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.


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.


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.

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."

Through Outreach and Education, Seattle Empowers Workers and Employers to Embrace Fair Labor Standards

As many advocates know only too well, passing good policies is only the first step toward building a more equitable economy. Without support for implementation and enforcement, policy reforms often fall short of their intended impact. This was the challenge facing Seattle's leaders in 2014: after a prolific few years of passing labor reforms to raise the minimum wage, mandate sick leave, combat wage theft, and protect formerly incarcerated workers, the city needed to ensure that workers and employers could put these new laws into action.

Enter the Seattle Office of Labor Standards (OLS). Founded in 2015, OLS is leveraging neighborhood organizations both to help employees at increased risk of labor violations understand their rights and to help employers comply with new job quality standards.

"OLS wants every worker to benefit from all of Seattle's labor laws, but for that to happen you need to apply a racial justice analysis to identify which workers and families are not benefitting from these standards and why," said Claudia Alexandra Paras, OLS's community liaison and head of its Community Outreach and Education Fund (COEF).

Improving racial and social equity in labor practices is an especially important goal for Seattle, given the persistent income disparities and workplace violations experienced by its immigrant communities and communities of color. People of color and immigrants have been leading population growth in Seattle for decades, yet continue to receive disproportionately lower wages when compared to White residents. About 17 percent of Black residents and 16 percent of Latino immigrants in Seattle are "working poor," meaning they live at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level despite working full-time.

Workplace violations are common for many. "In every training or presentation we do, about half the room will raise their hands when we ask 'how many of you have experienced one of these workplace violations,'" said Sam Keller, program director at the Fair Work Center and leader of the Fair Work Collaborative, a COEF grantee. "Industries already notorious for this type of behavior, such as construction and restaurants, are targeting their immigrant workers as easy marks for mistreatment. The work of letting people know that they don't have to take it and they do have options for justice is more important than ever."

Research shows that low-wage workers experience the highest rates of workplace violations, especially female workers, workers of color, immigrant and refugee workers, LGBTQ workers, and youth — groups that are the focus of OLS's COEF and its counterpart, the Business Outreach and Education Fund (BOEF). Using these twin efforts, the city has devoted robust financial and staff resources toward reaching more than 80,000 vulnerable workers and 8,000 people in the business community with education and support around fair labor practices.

"Workers and business owners from vulnerable communities are less likely to trust government — with good reason," noted Dylan Orr, director of OLS. "We recognized that if we were going to reach them, we were going to have to use community relationships with both employees and employers to make that happen."

Spearheading funds for outreach and education

Taking inspiration from San Francisco's outreach efforts which partner with community-based organizations to educate employees, the Seattle Office of Labor Standards opened in April of 2015 with dedicated funds to conduct outreach to educate workers about labor laws. The OLS subcontracted its first $1 million Community Outreach and Education Fund grant to 11 local community organizations and collaborative partnerships that reflected the racial, ethnic, and language differences among diverse communities in the city. Within the first 15 months, these community organizations reached an estimated one million people through media activities, and conducted 1,033 outreach and training events in 13 languages that reached 83,000 workers. Earlier this year, COEF awarded its second-round of funding — in the amount of $3.3 million — to eight different organizations and collaborative partnerships for 2017-2019.

Outreach has taken many forms, from flyering to door-to-door outreach to community events and presentations. At first, the community organizations faced challenges in engaging workers; but over time, awareness of worker's rights and trust in reliable enforcement began to grow within the communities, among workers and their families.

"A lot of this has been about trust-building, between community organizations, community members, and our office, so that people truly believe we're here to help and support them, not just police labor laws," Orr said.

Paras shared a story of a series of trainings that were held for Latina women by Casa Latina, a COEF partner, which led to fruitful discussions about work environments for many people within their community.

"After the sessions, a woman practically dragged her husband into Casa Latina because she knew his rights were being violated and wanted him to speak up," Paras said. "When we focus on the most vulnerable workers, we're not just righting a wrong, we're building leadership in that community and empowering them to know their rights and feel comfortable coming forward," she explained. "The impact of that kind of change is incalculable."

Keller shared a story about a single mother from Mexico who was nearly evicted because her employer refused to pay her $4,800 for three months of work. Through a referral by Fair Work Collaborative partner Got Green, she was able to get the legal help she needed to fight back against this wage theft.

Extending labor law support to businesses

Following the COEF's initial success, OLS created the Business Outreach and Education Fund (BOEF) in late 2016 that provided $475,000 for 14 community organizations to provide education and technical assistance to small-business owners. This Fund emphasized employers not typically served by traditional outreach methods: businesses owned by low-income and historically disenfranchised communities, including people of color, immigrants and refugees, as well as women, veterans, people with disabilities, and the LGBTQ community.

"There's a deep hesitation to contact OLS or do any work with the city directly. We are a regulatory agency, and we're perceived to be bringing down the law at all costs," said Darius Foster, OLS business liaison and head of the BOEF. "Community partners help break that barrier, but it's a slow process because the political climate has made many immigrant and minority business owners very wary of government."

In the first two quarters of 2017, BOEF grantees have reached more than 121,000 people through media communications, and 8,700 people through 306 outreach and training events held in seven languages other than English.

"You're dealing with small-business owners who are so busy running their businesses, plus you have different cultures and languages that all require their own way of doing outreach," noted Martha Lee, president of the Ethnic Chambers of Commerce Coalition, a BOEF grantee. "In some communities you can really only do one-on-one consultations, for others you may leverage the opportunity to join an existing community event. It's so important to be familiar with the community."

Building a culture of compliance and workplace justice

Quality jobs that provide a living wage and benefits are the backbone of a strong economy, making labor standard enforcement an issue of both moral and economic significance. To staff at OLS, the link between well-protected workers and a stronger local economy is a no-brainer.

"The bottom line is when you take care of your employees, you get employees who are loyal, who feel valued and committed to the work, you get lower turnover and the ROI [return on investment] on that will come back to the employer," Foster said. "Plus, when those working in low-income sectors have higher wages, they're able to purchase more and put money back into the economy."

This viewpoint is supported by research: a 2011 analysis of California found that minimum wage violations alone resulted in 40,800 additional families living under the poverty line and $74 million in lost federal income taxes and$14.4 million in lost state income taxes. A 2014 analysis from the Economic Policy Institute estimated that wage theft could be costing workers $50 billion per year.

