criminal justice fines and fees.

Click here for information on Senate Bill 190>>>

Here’s What U.S. Cities Gain If Housing Is Affordable

Cross-posted from Next City

This week, as part of the #RenterWeekofAction, September 18 to 23, renters in over 45 cities will take to the streets to demand better protections from displacement and more community control over land and housing.

Recognizing the severity of the housing affordability crisis facing renters from Oakland to Miami and the need for policy solutions, the National Equity Atlas, a partnership between PolicyLink and the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity, analyzed the growth of renters in the nation and in 37 cities, their contributions to the economy, and what renters and the United States stand to gain if housing were affordable.

Read more>>>

L.A.'s Housing Crisis Is Now the Nation's Housing Crisis

Crossposted from LA Weekly

The impact of Los Angeles' postrecession housing crisis became clear in 2014, when a UCLA report found that L.A. is "the most unaffordable rental market" in the United States. Since then, L.A. has seen renters become the majority of households in the market. And earlier this year, a report marked a 23 percent rise in homelessness  countywide, a number that some experts say is directly tied to out-of-reach rents.

To kick off an awareness campaign called the Renter Week of Action this week, a number of organizations released an analysis of the city's and nation's increasing rent burdens, noting in a summary that renters from coast to coast now "face a toxic mix of rising rents and stagnant wages."

When Renters Rise, Cities Thrive

PolicyLink is proud to support the #RenterWeekofAction happening this week—and invite you to join in calling for policy solutions to ensure renters—and cities—can thrive. See National and City Fact Sheets below.

Renters now represent the majority in the nation’s 100 largest cities and contribute billions to local economies from Oakland to Miami. Yet they increasingly face a toxic mix of rising rents and stagnant wages—adding up to an unprecedented housing affordability crisis that stymies their ability to contribute and thrive.
 
This week, renters in more than 45 cities across the country are rising up to demand that policymakers, landlords, lenders, and developers take action to ensure all people can live in dignified and affordable homes. They are calling for an end to evictions and unfair rent increases, full funding for Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and long-term community control of land and housing. The Renter Week of Action and Assemblies is being organized by our partners at Homes for All, a program of Right to the City, with the support of CarsonWatch.
 
In support of the #RenterWeekofAction, our National Equity Atlas and All-In Cities teams analyzed the impact of the growing affordability crisis in the U.S. and in 37 cities (*see list below). They found that nationally, if renters paid only what was affordable for housing, they would have $124 billion extra to spend in the community every year, or $6,200 per rent-burdened household. 

Join us. Participate in the Renter Week of Action. 

  • Join an action happening in your city. Check out this map of actions to find out what is happening locally and get in touch with the organizers.
     
  • Learn more. See the Homes for All website and download the #RenterPower Action Toolkit. Text RENTERPOWER to 831-218-8484 for text alerts about the actions.
     
  • Use our fact sheets (download National; see below City Fact Sheets) to discuss the renter crisis and solutions with your colleagues, employers, the media, and policymakers. An article in today's LA Weekly uses the Los Angeles fact sheet to support a package of affordable housing bills on the desk of Governor Jerry Brown.
     
  • Amplify the mobilization through social media.  Use #RenterWeekofAction, #RenterNation. This week and beyond, follow @Carson_Watch, @HFA_RenterPower, @PolicyLink, #equitydata.


CITY FACT SHEETS:

Alameda, Atlanta, Baltimore, Birmingham, Boston, Bowling Green, KY, Brooklyn, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Durham, El Paso, Jackson, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Lynn, MA, Miami, Minneapolis, Nashville, Newark, Oakland, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Portland, Providence, Reno, Rochester, San Diego, Santa Ana, Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa, Seattle, Spokane, Springfield, St. Paul, Washington, DC.

Trump Administration Eliminates Local Hire Pilot before It Can Demonstrate Results

The Trump Administration recently stripped communities of a crucial tool for job creation – hiring local workers. In August, the US Department of Transportation announced it would discontinue a pilot program allowing for geographic-based hiring preferences in administering federal awards, also known as local hiring. This represents a premature halting of a program that was being utilized on 14 projects in more than 10 states. The pilot program has not been in existence and functioning long enough to collect and analyze data and information to determine its impact. 

By repealing the program at US DOT, the Administration is breaking its promise to increase employment, especially for disproportionately under and unemployed communities that stood to gain from the program. For example, one of the projects in located in Wise County, VA: a region which could be called “Trump country”. The population is 92 percent White, and Trump won nearly 4 out of 5 votes in the county in the 2016 election. Wise County is also struggling economically; as of June 2017, the unemployment rate was 7.3 percent – nearly double the statewide rate of 3.7 percent. The poverty rate is 22.7 percent more than twice the statewide rate of 11.2 percent.  Across the entire state there are 16,000 unemployed veterans. The state was working to leverage a $6.4 million dollar road expansion project (which included bicycle paths and sidewalks) to address unemployment and poverty. The county’s approved project they required that 75 percent of new hires should be either local residents or veterans living anywhere in the state of Virginia. 

Local hire policies bring good jobs to economically disadvantaged communities and ensure equitable development. Local hire programs also yield shared benefits.  Businesses receive financial incentives when they hire veterans or workers from the local community and they also find a steady supply of reliable workers. Job seekers can more easily travel to job sites located within their community.