These macro-level arguments are part of a larger culture shift that OLS is trying to enact in Seattle, both in how employers think about employees and their rights, how communities recognize their power and voice, and how business and worker advocates work together.

"My hope is that the small-business community can be a leader in high-road business culture," Paras noted. "If we can lift up small-business owners as leaders in creating good jobs, there really is no excuse for any other businesses."

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 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 to learn of activities in your city during the upcoming Congressional recess.
  • Join us and our partners at 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.

All-In Cities Update -- April 2017

Four months into 2017, leaders across the country are demonstrating the power of collaboration — aligning priorities, coordinating action, and sharing information and new ideas — to push back against attacks on equity and inclusion. We are honored to have partnered with so many inspiring advocates and leaders on many efforts so far, and are ready for the work ahead. Today’s update highlights our first convening; shares the discussion from our recent webinars on employment equity and fines & fees; and an upcoming webinar focused on housing opportunity.
#CitiesResist Webinar: Three Communities Implementing HUD’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Commitment
Join us on Thursday, April 20 from 10:00 a.m. - 11:30 p.m. PT/1:00 - 2:30 p.m. ET for the next webinar in our #CitiesResist series, produced in partnership with the Government Alliance on Racial Equity (GARE). HUD’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule, released in 2015, is a critical equitable growth policy that provides spatial data and a planning process to ensure federal investments go towards ensuring all people can live in communities of opportunity — regardless of race/ethnicity, physical ability, or family status. Learn about the status of the policy from national expert Harriet Tregoning, who oversaw the implementation of the AFFH rule while at HUD, and hear from practitioners and advocates in Philadelphia, Kansas City, and Wilmington who have already implemented the AFFH rule. Register here to learn how you can use the AFFH rule to build a stronger, more inclusive city.

Washington, DC: All-In for Equity & Health
On March 7 and 8, All-In Cities leaders participated in a convening with fellows from our Ambassadors for Health Equity program, including Patrisse Khan-Cullors, Jeff Chang, and Denise G. Fairchild. Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the fellowship supports nationally recognized leaders as they work to promote a Culture of Health in their work. The convening began with a tour of the National Museum of African American History & Culture, and gave participants an opportunity to draw connections between equitable development and health; network with other leaders; and discuss the connections between health equity and their own work. The session also included a training on collective leadership and identifying strategies for broad scale change.
Webinar: Targeted Strategies to Reduce Employment Inequality
Despite low unemployment rates overall, workers of color continue to face high-levels of joblessness in many cities. In response, leaders in Minneapolis and New Orleans have developed targeted strategies to connect Black workers to good jobs in growing industries. On March 23, we discussed the findings of our recent analysis of employment inequality in metros (in partnership with the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity), and shared focused jobs strategies being implemented by the Northside Funders Group in Minneapolis and the Network for Economic Opportunity in New Orleans. Check out the archive of the webinar here.
Webinar: Ending the Debt Trap: Strategies to Stop the Overuse of Court-Imposed Fines, Fees, and Bail
On March 29, PolicyLink hosted a webinar discussion on the latest research and strategies state and local leaders can use to ensure that judicial fines and fees do not contribute to burdensome debt, housing and employment barriers, and increased imprisonment and recidivism for low-income communities and people of color. For several years, researchers have looked at the role of the justice system nationwide in placing low-income people and people of color into serious financial disrepair. While “debtors’ prisons” are technically outlawed, courts throughout the nation have used loopholes in the law to place people in jail for the nonpayment of fines and fees. Check out the archive of the webinar here.
Learn more about our All-In Cities initiative and sign up for updates at


Expanding Opportunity in City Contracts: St. Paul’s Racial Equity Strategy

When Rick Harris, owner of Ideal Commercial Interiors (ICI), moved to the Twin Cities seven years ago, he struggled to get the private sector contracts that had been his bread-and-butter during his three decades of business in California. 

"Coming here was totally different. I kept trying to get my foot in the door and instead would have it shut in my face," Harris said. ICI is certified by the North Central Minority Supplier Development Council and the Central Certification Program as a small, minority-owned business, but Harris noted that the greatest obstacle he faced was not discrimination, but inertia. 

"Businesses were not open to building relationships with new vendors. They preferred to maintain the same decades-long ties with people they knew and were familiar with — but that impedes access to the market," he said. "It’s bad for the economy when you have these small businesses that can’t grow because they’re consistently locked out of the market." 

For a city that struggles with staunch racial inequities in employment and poverty, these barriers to entry pose persistent challenges to the local economy. 

"The state says it wants to create more jobs for people of color, but to do that, you have to understand that minority-owned companies hire more employees of color, and so you have to focus on helping these companies grow," Harris said. 

That is precisely what the City of St. Paul is working to do. With the help of the city’s comprehensive efforts to foster racial equity in its municipal contracting, Harris has been able to fill the void of private sector work with city, county, and state contracts — which now make up 90 percent of his business.

According to David Gorski, a human rights specialist for the City of St. Paul, "The broader goal is to make the local economy more inclusive, to create a launching pad for small businesses," especially those owned by people of color and women.

Supporting entrepreneurs of color boosts local economies

St. Paul is a rapidly diversifying city; nearly half the city’s residents are people of color, and communities of color — especially Black communities — are leading population growth. But these communities continue to face persistent racial inequities in opportunity. Unemployment for people of color is 12.6 percent in the city, compared to 5.3 percent for Whites. For African Americans, unemployment skyrocketed from 9.6 percent in 2000 to 18.8 percent in 2014. Almost two in three people of color in the city are economically insecure — with family incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level — and one in five are working poor, struggling to make ends meet despite working full-time. 

In an attempt to combat these longstanding disparities, St. Paul launched its Racial Equity Initiative in 2014. This initiative includes numerous policy and practice reforms to make racial equity an explicit goal for the city — not only to foster inclusion and community justice, but as a necessary precondition for a prosperous, thriving local economy.

Connecting businesses owned by entrepreneurs of color to city contracts is a crucial lever in this work, because these firms represent key areas of growth in the local economy. Businesses owned by people of color in Minnesota are growing significantly faster than average, with 118 percent growth from 2002 to 2012, compared to 10.3 percent growth for all firms in the state. The number of small businesses owned by African Americans in the state grew by about 60 percent between 2007 and 2012, while small businesses owned by Whites declined 3.4 percent. Yet, many of these businesses are small and undercapitalized, with few employees.