Civic leaders and advocates across the country that are trying to move a jobs agenda for infrastructure have voiced major opposition for this recent move. Members of the federal Advisory Committee on Transportation Equity (ACTE) sent a letter to Secretary Chao urging her to re-instate the local hiring program. ACTE was established by the US DOT in 2016 to provide the Secretary with “independent advice and recommendations about comprehensive, interdisciplinary issues related to transportation equity.” PolicyLink CEO Angela Glover Blackwell sits on this committee,  serving a two-year term of service alongside 11 individuals involved in transportation planning, design, research, policy, and advocacy, including Former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, DreamCorps CEO Van Jones and Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians, Jacqueline Pata.

If you would more information about how to join with others to voice your opposition to this move by the administration, please CONTACT US at Transportation Equity Caucus website.

JOIN US in Chicago April 11 – 13, for EquitySummit 2018, as we explore the complexity and urgency of building a multiracial coalition at this pivotal moment for our nation.

 

Crafting an Economic Agenda for Black Lives

Today, racial inequities are once again at the center of the national political conversation — along with bold, visionary proposals for policies to resolve them. Grassroots responses to police violence have given rise to a movement of leaders, coalitions, and organizations seeking not only social justice for Black communities, but economic justice as well.

The Movement for Black Lives, a collective of 50 organizations around the country, is creating a common vision and agenda for Black communities. Last August, the group released a nine-point economic policy platform that calls for progressive restructuring of the tax code to ensure an equitable and sustainable redistribution of wealth, federal and state job programs targeting the most economically marginalized Black people, protection for workers’ rights to organize, tax incentives for cooperative economy networks, and more (read the full platform here). By centering economic equity for Black people and creating and amplifying a shared agenda, the Movement for Black Lives hopes to “move towards a world in which the full humanity and dignity of all people is recognized.”

So far, the collective has been most visible in its event-based organizing. For the past two years, Reclaim MLK Day has been connecting the national holiday to the radical actions of contemporary movements. Launched to coincide with Mother’s Day 2017, “Mama’s Bail Out Day” kicked off a summer of bailing out more than 200 incarcerated people as a step toward ending pre-trial incarceration for those who cannot afford bail. On June 19 (Juneteenth), the collective held a day of action in 40 cities to reclaim abandoned buildings, vacant lots, and other local spaces.

America’s Tomorrow spoke with DeAngelo Bester, contributor to the Movement for Black Lives economic justice platform and co-executive director and senior strategist at the Workers Center for Racial Justice, to discuss the platform’s labor organizing recommendations and talk about what it will take to move the agenda’s policy points forward.

Organizing workers outside of traditional employment models is a priority for the Workers Center for Racial Justice. What are some of the strategies Black workers have begun using to organize in response to the growth of the “on demand” economy?

The Workers Center for Racial Justice and some more progressive unions and worker centers have been trying to organize workers in industries where they are either considered contract or temporary workers. The idea is to organize them as we would in a union, and to change the laws and policies in their localities to give them collective bargaining rights. The National Labor Relations Board ruled last year that you can organize temp workers and people working in temp agencies into collective bargaining units.

Short of guaranteeing collective bargaining agreements, we won’t be able to get on-demand workers the same type of rights as far as fair wages. But there have been some victories in Chicago and other places around increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and getting domestic workers paid sick leave and fair scheduling.

With the politics being the way they are in DC, a national right-to-work policy could be coming down at the federal level. The Supreme Court will also probably be ruling in favor of getting rid of public sector unions. Therefore, we are trying to do our work at the local level in terms of making policy changes to ensure worker protections.

In your local level efforts, where have you seen fair development work in action, in the sense of people creating affordable housing, fighting displacement, and creating good jobs in a single effort?

There hasn’t been a ton of what you are calling fair development. When I did housing work a few years ago, getting the right number of affordable housing units included in development projects was a big issue. As far as jobs going to workers from marginalized communities in community benefits agreements or private labor agreements, it has been really hit-or-miss. It hasn’t been what it needs to be to get Black workers real jobs.

In the construction industry, a lot of cities have minority set-asides. The way it usually works is that two rules are in place: employers have to use union labor, and a certain percentage of the jobs are supposed to go to people from local communities. But there are always ways for folks to get around the stipulation to provide jobs. Sometimes developers only have to pay a $25,000 fine, so they might still choose not to hire people from the community. Or they could say that no new jobs are being created. In the construction industry, a lot of contractors have their own staff in place already and so developers say that they didn’t hire any new people because they just used existing employees. In private labor agreements, that’s been a drawback — and there hasn’t been real enforcement. What we [at the Workers Center for Racial Justice] have been trying to do when we work on private agreements is to say that a certain percentage of jobs and hours worked must go to people from the community; that way we can get around the language of “new jobs created.”

The Movement for Black Lives economic justice platform — like the rest of its policy agenda —  has brought together a diverse range of voices and organizations in a bold and ambitious vision for racial economic justice. What has your experience been working with this group?

The process has been great. The executive team did a great job of bringing people together, keeping people engaged, and answering phones and questions. It’s been as good of an experience as I’ve had as far as getting together and meeting with people and continuing to build relationships.