Though the state government of Minnesota has recently received criticism for its inequitable procurement practices, St. Paul has been meeting and exceeding many of its racial equity goals. For example, the city aims to award at least 25 percent of public contracts to small businesses. Within that small business goal, the city sets further targets to reach 5 percent of firms owned by people of color, and 10 percent of women-owned firms. In 2016, more than 30 percent of the city’s total business went to small businesses, with 5 percent awarded to businesses owned by entrepreneurs of color and more than 12 percent awarded to businesses owned by women. 

St. Paul’s progress in upping contracting equity can be traced to concerted efforts to reform and innovate practices within the city’s Purchasing and Contract Compliance Divisions. This work began with the assistance of Bloomberg Philanthropies What Works Cities initiative, through which the Government Performance Lab at the Harvard Kennedy School helped the city better understand why it wasn’t adequately reaching small businesses and businesses of color. What they found mirrored the hurdles Harris noted in the private sector. 

"Vendors felt that we were closed off," said Jessica Brokaw, deputy director of procurement, contract compliance & business development for the city. "They felt we had preferred vendors and that was that." 

This led to a series of structural changes to the procurement process. The city rolled out a new online bidding platform that made the process more transparent and accessible, and ensured that any vendor could download bids free of charge. They also revised the language of bids — from PhD reading level to eighth grade reading level— so that most any vendor could understand them without an attorney.

Wherever possible, officials also streamlined certification processes. For example, a vendor can become registered as a minority-owned business enterprise (MBE), a woman-owned business enterprise (WBE), or a small business enterprise (SBE) through one-day Central Certification Program (CERT) community workshops that are hosted monthly. These certifications are recognized by Hennepin County, Ramsey County, Minneapolis, and St. Paul, making it easier for businesses to pursue public procurement and contracting work regionally. The increased community engagement is reflected in attendance at the annual procurement fair, hosted by the city’s Department of Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity. In 2017, 350 vendors showed up within the first three hours alone.

Perhaps most impressively, the city has made significant changes to open up public contracts to new businesses. Starting in 2014, the city has changed five-year agreements to yearly agreements whenever possible, and broken down larger projects into small subcontracts to increase opportunities for new and small businesses to bid. 

"We decided to not renew hundreds of master contracts — some of which we had held for 20 years," Brokaw said. "We got lots of pushback, because there were vendors who didn’t really have to compete for years upon years, and there were city departments who didn’t want to have to orient new vendors to how we operate." 

When the city opened up contracts to a more competitive market, however, "the city and the local economy benefited," Brokaw noted. "The bids are lower, so the city is saving several million dollars, and our relationship to the community is so much stronger because vendors can see that we are open to them." 

Bridging the public-private contract divide through mentorship

In addition to the structural and procedural changes noted above, one of the key facets of St. Paul’s efforts to promote small business growth among minority entrepreneurs is the Construction Partnering Program (CPP)

Founded by the city and administered through the Metropolitan Economic Development Association (MEDA) and the Association of Women Contractors, CPP supports emerging small businesses owned by women and people of color by fostering long-term partnerships between these firms and larger industry experts in the region.

In general, the odds can be stacked against small businesses trying to expand: They don’t always have access to the same product lines or discounts because they don’t buy in large enough quantities. They often lack access to the kind of financing necessary to purchase the kind of bonds that are required to insure projects or to cover their costs for the months it can take for contracts to pay out. 

"It creates a catch-22 because the financials limit the size of contracts a business can take," said Salah Tarraf, participant in the CERT and CPP programs and owner of Tarraf Construction, a general contractor operating in the Twin Cities for 17 years. "We have so many fantastic contractors of color who want to grow, but are held back because they can’t take larger projects." 

The city has stepped in to remove some of the financial barriers: city projects up to $100,000 no longer require bonds, so they are now more accessible to small contractors. Through CPP mentorship, however, the city also hopes to start bridging the gap between public and private work. 

Tarraf Construction has been partnered with McGough, a large general contractor headquartered in St. Paul, for the past 13 years. This relationship has allowed Tarraf to benefit from the insight and experience of the larger firm, and McGough has helped them break into the private market by inviting them to bid on subcontracts for their work and including them in negotiations as an "equal partner." 

Though it remains an "uphill battle" to get the private sector to work with small companies, Tarraf said he gives "a lot of credit to St. Paul. The city has been really supportive of the minority community, and I think it’s been a success." 

Stop the Abuse of Court-Imposed Fines and Fees

More than $50 billion in debt is currently being held by approximately 10 million people because of their involvement in the criminal justice system. Much of this debt is because low-income people simply do not have the money to pay fines and fees.

While “debtors’ prisons” are technically outlawed, courts and police departments have used loopholes within the law to place people in jail for the nonpayment of fines and fees. The practice, which targets the most vulnerable communities, plays an integral role in wealth and income inequality, and contributes to the growing racial wealth gap in our country.

But researchers around the country have shown that fees can be limited and debt collection practices can be managed in a way that does not prey on low-income communities. Policymakers can limit the use of fines and fees that directly contribute to burdensome debt, create barriers to housing and employment, and result in imprisonment and recidivism.

Ending the Debt Trap: Strategies to Stop the Abuse of Court-Imposed Fines and Fees, a new brief from PolicyLink, lifts up promising strategies that are being implemented across the country to ensure that judicial fines and fees do not contribute to burdensome debt for low-income communities and people of color. The brief looks at ways in which the use of fines and fees has expanded over time, the impact of these practices, and the inefficiency of these policies as a budget tool for local governments.

Banks’ Community Benefits Agreements Bring Billions in Community Reinvestment

Financial institutions have a long history of failing to meet the needs of low-income communities and communities of color — whether through discriminatory practices that strip wealth from neighborhoods of color or systematic disinvestment that has left too many struggling communities without access to affordable banking. 

Over the past few years, however, community advocates have been putting an established advocacy tool to new use to bring the voices and needs of underserved communities to the negotiating table with local banks. 

Community benefits agreements (CBAs) — contracts that have traditionally been used to ensure that local real estate development projects create opportunities for local workers and communities — are increasingly being applied to banks to increase access to financial services for disadvantaged communities. 

"Banks have an important role to play in our communities, and these community benefits agreements help ensure they fulfill that role for everyone, including low- and moderate-income communities and communities of color," said John Taylor, president and CEO of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC), the driving force behind the recent proliferation of bank CBAs. In this incarnation of CBAs, banks team up with local community organizations to negotiate key services and resources targeted to communities traditionally underserved by banks. 

In 2016, NCRC worked with hundreds of local community organizations to negotiate three large merger-related CBAs with Huntington Bank, KeyBank, and Fifth Third Bank. Collectively, these three agreements will bring $62.6 billion in lending and investments targeted to low- and moderate-income communities and communities of color across 23 states. 

Reversing systematic disinvestment in low-income communities and communities of color 

Bank CBAs capitalize on the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) — a longstanding federal policy designed to encourage banks to meet the needs of moderate- and low-income neighborhoods. The CRA was passed in 1977 in an attempt to combat redlining — a destructive and discriminatory lending practice that denied or severely restricted access to mortgages, credit, and other financial resources necessary to promote economic growth within communities of color. 

"The CRA has certain pressure points where communities have an opportunity to advocate for their needs," said Thomas Keily, consumer data and research coordinator at the Western New York Law Center, one of the grassroots NCRC members involved in the KeyBank CBA. Mergers, acquisitions, and CRA exams are intervention points where banks enter regulatory review and may be amenable to negotiations with community advocates. 

Because bank mergers often result in branch closings that cut jobs and can reduce access to banking in certain locations, the CRA encourages banks to commit resources to counteract negative community ramifications. Traditionally, however, banks have sought to meet their CRA requirements without ongoing engagement with community leaders. The recent spate of bank-merger CBAs represents an important departure from business as usual. 

Through a combination of in-person meetings, site visits, and conference calls, banks and representatives from several dozen community organizations negotiate the details of these agreements over the course of months. The resulting contracts include a wide range of commitments targeted to low-to-moderate income areas. 

For example, the hundred-plus community partners representing six cities that came to the table to negotiate the Huntington Bank CBA identified four key focus areas for investment: affordable housing, workforce development, small business development, and supportive services, including community needs not typically associated with financial products, such as social services. 

"The goal was to create a plan that was holistic and considered all the assets needed for a community to thrive and for individuals to reach their potential within that community," said Catherine Crosby, executive director of the City of Dayton's Human Relations Council, one of the organizations representing Dayton, Ohio, in the Huntington Bank negotiations. She is also a member of the NCRC board. 

The resulting community development plan committed $5.7 billion in funding for single-family mortgages in low- and moderate-income areas and to low- and moderate-income borrowers, $3.7 billion in community development lending and investment for affordable housing, $25 million in grants for housing and small business credit services, and 10 new branch locations in underserved areas, among other investments. As this plan is implemented at the local level, community advocates have the opportunity to specify particular service needs within their local areas, such as down-payment assistance, loan counseling, or diversity requirements in bank hiring. 

The CBA investments for KeyBank, announced in March 2016, contained similar measures, committing $16.5 billion in investments and lending over five years. The most recent CBA with Fifth Third Bancorp, announced in November 2016, represents the largest investment by a single bank in recent history — $30 billion invested across 10 states through 2020. 

"The impact of billions of dollars in community reinvestment that comes from bank agreements cannot be overstated — the resources have a real, tangible impact, creating jobs and expanding access to mortgages, small business lending, education opportunities, and access to other financial resources," Taylor said.

The changes these CBAs are intended to implement come at a crucial time for Fifth Third. Earlier this month, the Federal Reserve released an assessment of the bank's 2011-2013 operations that found evidence of discriminatory practices during that time. As a result, Fifth Third's CRA compliance rating was lowered to "needs to improve."

Leveraging CBAs for equitable growth 

Access to basic financial products and services — including bank accounts, mortgages, and retirement accounts — is a crucial component of building long-term financial security. Without these services, many families and individuals living paycheck to paycheck must turn to payday lenders and check-cashing centers that impose exorbitant interest rates and fees on those who can least afford it. According to a study conducted in California, payday lenders are nearly eight times as concentrated in primarily African American and Latino neighborhoods compared to White neighborhoods, draining nearly $247 million in fees from these communities each year. 

"In Buffalo, New York, we've seen a systematic flight of financial resources within low-income communities and communities of color, especially in the city's east side," said Keily. "East of Main Street there are seven bank branches, but to the west there are over 25, and we see huge racial disparities in who gets mortgages." 

On a community level, access to capital to purchase homes, start new businesses, or take on community development projects is a necessary ingredient for spurring economic growth, yet the majority of disinvested communities are still systematically underserved by the banks that could be providing these services. This persistent legacy of disinvestment perpetuates poverty and stymies the kind of growth that could revive local economies. 

Through the CBA negotiation process, however, communities have increased leverage to hold financial institutions accountable for providing them with the services and resources that will enable them to thrive. 

"This process gives community members back their voice and keeps their needs at the forefront of the process," said Keily. As part of negotiations with KeyBank, Western New York Law Center enlisted 100 residents to write about their experiences with financial institutions — testimonials that helped bring lived experience to the data and research presented during CBA meetings. The organization is also working to establish CBA agreements with smaller local banks and recently announced a $101.2 million agreement between the Northwest Savings Bank and Buffalo Niagara Community Reinvestment Coalition (BNCRC), a NCRC community-based coalition member. 

As these agreements become increasingly popular, more and more banks are recognizing the value of working in concert with community to increase services and facilities in underserved markets. 

"Some leaders of banks are stepping up and doing the work we also need to see from our political leadership — building collaborations between bank leaders, community group leaders like our members, and other stakeholders to ensure that communities have economic opportunity," Taylor said. 

Delivering community benefits through broad coalitions 

Negotiating the competing priorities of hundreds of community partners while attempting to influence large financial institutions that hold all the purse strings is no simple matter. 

"NCRC did yeoman's work to bring everyone together," said Crosby. "A negotiation with this many parties is a push-and-pull process, so you need to have people who are thinking of the highest and greatest good for the community — not just themselves or their particular organizations." 