The only drawback or critique that I have is that there hasn’t been a discussion of building the power needed to get some of the platform implemented. With politics being the way they are in DC right now, none of us really have the power to do that right now. We need to have a discussion about what it would take to build that power, and after we have that power, what we would do to get some of these things implemented.

Speaking of the changing political climate, as the current presidential administration has evolved, which of the Movement for Black Lives platform points do you see as having the most promise in getting implemented?

There could be some potential around tax reform. There was language in the platform around tax breaks for marginalized workers, and expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit. Republicans have been talking about tax reform, too – cutting taxes for the rich. There could be a chance, if we build up enough support, to move some of the tax reform ideas forward. Other than that, the platform’s points around justice reform and police reform – I don’t think we have a real chance of getting that stuff moving with the person we have in the White House and the person we have heading up the Department of Justice. Even the points around housing and environmental justice and land rights are going to be tough in the current political environment. That’s why it is necessary to build enough power to implement the platform.

Mayors Must Create a Bold Vision for Equity

Last week, I had the pleasure of joining the U.S. Conference of Mayors summer meeting in New Orleans to discuss the importance of equity — just and fair inclusion — to their cities’ future. This was also the first meeting of the conference since their president, Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans, ordered the city’s Confederate statues removed. In an earlier speech about this decision, Mayor Landrieu explained, “Centuries old wounds are still raw because they never healed right in the first place.” The conference took a moment to applaud his bold actions, which are all the more courageous given the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, surrounding that city’s plan to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general. Given today’s political climate, cities — with their economic power, diversity, and innovation — must continue to take bold actions, address old wounds, and lead our nation toward inclusive prosperity. This requires transforming policies and systems that have long perpetuated racial inequities.

While millennials, as well as companies and investment capital, are flocking to cities, many vulnerable communities who stuck with cities through their long decline are disconnected from these emerging opportunities and are at risk of being further left behind or displaced altogether. As I explained at the conference, local leaders must think intentionally about racial equity and ensure that low-income people and people of color are able to participate in, and benefit from, decisions that impact their communities.

We call this pathway for achieving healthy, vibrant, prosperous communities “equitable development.” Specifically, I shared four principles to guide equitable development:

  1. Integrate strategies that focus on the needs of people and on the places where they live and work.
  2. Reduce economic and social disparities throughout the region.
  3. Promote triple-bottom-line investments (financial returns, community benefits, and environmental sustainability) that are equitable, catalytic, and coordinated.
  4. Include meaningful community participation and leadership in change efforts. 

For example, the City and County of San Francisco entered into a historic community benefits agreement with Lennar (the second-largest national housing developer) around a major development in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood. As a result, Lennar will ensure that 32 percent of housing units are affordable; provide housing preference to existing residents; and provide over $8.5 million in job training funds. Such commitments would not be possible without thinking about enduring inequalities and putting people at the center of development plans.

Reducing inequality and creating opportunities for all to participate in building a stronger economy is not just the right thing to do — it is urgent and fundamental to the economic future of cities, regions, and the nation. Already, more than half of new births in the U.S. are children of color. By the end of this decade, the majority of children under 18 will be of color. By 2030, the majority of young workers under 25 will be of color. It is evident that what happens to people of color will determine the fate of the nation.

As I shared this message with the mayors present, I also understood that they have a responsibility to all their residents. But equity is not a zero-sum game. Intentional investments in the most vulnerable communities have benefits that cascade out, improving the lives of all struggling people as well as regional economies and the nation as a whole. I call this the “curb-cut effect”, after the ramp-like dips on sidewalk corners. Championed by disability rights activists in the 1970s, these investments not only enabled people in wheelchairs to cross the street, but have helped everyone from parents wheeling strollers to workers pushing carts to travelers rolling suitcases. In fact, studies show that curb cuts have improved public safety as they have encouraged pedestrians to cross safely at intersections. 

The strategies may be unique in each city, but the struggle for equity is the same across the United States. Fortunately, mayors understand that the work they do is more important than ever, particularly when it comes to addressing racial inequality. Reflecting on the meeting, I am reminded of another quote from Mayor Landrieu’s speech: “If we take these statues down and don’t change to become a more open and inclusive society this would have all been in vain.” Mayors must grapple with inequities in their communities, embrace the changing faces of their cities and towns, and maximize equitable development to foster communities of opportunity for all.

Together, we can build a nation in which no one, no group, and no geographic region is left behind. 

Tax Alliance for Economic Mobility Provides Feedback to the Senate Finance Committee on How to Improve Tax Reform

In response to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch’s (R-Utah) call for input and feedback from tax stakeholders across the country on how to improve the American tax system through tax reform, The Tax Alliance for Economic Mobility submitted the following letter to the Finance Committee that focuses on reform that outs low and moderate income people first, and fuels upward economic mobility instead of exacerbating an already-growing wealth divide.

The letter hones in on four sets of principles for reform of tax-based aid that can lead to more equitable programs that will expand opportunity throughout the country:

  1. Increasing Financial Security for Working Families;
  2. Making Higher Education Tax Expenditures Work for Everyone;
  3. Using the Tax Code to Encourage Savings and Investment for Retirement
  4. Reduce Subsidies for Mortagage Debt and Larger Homes Owned by High-Income Households

Read the full letter here and sign up for the Tax Alliance newsletter for updates on our work.