But she felt the outcomes were well worth the laborious process. 

"Formerly, the Human Relations Council would meet with the CRA officers for the bank to negotiate community investments, but this process is far more comprehensive and more impactful," Crosby said. There is also a key level of accountability, because communities can report to CRA regulatory bodies if a bank fails to make good on the promises encoded in the CBA. 

Though it's too early in the implementation process to quantify the impact of these commitments, Crosby noted that the relationships formed and strengthened between the community partners that came together these past months have already been a huge win. Keily emphasized the power of the process for raising community awareness and empowerment. 

"This shows us — and the community — what's possible when their voices are heard," he said. "It will be an ongoing process to implement this locally, but we're committed to keeping community members at the forefront of this process." 

RESIST Trump’s Disastrous Budget!

The preliminary budget released from the White House yesterday is 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 proposed budget bolsters attacks on immigrants, threatens the well-being of communities, and decimates the values that undergird this country, while prioritizing military spending and tax cuts for the wealthy. If the full budget proposal to be released in May has ANY resemblance to this draconian preliminary budget, it must be considered DEAD ON ARRIVAL.The people of this nation CANNOT allow Congress to pass anything close to what is proposed. Additionally, a mild step back from the proposed budget will not be tolerated. The budget ultimately passed MUST be fundamentally different from what is being proposed by this Administration and must uphold the longstanding values of the country, advance fairness and inclusion, expand opportunity, and protect the nation’s most vulnerable.

Believers in justice, fairness, and decency cannot be silent during these attempts to wipe away years of work toward a more inclusive and equitable society.  NOW is the time to unite and organize!! All people, faiths, associations, and organizations who care about people and the nation, must come together to resist this assault on the American people and the fundamentals of responsible governance. We encourage EVERYONE to get involved. Stay alert and watch what is happening with the Trump Administration and Congress, call your congressional members and hold them accountable for your concerns, join efforts in your community to advance important policies, and push back against harmful ones. Click here to find out what is happening in your community and GET INVOLVED today. And, to learn more details about the preliminary budget document released yesterday, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities website has a number of resources.

This is a critical time in our nation’s history. We CANNOT allow the current Administration to destroy progress and inflict suffering on millions of people. Like you, PolicyLink will continue to resist and defend. Just earlier this week, we joined with our partners Public Advocates, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, and Poverty & Race Research Action Council to launch CarsonWatch, a watchdog effort that will be fighting back against attempts to gut invaluable housing and community development programs and roll back the clock on civil rights protections, including important rules under the Fair Housing Act. We hope you’ll visit the website and join the effort by signing up for alerts.

In the days to come, PolicyLink will announce a framework for our broader resistance efforts that will provide additional ways to take action and be heard. Stay tuned. Be encouraged. We SHALL NOT be defeated.

Together We Can Build a More Equitable Tax Code

Annually, the federal government returns upwards of $640 billion directly back to households to help increase financial security through the tax code. Of that, nearly 80 percent goes back to households who are already wealthy. Current tax reform proposals aim to increase the amount going to wealthy families, leaving low-income people and people of color further behind.

Now, more than ever, we must work together to build a more equitable tax code that benefits all Americans. The Tax Alliance for Economic Mobility, led by PolicyLink and CFED, along with nearly 40 national advocacy organizations, racial justice groups, and tax experts, has just launched a new website that identifies priorities to expand savings and investment opportunities for lower-income households through reform of the U.S. tax code.

Today, the Alliance is pleased to announce four briefs on tax credits for low-income workers, higher education and college savings, housing and homeownership, and retirement savings. The briefs feature recommendations to build a more equitable tax code focused on the near- and longer-term security of families, communities, and the national economy.

  • Tax Credits for Low-Income Workers: Unlike many other poorly designed tax exemptions and deductions that deliver the bulk of their benefits to the highest-income filers, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) both work well to help low-income working families. But there are opportunities to strengthen the credits and build on their success, including filling the gap for workers not raising children and making the CTC fully refundable. Congress should also reject proposals that purport to reduce improper payments when in actuality they make the credit more difficult to claim or cut benefits.
  • Housing and Homeownership: The Tax Alliance has adopted a set of principles for reforming the Mortgage Interest Deduction (MID), a homeownership subsidy provided through the tax code. Recommendations include expanding access for lower-income Americans, increasing benefits for renters, helping communities of color build wealth, and reducing subsidies for high-income households.
  • Higher Education and College Savings: Higher education is a pathway to economic mobility, but existing higher education tax expenditures disproportionately benefit above-median income households, who own nearly 99 percent of all savings in tax-subsidized college savings accounts. The Alliance has adopted a set of principles for reforming these tax expenditures, with the goal of increasing tax-based aid and college savings support for lower-income students, providing aid before expenses are incurred, increasing take-up, incorporating automatic enrollment features, and eliminating programmatic features that disadvantage lower-income students.
  • Retirement Savings: For low-income communities and communities of color, financial insecurity in retirement is exacerbated by lower earnings over the course of their work history, and reduced access to employer-sponsored retirement benefits. The Tax Alliance has adopted a set of principles for reforming existing retirement savings tax expenditures to expand access to subsidized accounts for lower-income Americans, subsidize the savings for these Americans, and make reforms to limit expenditures for high-income households.

To learn more about these principles and to access resources for creating a more equitable tax code, visit The Alliance’s website: and sign up for the Tax Alliance newsletter.

Can Other U.S. Cities Follow in NYC’s Footsteps to Help Renters?

Cross-posted from Next City

After the announcement by Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito that New York City would be extending a universal right to legal services for low-income tenants facing eviction, many of the city’s housing advocates rejoiced. “It feels good to me because I know that if any of my sons or grandkids are below the poverty line and have a problem with a landlord, they are going to be represented by an attorney,” says Randy Dillard, council leader for Community Action for Safe Apartments (CASA) and former client of one of the city’s public interest lawyers.

“We believe that this law is going to lead the way for other cities,” he continued. Other cities, including Philadelphia and Boston, are taking cues from New York’s playbook.

In 2012, only 1 percent of New York City tenants facing eviction were represented by lawyers. Meanwhile, more than 90 percent of landlords are typically represented by counsel in eviction proceedings. Advocates made the case that the policy change could not only dramatically improve outcomes for low-income residents, but save the city millions of dollars each year.