PolicyLink Launches All-In Cities Policy Toolkit


Today marks the launch of the All-In Cities Policy Toolkit, a new online resource designed to help leaders inside and outside city government identify, understand, and choose targeted policy solutions to advance racial economic inclusion and equitable growth.

The toolkit includes an initial selection of 21 tools, including, but not limited to: Equitable contracting and procurement, Financial empowerment centers, incentivized savings accounts, living wage, local and targeted hiring, minimum wage, worker-owned cooperatives, and more. New content and additional policies will be added throughout 2017 and beyond. The toolkit provides examples of specific policies that local leaders can adapt to their own economic and political contexts, key considerations for design and implementation, and outlines where these policies are working to advance racial and economic equity.

This toolkit is just one resource from All-In Cities. Through this initiative, PolicyLink continues its work to change the dialogue about how and why equity matters to city and regional futures, while working hand-in-hand with city leaders to advance equitable growth strategies.

These Boston Apprenticeships Are Pushing the Economy Toward Equity

Donan Cosme was only 15 when he found himself in the crosshairs of gang life, facing off against a member of a competing gang, guns raised. More than a decade later, these two men would meet again — not as rivals, but as colleagues and fellow apprentices in Boston’s Sprinkler Fitters Local Union 550.

“We’ve put our differences aside and we can work together like it never happened,” Cosme, 30, said. “This is what’s possible when you give people a second opportunity to make something of themselves.”

Cosme credits this second opportunity to Operation Exit, a program that provides formerly incarcerated and at-risk residents with the skills and support necessary to enter apprenticeships in building trades, culinary arts and the tech industry. The program has placed dozens of graduates into career-track apprentice opportunities that pay well above the city’s living wage.

Read the full article in Next City>>>

Expansion of CalEITC to Reach More than One Million Additional Low-Income Working Families

 

On June 27, Governor Jerry Brown signed a budget that significantly expands the California Earned Income Tax Credit (CalEITC), a refundable state tax credit that increases the economic security of low-income working families. Effective for the 2017 tax year, low-income workers with self-employment income and working families with incomes up to about $22,300 will be able to benefit from the credit. Initial estimates from the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy indicate that more than one million additional families could benefit under the expansion.

“The expansion of CalEITC represents a significant step toward creating a more equitable California, one in which all Californians, no matter race, gender, or socioeconomic status, can thrive and reach their full potential.” – Lewis Brown, Senior Associate, PolicyLink

Read Full Statement at Children's Defense Fund -- California 

Six New Cities Selected for Equitable Economic Development Fellowship

The National League of Cities (NLC), PolicyLink, and the Urban Land Institute (ULI) announced the selection of six additional cities for participation in the organizations’ jointly-supported Equitable Economic Development Fellowship: Austin, Baltimore, Louisville, Nashville, Phoenix and Sacramento.

The fellowship begins today in Washington, D.C., where representatives from each city, as well as those who participated in the 2016-2017 class, will convene to build a shared sense of equitable economic development, hear from the outgoing class of participants, and engage with program sponsors and other guest speakers.

During the year-long fellowship, each city will select an issue or project aimed at spurring inclusive economic growth. Economic development experts from across the country will then provide technical assistance, leadership training and make recommendations to help the cities reach their goals. The cities will also designate fellows within their communities to travel to the other participating cities for peer learning and the sharing of best practices.

"Cities are recognizing that racial and economic inclusion is central to their success," said Angela Glover Blackwell, PolicyLink founder and CEO. "We are excited to work with these economic development leaders who are ready to implement new strategies and approaches that set their cities on a trajectory of equitable growth."

Learn more about this fellowship and read the full press release.

Trump’s Budget Should Enrage Everyone


Back in March, when the Trump Administration released its preliminary budget document for FY2018 (the so-called “Skinny Budget”), PolicyLink called it “a NIGHTMARE for the entire nation — poor and low-income people, middle-income people, people of color, children, seniors, people with disabilities and chronic illnesses, working people, those living in rural areas, those living in urban areas. EVERYONE.” The administration’s final FY2018 budget document, which was released yesterday, confirms that the NIGHTMARE continues…

The budget embodies an arrogant tossing aside of the majority of Americans while simultaneously elevating a very small constituency of the very wealthiest in our country. This budget includes something that should ENRAGE everyone- seniors, the poor and low-income, those living in inner cities and urban areas, those living in suburban and rural areas, middle-income people, those concerned about the environment, people with children, people with disabilities, those working to develop and improve communities, veterans, etc. Just a quick snapshot reveals drastic cuts to fundamental programs: Medicaid, Social Security Disability Benefits, and SNAP; an undermining of vital protections for clean air and water with significant cuts to the budget for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; the gutting of key HUD funding that supports safe and stable housing and the development of communities rich with opportunities; the elimination of whole programs and departments that support rural businesses and communities; the evisceration of the U.S. Department of Education’s focus on quality public education for all students; significant increases in deportation resources such that immigrants in this country will be further threatened and isolated, and more.

Make NO mistake, this budget is a major shift away from our core American values of liberty, common good, justice, equality, diversity, and truth; and instead represents a roadmap toward a country keenly focused on the increased enrichment of the very wealthy in this country. The final budget MUST NOT look ANYTHING like the atrocity proposed by the Trump Administration.

This country belongs to ALL OF US. We cannot allow a select few to totally alter its fabric and trajectory. Remember that the final decision regarding the budget rests with Congress and THEY are all accountable to US.

NOW is the time for continued and sustained resistance and action. Below are just a few suggestions of how you can get involved:

  • Educate yourself about what is in the Trump budget by visiting sites such as:
  • Highlight the programs and funding important to you and your family by sharing your story at www.Handsoff.org and use the hashtag ( #Handsoff) to discuss proposed cuts to critical programs.
     
  • Reach out to your elected officials and hold them accountable to ensure that nothing close to the budget proposed by the Trump Administration passes. Visit www.resistancenearme.org to learn of activities in your city during the upcoming Congressional recess.
     
  • Join us and our partners at CarsonWatch.org as we monitor any attempts to roll back fair housing protections and undermine the housing security of millions of Americans. Sign up for alerts TODAY.
     
  • Mark your calendars and plan to join thousands of Equity advocates at our Equity Summit 2018, April 11-13 in Chicago, Illinois. Sign up for updates regarding the Equity Summit here.

Carson Has the Wrong Prescription to Fight Poverty

HUD Secretary Ben Carson’s ongoing listening tour has provoked deep concerns from those working to expand opportunity in all neighborhoods and for that suffering housing insecurity. Secretary Carson’s comments during the tour have betrayed a misunderstanding of the role that subsidized housing can play in helping families escape poverty.

While the HUD Secretary has raised concerns about residents of affordable homes being “too comfortable,” the inverse is sadly too easy to observe: unstable, inadequate housing often traps generations of families into poverty. Matthew Desmond vividly put these connections on display in his Pulitzer Prize winning book Evicted, that found widespread evictions are a symptom and a cause of chronic housing instability, with cascading negative impacts on health, educational achievement, and  job stability.

Read the full commentary on CarsonWatch>>>

Visionary Opposition: Thomas Shapiro on the Growing Racial Wealth Gap and How to Reduce It

As the United States moves closer to becoming a majority people-of-color nation, wealth and income inequality and racial economic inequities are not only persisting, they are getting worse. What could these trends mean for our future economic prosperity, and what kind of innovative policy solutions would it take to turn the tide? PolicyLink President Michael McAfee recently spoke with Thomas Shapiro, author of Toxic Inequality: How America’s Wealth Gap Destroys Mobility, Deepens the Racial Divide, and Threatens Our Future, to discuss why the racial wealth gap continues to grow — and what we can do about it.

Can you describe the genesis of your new book, Toxic Inequality? Why did you write it, and how would you characterize the state of toxic inequality today?

In 1998–1999, I and a team of researchers conducted a series of interviews with about 200 families with children in the Boston, St. Louis, and Los Angeles areas to learn about how their different wealth resources affect their opportunities, decisions, and outcomes. We reconnected with many of them again in 2011–2012 to see how they were doing. About two-thirds of the way through that time we went through the Great Recession, and when we followed up with these families I felt that the United States had entered a different and dangerous time — and I wanted to work through why the situation was so different. Today we are dealing with a combination of racial inequities and wealth disparities that I call “toxic inequality,” which is characterized by several factors.

First, the United States is experiencing historically high levels of both wealth and income inequality, going back as far as the data will take us, which is to the 1920s. No matter how you measure it, inequality is at historic highs.

Second, this increasing level of inequality is made even worse by the fact that it is taking place in the context of stagnating or declining wages and economic mobility for many families, starting in the 1970s. As a society, we can more readily manage inequality if things are also generally getting better at the same time, but that isn’t the case today. Inequality is going up while living standards are going down for many people.

Third, we have a vastly widening racial wealth gap. A large, nationally representative study following the same set of families from 1984 to 2013 found that the racial wealth gap among them grew from $85,000 in 1984 (adjusted for inflation) to nearly $240,000 by 2009. The racial wealth gap basically tripled in less than 30 years. Something very profound, deeply structural, and bent by the arc of state and federal policy is responsible for that.

Fourth is the issue of changing demographics. By 2044, no racial group will be a statistical majority in the United States. Our institutions are not prepared for this change and have done a terrible job of getting ready for it.

Fifth, and the work of Joseph Stiglitz is critical here, corporate power and lobbying on the part of very wealthy individuals and corporations has expanded the rule of the marketplace. For instance, who writes into the regulations that federal agencies cannot negotiate over the cost of pharmaceuticals? It would seem that they should be able to, but the rules say they can’t — because of pharmaceutical companies’ corporate lobbying power and policy influence.

Finally, pandering to racial anxieties — and fears of immigrants and immigration — has become more pronounced in American society in recent years, even before the last election.

Let’s talk more about the consequences of this situation and how the connections between wealth and opportunity affect outcomes related to jobs, homeownership, and other wealth-building strategies. Can you describe the differences between earning income and building wealth? How has the changing character of work and jobs affected the development of the racial wealth gap?

We live in an uber-capitalist society where money buys merit. It is totally inconsistent to have a system where some people have very large inheritances and to say we offer equal opportunity — but we pretend that we have both.