Read the full story in Next City>>>

Oakland Attorney Angela Glover Blackwell Wages Fight for Equity

Cross-posted from The San Francisco Chronicle

Nearly 40 years ago, when San Francisco’s struggling Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood was losing yet another business to hard times — in this case, a grocery store — one attorney had seen enough.

Angela Glover Blackwell, an early believer in the need for fresh foods in the inner city, petitioned the governor’s office to intervene and make sure the community maintained a full-service grocery. The alternative was letting residents shop at liquor stores and gas stations.

The petition didn’t go as planned — a new store didn’t open. But the case marked the dawning of Blackwell’s long and distinguished career in social justice, which most recently had her working with the Obama administration to bring grocery stores to underserved cities nationwide.

“I think the last 10 years have been my best,” said Blackwell, now 71, as she sat in her window office on a recent weekday at PolicyLink, the Oakland research and advocacy group she founded 18 years ago. “We need to keep working to make sure we’re creating opportunities.”

From her desk, which sits beneath pictures and posters that sound rallying cries such as “Equity” and “Protect Oakland renters,” Blackwell oversees a staff of 70 public policy experts and attorneys in California, Washington, D.C., and New York. Her organization partners with communities all over the country to help disadvantaged people, often minorities.

The effort, which not only involves healthy food but issues ranging from housing to transportation to education, earned Blackwell a nomination for the 2017 Visionary of the Year award sponsored by The Chronicle and the School of Economics and Business Administration at St. Mary’s College.

“With shifting demographics, the big story is that the majority is becoming people of color,” she said. “The fate of our nation will depend on what happens to people of color.”

Among her organization’s recent work is helping implement the federal government’s Sustainable Communities Initiative. The program assists with planning in depressed neighborhoods; for example, making sure residents have basics like public transit and Internet.

PolicyLink is also helping with business development in poorer parts of Detroit, Baltimore and Pittsburgh. It’s also aiding in the creation of community art projects from Alaska to Mississippi.

“We cross all the issue areas and all the work domains,” said Blackwell, as she clutched a copy of “The Equity Manifesto,” PolicyLink’s call to action that takes its employees to wherever they might find inequality.

While Blackwell frequently travels in the pursuit of social justice, as well for speaking engagements and fundraising, sometimes the need is right in her backyard.

PolicyLink recently helped create Oakland’s affordable housing strategy, a work in progress designed to protect 17,000 city households from being pushed out of town by rising real estate prices and to create 17,000 new homes over eight years.

“They’ve been a critical partner to me as mayor,” said Oakland’s Libby Schaaf, noting that Blackwell was a source of inspiration for her long before the two got to know each other and exchange cell phone numbers.

“As a young college student, I saw her speak at a League of Women Voters event, and it’s really the first time I felt inspired to get involved with local politics,” Schaaf said. “I remember almost feeling drawn, like you’d be drawn to a minister.”

Blackwell lives near Oakland’s Lake Merritt in a house she’s been in for four decades. She is married with two grown children, and three grandchildren, all of whom live locally. Trying to make time for work and family — her husband is an orthopedic surgeon — is tough, she said, but she manages, eating out a lot and waking up early to go to the gym.

Blackwell grew up in St. Louis, where her neighborhood was anything but the neglected communities she advocates for today. It was an economically diverse area with good schools, parks and a healthy mix of businesses, she said, though as she got older she saw it slide.

“Rather than walking to a grocery store, or driving, we were driving farther and farther into the suburbs,” she said.

Blackwell got her bachelor’s degree at Washington, D.C.’s Howard University before going to law school at UC Berkeley.

Before PolicyLink, she worked as a senior vice president at the Rockefeller Foundation in New York, overseeing the organization’s cultural activities. Before that, her career had a number of chapters, including 11 years practicing law at the nonprofit firm Public Advocates in San Francisco.

It was during her time there, in 1979, that she fought unsuccessfully for a grocery store in the Bayview, though her effort prompted Gov. Jerry Brown, during his first time around in the office, to form a commission to explore the problem of “food deserts.” The state Department of Agriculture followed up with money to support farmers’ markets in communities that lacked fresh food.

As chief executive officer at PolicyLink, Blackwell’s push for fresh foods continued when she helped the Obama administration launch the federal Healthy Food Financing Initiative, which today provides funding for groceries and markets in low-income areas.

While she worries that government assistance programs may take a hit under President Trump, she tries to remain optimistic.

“It’s too early to say there’s going to be no opportunities,” she said.

This winter, Blackwell authored an essay called the “The Curb-Cut Effect” in a Stanford University journal about how assisting one group, say the disabled, benefits everyone. She hopes Trump’s moves to help red state voters who supported him out of economic concerns will also help those suffering in poor, urban areas.

“The good news,” she said, “is that the economic inclusive agenda that will reach people who are white, rural and working class is the same economic inclusive agenda that will reach people of color.”

Visionary of the Year award

This is one of six profiles of nominees for The Chronicle’s third annual Visionary of the Year award, which is presented in collaboration with St. Mary’s College’s School of Economics and Business Administration. The honor salutes leaders who strive to make the world a better place and drive social and economic change by employing new, innovative business models and practices. The six finalists were nominated by a distinguished committee that included Chase Adam, co-founder of the nonprofit Watsi and winner of the 2016 award; Greg Becker, president and CEO of Silicon Valley Bank; Emmett Carson, founding CEO of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation; Ron Conway, angel investor and philanthropist; Zhan Li, dean of the School of Economics and Business Administration at St. Mary's College; Libby Schaaf, mayor of Oakland; Jennifer Siebel Newsom, a documentary filmmaker; and Michael Walker, executive vice president and regional executive of City National Bank.

Chronicle Publisher Jeff Johnson, Editor in Chief Audrey Cooper and Editorial Page Editor John Diaz will select the winner, which will be announced during a March 30 event.

To read more:

Race, Place, and Jobs: Reducing Employment Inequality in America’s Metros

Originally posted on Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity

In Pittsburgh, a wave of baby boomer retirements is expected to leave the region with 80,000 more job openings than workers to fill them over the next decade. At the same time, 32,000 of the region’s workers are long-term unemployed, and unemployment is highest among black, mixed race, and Latino workers.