In many ways, financial assets and wealth give some people the opportunity to purchase further opportunities, which isn’t an option for other people. People with wealth and assets can literally buy second, third, and fourth chances for their children. For others, if you make a mistake with your first chance or if you have a life crisis like a layoff, illness, or death in the family, you have no way to get back on track. As john powell has said, “wealth is excess security.”

Jobs are an important piece. In 1970, General Motors (GM) was the largest employer in the United States, employing about half a million people. Most workers there were represented by unions; wages were rising faster than inflation; and living standards were improving. In 2013, the largest employer in the United States was Walmart, with 1.3 million jobs — very few of which offer the wages, job security, and benefits that had been accessible to union workers at GM.

In the 1970s, the connection between work and wealth was much stronger, institutionally and in policy. But in this transition from GM to Walmart, the connection between work and wealth was broken. It exists for far fewer workers in the United States today, and where it does still exist it maps on to the legacy of occupational segregation. For example, 62 percent of White workers work for an employer who provides access to retirement savings, compared to 54 percent of African American workers and about 38 percent of Latino workers.

Take the example of two families we met in St. Louis: the Ackermans, a White family who lived in a predominantly White suburb, and the Medinas, a Black family who lived about 20 miles away. Even though both sets of parents had similar education and skillsets, the Ackerman family earned about $20,000 more per year — and that was just the beginning of the story. Because of the jobs and institutions they were able to access, the Ackermans gained not only more income but also significantly more employer-funded retirement savings, health-care coverage, and college tuition benefits for their children — in total, more than $30,000 a year in additional compensation on top of earnings.

So when we followed up with them in 2010, the Ackermans had accumulated about $350,000 in retirement savings and their son was enrolled at the University of Missouri with his tuition covered. The Medinas had about $12,000 in retirement savings and their daughter was not college bound. When their children were young, these parents’ aspirations and hopes for their kids were equal. But their outcomes were not.

As more people continue to move to access career opportunities, does this change the equation in terms of pursuing homeownership as a key to wealth building?

That’s a great question. For some people, moving represents advancement in a career path, so the question of whether to pursue homeownership is a consideration. But when we followed up with the families in our study after 12 years, I was shocked by how few of them had moved. I expected many of them to have relocated, but only three families had moved more than about 50 miles away from where they started. People do move around a lot, but it tends to be within a given region — and many of them are renters.

The issue of homeownership is a very local thing. But it’s important to remember that for people in the 20th to 80th percentile of income earners, two-thirds of wealth is in home equity. Homeownership is deeply entrenched in policy regulations and mediated by mortgage lenders and real estate brokers and other interests — so access to home equity as a source of wealth is not simply the result of personal responsibility or thrift. Homeownership produces lesser returns for people of color than for Whites, but if you move every five years, buying a condo or a house could still make sense, because you’d otherwise be spending that money on rent.

Clearly the racial wealth gap, in aggregate, is not going to be eliminated by homeownership. But at the individual level, it is still very important. Families aren’t thinking about closing the racial wealth gap. They’re thinking about their security and their family’s needs: stable communities, safe streets, good schools.

Given the situation you describe, what are the innovative ideas and policies that you think have the potential to make a real difference? How do we keep moving forward?

There is a misleading narrative that has grown around the notion of universal solutions — for example, free college tuition in New York state. What should be universal is the outcome, as in the goal of universal college education. That doesn’t mean the policy solutions need to be universal. The solutions should be targeted, based on the different needs that exist, to get everyone to that universal goal.

The good news is that there are success stories of African American families experiencing economic mobility. Aggregate wealth of African Americans is growing — just nowhere near the pace of White family wealth. Some existing strategies are helpful, like HUD’s Family Self Sufficiency program, which allows people living in subsidized housing to save in escrow accounts the money they would otherwise spend on rent increases. A family in our study who was living in subsidized housing used this program to buy their first home; it’s a proven solution but it isn’t operating anywhere close to scale.

There is an emerging strategy that people are calling “visionary opposition”: not shying away from resisting the harms that are being done, but focusing on continuing to build the agenda we have been working on. We need to keep pushing forward to rewrite the rules, regulations, and policies that produced and perpetuate this state of toxic inequality; and the only way that happens is by advocating and winning reforms that simultaneously build political power with new constituencies and loosen the structures that hold power together. That’s where we need to move ahead — however that is defined at the local level and however it plays out nationally as well.

New Data Profile Supports City of New Orleans Equity Strategy

April 20 marked an historic moment for New Orleans. After a year of community engagement and analysis, the City officially launched its Equity Strategy, laying out how local government will do its part to build a stronger, more inclusive city by advancing equity through its operations and decision-making. With this strategy launch, New Orleans joins the growing movement of city and county governments that are tackling structural racism and advancing equity through citywide initiatives. New Orleans is the first southern city to embrace such an approach.

“In the new New Orleans, having an equitable government is a top priority,” Landrieu said in launching the strategy. “We understand the power of equity and view it as a growth strategy that will lead us to creating a stronger and more prosperous city for all our residents.”

The Equity Strategy commits the city government to establish an equity office responsible for promoting equity in all its operations; make equity a central consideration in budgeting; create plans, with accountability measures, for all departments; conduct racial equity training for all employees and members of boards and commissions; and advance equity in hiring and workforce development.