How to connect unemployed and under-employed workers of color to jobs in growing industries and industries with retiring baby boomers is a key question for Pittsburgh, but the region is far from alone. The Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce estimates that that by 2020 there will be 5 million more job openings in America than there are workers with the requisite skills to fill them. Yet, workers of color, particularly black workers, continue to face high levels of unemployment and inadequate access to relevant education and skills training.

Addressing continued unemployment for black workers and other workers of color is critical to families, employers, and the U.S. economy as a whole. The question is: how do we most effectively do that?


Introducing the Corporate Racial Equity Advantage

Angela Glover Blackwell, Founder and CEO, PolicyLink
Mark Kramer, Founder and Managing Director, FSG

Now, more than ever, the future of America depends on equity-- just and fair inclusion into a society in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential. The private sector is the next frontier for the equity movement, and racial equity is the next frontier for corporate America. That is why PolicyLink and FSG are teaming up to develop the Corporate Racial Equity Advantage, the first comprehensive tool to guide companies in assessing and actively promoting equity in every aspect of their business operations and strategy.

The goal is to show the private sector that a company’s bottom line can be advanced by adhering to equity policies and practices that benefit underrepresented and marginalized populations who have been excluded from the economic mainstream.

We are entering a moment of historic challenge. The incoming president was elected, in part, on the wish that the growing racial and ethnic diversity in America should be ignored. But wishing doesn’t make it so. Vast segments of our economy, such as our hospitality industry, food systems, delivery services, and caregiving for the elderly, depend on the millions of people of color—many of them undocumented immigrants—whose labor drives the nation’s prosperity.  By mid-century the majority of Americans will be people of color. If this country is to continue to prosper in the coming decades, under any political leadership, we cannot afford to leave behind most of our workforce, consumers, and voters.

Community-based organizations and coalitions have made significant progress in articulating a bold and nuanced vision of equity, building a broad, determined movement to achieve it, and advancing policies to get there. At the same time, there is a growing economic consensus that the social and economic inequality, wage stagnation, and stalled economic mobility that disproportionately affect communities of color, are a drag on U.S. competitiveness.  Racial economic exclusion is a market failure.

Many business leaders recognize that equity and inclusion are essential for U.S. growth and prosperity. They understand that they will have a skilled workforce only if all people have the full opportunity for education and career success. They know that their products and services must meet the needs of a changing population if their businesses are to thrive.  And they know that diversity is important to America’s global competitive advantage.

What companies often do not realize, however, is just how big a role they can play in creating an equitable society and how big a role equity can play in delivering greater profitability. The equity movement has not been accustomed to speaking in business terms, but in the absence of strong government support, companies may become our strongest allies.

In short, it is time for businesses to tap their remarkable capacity for leadership and innovation to create an economy that works for all Americans. The Corporate Racial Equity Advantage will propel and support that effort. This tool will be the first to address a company’s overall impact on low-income and marginaized populations.

A number of indices already rate corporations on diversity, ethical business practices, sustainability, or social responsibility, yet these rankings can mask a company’s true impact on equity. In one example, a large international bank that ranked high in a well-established diversity index opened millions of unauthorized accounts that incurred fees and sabotaged credit ratings by specifically targeting low-income and elderly clients.

We aim to help companies understand the full measure of their equity footprint beyond the conventional metrics of workforce diversity, corporate governance, and philanthropy. We will consider the impact of a company’s training, compensation, and promotion practices, its products and services, marketing and sales, procurement practices, community engagement and lobbying efforts.

The Corporate Racial Equity Advantage will be developed with input from both the corporate and equity communities.  Our goals are to identify companies that benefit from creatively furthering equity, share promising examples and lessons learned, and establish pathways that enable more companies to achieve both equity and prosperity. In the coming months, we will recruit corporations, NGOs, and community groups to join us in designing, refining, and testing this tool.

PolicyLink and FSG have chosen to undertake this project as a partnership because it allows each of us to take our work where we’ve long known it needs to go. PolicyLink has been at the forefront of the movement to advance equity through policy and systems change. Yet while resetting society’s rules and reprioritizing government investments are critical to reducing racial and economic inequity, PolicyLink has always recognized that the private sector must also change, and do so from within.

So too, FSG has long understood that the success of a business depends on the health of the society in which it operates.  For the past 16 years, FSG has worked with major corporations around the world to create shared value by identifying the business opportunities embedded in society’s most urgent needs.  FSG’s Shared Value Initiative has further engaged hundreds of leading corporations to learn from each other about the convergence of corporate and societal success.  

Together we have both deep roots in communities and strong relationships with corporate leaders. We understand that these two spheres, so often viewed as worlds apart, are wholly interdependent. We hope to leverage the power of the private sector to advance an authentic equity agenda, building on the wisdom, voice, and experience of communities, and lessons learned from decades of advocacy and activism to ensure opportunity for all. At the same time, we hope to show corporations how a full embrace of equity can expand their markets, increase their profits, and create a competitive advantage.

As we design the prototype of the Racial Equity Advantage over the next 15 months, we will keep you regularly updated on our progress. We welcome your thoughts and suggestions.  

Cooperation Jackson’s Kali Akuno on Solidarity, Economic Democracy, and Organizing for the Long Term

By Alexis Stephens

As grassroots groups and community advocates across the country brace for increasingly anti-democratic and authoritarian opposition, organizers in the South bring a wealth of wisdom and experience dealing with such challenges.

America's Tomorrow spoke to Kali Akuno, co-director of Cooperation Jackson, founded in 2013 to promote economic democracy and worker-owned cooperatives in Jackson, Mississippi. Akuno talked about the organization's work and how it has dealt with a series of setbacks and trials, including the passing of Jackson's mayor — longtime activist and organizer Chokwe Lumumba — in 2014, ongoing state threats to local control of land and infrastructure, and the uncertainty of the new presidential administration. He also shared his analysis of the local context in Jackson and offered some advice to grassroots organizations around the country about how to both survive short-term threats and lay the foundation of long-term sustainability.

In the wake of Mayor Chokwe Lumumba's passing and his legacy of Black organizing, what has the landscape looked like for Cooperation Jackson?

The first six months of the [Yarber] administration were somewhat difficult for us. Cooperation Jackson had been tied to and identified with the legacy of Mayor Lumumba and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and I think Mayor Yarber was initially very wary about any engagement with us. But over time we found some ways to collaborate on things that we all saw as mutually beneficial for us and the city.