At the event, PolicyLink and the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity at the University of Southern California (PERE) released an equity profile of New Orleans, the first of a series of 10 new equity profiles produced with the support of the W. K. Kellogg Foundation. According to this analysis, the New Orleans regional economy could be $18 billion stronger if racial gaps in income were closed. These profiles are developed to support local community groups, elected officials, planners, business leaders, funders, and others working to build stronger and more equitable cities, regions, and states.

PolicyLink has been working with the Office of Mayor Landrieu to provide assistance with developing its equity strategy for the past year through its All-In Cities initiative, and Senior Director Sarah Treuhaft participated on the panel at the launch event and then held a session to share the findings of the equity profile.

The New Path of Shared Prosperity in Fresno

Advancing Health Equity and Inclusive Growth in Fresno County, released on Monday, highlights persistent inequities in income, wealth, health, and opportunity. The profile and accompanying policy brief were developed by PolicyLink and the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE) at USC, in partnership with the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, and with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
 
“These findings confirm what community residents and advocates have long known—racial and place-based inequities continue to dramatically impact residents’ access to economic opportunity, housing, health, and well-being in the Fresno County region,” says Ashley Werner, senior attorney at the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability. “We must continue to work together and strengthen our efforts to demand that our elected officials do not remain complicit but actively and strategically work to create opportunity for all.”
 
Key findings in the report include:

  • Fresno has the 12th highest renter housing burden among the largest 150 metro areas in the country. The county’s Black and Latino renters are more likely to be burdened: 68 percent of Black renter households and 60 percent of Latino renter households are cost-burdened.
     
  • Very low-income Black and Latino residents are extremely reliant on the regional transportation system and limited numbers have access to automobiles. 12 percent of Black workers who earn an annual income of less than $15,000 use public transit compared with 1 percent of White workers.
     
  • The average Fresno resident is exposed to more air pollution than 70 percent of neighborhoods nationwide, but Black and Asian or Pacific Islander residents have the highest rates of exposure.
     
  • Latinos are nearly three times as likely as whites to be working full time with a family income less than 200 percent of the poverty level.
     
  • At nearly all levels of education, Latino workers earn $4 dollars less an hour than Whites.

Since 2011, PolicyLink and PERE have engaged in a formal partnership to amplify the message that equity—just and fair inclusion—is both a moral imperative and the key to our nation’s economic prosperity. Advancing Health Equity and Inclusive Growth in Fresno County incorporates indicators that undergird policy solutions to advance health equity, inclusive growth, and a culture of health. 
 
The profile provides unique data and actionable solutions for residents, advocates, funders, business leaders, and policymakers seeking to reduce racial inequities and build a stronger Fresno. This engagement with Fresno advocates is also a part of the All-In Cities initiative at PolicyLink. Through this initiative, PolicyLink equips city leaders with policy ideas, data, and strategies to advance racial economic inclusion and equitable growth.

The Half Trillion Dollar Tax Program That’s Driving Income Inequality

This tax season, as partisan debate continues to dominate Capitol Hill, the U.S. federal government will quietly spend over half a trillion dollars on tax programs to help American households build wealth. Indeed, these annual investments will promote wealth — for those who already have it.

This is one of the great — and often overlooked — tragedies of our tax code: Congress spends billions of dollars each year on a tax program that is making wealth inequality worse.

According to research by the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), every year the federal government spends more than $660 billion on tax credits, deductions, reduced tax rates, and other measures intended to promote wealth-building activities, such as buying a home, saving for retirement, or investing in higher education. In practice, however, these wealth-building “tax expenditures” — as they are called – grossly favor America’s richest households, ensuring that those with wealth can maintain and grow their assets, while the vast majority of Americans receive next to nothing.

Read the full op-ed in Next City>>>

Meet the Entrepreneurs Creating an Arts and Culture-Based Economy in Post-Coal Appalachia

Last November, voters in Kentucky expressed confidence that President Trump could deliver on his promise to revive the coal industry, and he carried the state with 62 percent of votes. But in the heart of Appalachia, there's a strong network of businesses and nonprofits that are looking beyond coal, and embracing equity-focused regional economic development for marginalized communities — creating employment opportunities in technology and innovation, and arts and culture, as even more promising growth industries for the region. 

In rural Letcher County, Kentucky — population 23,000 — just 12 percent of adults age 25 or older have a bachelor's degree, and 33 percent of residents live below the federal poverty level. But Letcher County is also home to creative entrepreneurs and artists working to cultivate a more equitable economy. "We're thinking about ways to move forward in a post-coal economy," said Jeremy McQueen, CEO and co-founder of Mountain Tech Media, which provides technology and digital design services out of its base in Whitesburg. "Companies like ours are really offering solutions for workers and communities that used to rely on coal to be able to participate in an economy that's thriving." 

The 12-person company provides a wide variety of branding, marketing, and strategizing services to both small and large businesses in the region, including video and audio productions, web design, app development, graphic design and illustration, and social media management. "I think we are helping folks in our region find the branding and the reach that they're looking for without trying to hire some ad agency in a larger city," which, as McQueen explained, "is usually out of their price range and out of their comfort zone as well." 

An upstart "doing cool things"

McQueen doesn't see Mountain Tech Media as the vehicle for Appalachia to skip-step its way to become the next Silicon Valley. He said that businesses in the region have basic, behind-the-times tech needs to be addressed. The company could work on just websites and promotional videos for the next five to 10 years and still not meet demand. But the goal of Mountain Tech Media is to empower local businesses to think beyond their existing horizons and to provide professional development opportunities for their workers. 

Mountain Tech Media has a worker cooperative model, giving team members equity in the company and involving them in the governance of the business. "I really was interested in the worker co-op model from the very beginning, but I had never heard of it done in a tech or a digital design company," said McQueen. "I think everyone involved now does not have a doubt that it was the right move. We've seen such a sense of pride and self-worth in all of our team members owning a piece of the company and making decisions about what we do next." 

So far, Mountain Tech Media has contracted with 34 organizations and contributed an estimated $200,000 to the regional economy through their work. Founded in 2015, it surpassed its first-year projections in just the first six months of 2016 and surpassed its three-year projections in the span of a single year. The group is well on its way to exceeding its projections for 2017. 

After being profiled in the New York Times, the organization was contacted by the City University of New York to work on a few projects. According to McQueen, "They wanted to get something out quick and decided to reach out to an upstart company like ours that was doing cool things in Appalachia." Nonprofit clients are quick to mention their relationships with Mountain Tech Media in grant applications, a sign that they see investments in their organizations as investments in Mountain Tech Media, and vice versa. 

The culture hub at the heart of Appalachia

Mountain Tech Media took shape and has grown with the help of Appalshop, a grassroots arts and culture organization based in Letcher County since 1969. In 2014, Appalshop's leadership partnered with Lafayette College's Economic Empowerment and Global Learning Project (EEGLP) and researchers from Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life (IA) to launch the pilot program for a national initiative for community revitalization and economic development based in creative placemaking and placekeeping. Through this partnership, Appalshop has formalized its role as the anchor of the Letcher County Culture Hub. In addition to Mountain Tech Media, several other projects radiate from Appalshop's core efforts: a radio station, a youth media institute, a theater company, a regional archive, a downtown retail association, and much more. In order to create a college-to-career pipeline of workers to fill the needs of startups like Mountain Tech Media, Appalshop has also started a tech and media certificate program in conjunction with Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College.

For years, Appalshop has been training youth in media production and other community development initiatives, and now that pipeline can also connect young people in the region to employment opportunities with businesses like Mountain Tech Media. This summer, the company will employ four media interns to help produce "Upload Appalachia," a youth-driven film series about social entrepreneurship in the region.

"Appalshop is one of the largest cultural anchors in Appalachia and has produced a wealth of creative content over the last 50 years," said McQueen. "They incubated us as a company and gave us access to a lot of networks and resources and equipment. We were able to save a lot of overhead costs right away. We've had so many meetings and conversations with new partners who really dig what we are doing because we are affiliated with Appalshop." 

Cultivating an arts and culture-based economy

Peg & Awl Public House (formerly known as Village Trough) is a worker-owned local and organic food vendor and event production business based in Berea, Kentucky. "We have a mission to reconnect people with local food and local producers and hosting and encouraging community events," said co-founder and owner Ali Blair. Along with Berea Tourism, Peg & Awl Pub began sponsoring First Friday Berea in 2014, a monthly block party bringing together local artisans, food vendors, and musical acts to activate and revitalize the Old Town neighborhood. Peg & Awl's long-term goals include lifting up and connecting artists and small arts-and-culture-based businesses in the region and helping artists turn side incomes into sole incomes. 

Peg & Awl Pub was introduced to Mountain Tech Media as a fellow worker cooperative early on and contracted with them to produce merchandise — first for the food business, then for First Friday Berea. "The work that they're producing is really top-notch and kind of makes us feel like we have a leg up with them doing the design work for our tee shirts, posters, and marketing materials, which are really pieces of art," said Blair. "We want people to collect those things." 

This year, the Berea Arts Council won $25,000 from the Mortimer and Mimi Levitt Foundation to allow them to expand their programming to produce a 10-week music series, Levitt AMP Berea. Mountain Tech Media not only designed marketing pieces for the series and supported social media outreach, but also became a sponsor as a way to support local creative placemaking efforts. 

While there is plenty for supporters of an arts and culture-based Appalachian economy to celebrate right now, there are also looming threats on the horizon. "With a lot of federal arts funding facing budget cuts, I think there are a lot of people asking what we are going to do," said Blair. "What we see on a national level is definitely being reflected in our backyards." 

But Blair also maintained that no matter what locals might think is the best way to focus economic development efforts — reviving coal jobs versus teaching out-of-work miners computer skills or encouraging people to start their own small businesses — the solutions have to be homegrown. "We don't want to be reliant on other people coming in to fix our problems," she said. "There's a lot of pride in us trying to do that ourselves." 

"There are very differing opinions about what counts as positive economic growth," she continued. "A lot of people don't value art and think artists should get a 'real' job. We really feel that arts are absolutely needed to create thriving places for us to live and raise our families." 

To learn more about Appalshop's youth-focused job training, as well as other equity-focused arts and culture policies, check out "Creating Change through Arts, Culture, and Equitable Development: A Policy and Practice Primer," a new PolicyLink report highlighting how arts and culture strategies are being embraced to help create equitable communities of opportunity.

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