There have been a number of issues this year where there has been a high level of agreement between our organization and the mayoral administration — primarily the threats that have been coming down from the Republican supermajority at the state level and some very targeted threats against the City of Jackson. One example is the state legislation that is allowing a governor-appointed regional board to take over operational control of the airports in Jackson. A broad, united front came together [to fight that], which included the Coalition of Economic Justice, city council, and our county legislative delegation. I would say the overall legacy of the plans that brought Lumumba into office is very much alive.

In which programs and initiatives are you seeing the most success?

We're seeing success in the development of our three co-ops: Freedom Farms Urban Farming Cooperative, Nubia's Place Café and Catering Cooperative, and Mississippi Waste Alternative, a recycling and composting cooperative. The core membership of each is under the age of 25. There's a youthful willingness to try something new and a healthy optimistic attitude when they encounter people or dynamics that tell them that they can't do something. Our own analysis of why these co-ops are moving faster than others has revealed that youth leadership is a factor. To outside observers, the most concrete measure of success is the actual operation of a co-op — if the farm is able to increase its productive yield, for example. And that's grown each quarter. But young people are also acquiring skills and certifications, and putting in hours. Those are all things we're looking at objectively as measures of our success: how many people we're able to train, recruit, and bring into the process.

Cooperation Jackson is still very much a baby as an organization. In a short period of time, we've been able to build several functioning and emerging cooperatives and to acquire a community center and 20 parcels of land in West Jackson. We have three houses that are the core basis of our housing co-op and emerging eco-village. When Chokwe passed away so suddenly, many of us were in doubt in the first couple of months about where we were going and what might be possible. From that dark place to where we are now, I would argue that we've done fairly well.

What advice would you give to other grassroots economic development organizations that might be facing preemption at the state level over the next two to five years?

Your basic organizing principles don't fundamentally change. In fact, they become even more important than ever before. The first thing is you have to build your own base; and, if you are trying to build a transformative business like the co-ops that we're trying to build, you have to work to communicate your own values to your network very clearly. Outside of building your own base, you have to make connections and links and build allies with other folks who share similar interests. I don't think everything has to be in complete alignment, but I think there's a critical synergy where you have to agree on some things. But don't compromise your mission or settle for short-term, expedient gains. That's a critical piece.

Sometimes we become too fixated on immediate victories and results, and this doesn't really lead us to building strategic allies and strategic relationships in the way that is most helpful. There are not really any shortcuts. A lot of people are counting on — or have built a lot of their strategies and programming around — new technology, particularly social media as a way of reaching people. That's good for mobilizing people, but it's not a tool for organizing people. We have to make that distinction. In order to organize people, you have to build relationships. You have to make sure that you're creating the context and bringing people into situations where they can see each other face to face, to engage in dialogue and exchange about their issues, about their concerns, about their aspirations.

We have to be very intent on rebuilding social solidarity. I think a lot of the angst that is there now — particularly in light of Trump's victory — is based upon a deepening sense of social isolation. Folks feeling that they're more alone, and more exposed, now and more siloed than ever before. But our counter is not to retreat further into small and local. I think our counter is to go deeper, build more connections, reach out more. I think we're over-emphasizing and stressing too much about what's going to happen this first year. That could lead us into a number of traps, as opposed to us digging deep and building the relationships that are necessary, coming up through that process of organizing people, and then developing a program and a vision that will enable us to build, to push back, and to create a whole different set of policies to complement our vision down the road.

Could you say more about your vision for deepening relationships?

At present, our state politics break down fairly consistently along racial lines. But we know that we can make some inroads, particularly with younger, college-educated White folks — and there are about 250,000 to 500,000 of them in the state. We feel that we can and must do a good job recruiting, organizing, and reorienting them in a more left and progressive direction. And if we can just move the bottom end of that number, we change the politics of this state profoundly and we can end the Republican domination of the state. This is something that's practically doable, but you have to be willing to stand back a little bit, look at the long-term view, assess what's really needed, and then develop the strategy to go out and reach those communities and build a relationship with them. And not see everything as lost or totally out of our reach, when it's really not.

An Overview of Governor Jerry Brown's Fiscal Year 2017-2018 Budget Proposal for California

On January 10, Governor Jerry Brown revealed his proposed budget for the 2017-2018 fiscal year, which projects a state budget deficit ($1.6 billion) for the first time since 2012. The $179.5 billion proposal maintains the state’s commitment to implementing the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), preserving the California Earned Income Tax Credit, and expanding healthcare access to vulnerable groups. Unfortunately, the budget proposal also recaptures nearly $1 billion in one-time expenditures provided in the Budget Act of 2016 (Budget Act) and delays spending increases for various programs and services, some of which, like LCFF, are designed to improve outcomes for low-income communities and communities of color.
We applaud the Administration’s continued commitment to important issues like healthcare access, LCFF implementation, and transportation, but believe more should be done through the budget to build an equitable California, one where all of the state’s residents can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential. We urge the Governor to work with communities, advocates, and the Legislature in the coming months to develop a budget that allows California to address its intensifying housing crisis, maintain health insurance for the newly insured, guarantee immigrants targeted for deportation have effective legal representation, and protect and invest in the state’s most vulnerable populations.
Below we highlight areas of the budget that are likely to be of interest to equity advocates, including health and human services, education, housing, transportation, public safety, and climate change.
Health and Human Services
The budget maintains current spending levels for programs that ensure California residents have access to quality, affordable health care and services. For example, the proposal provides funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, as well as the expansion of Medi-Cal coverage to undocumented children and individuals earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. It also maintains funding for substance abuse programs and the transition of new immigrants from Medi-Cal to Covered California. In addition to continuing financial support for these services, the budget provides new funding to reflect the repeal of the Maximum Family Grant rule.
While we are encouraged by these aspects of the budget, we urge the state to continue investing in care coordination and integration programs for vulnerable residents, including the Coordinated Care Initiative, health care workforce initiatives, community infrastructure grants, and children’s mental health services grants. 

The education budget provides a small increase of $2.1 billion in Prop. 98 funding for K-14 education and proposes cost-of-living adjustments for LCFF funding targets, as well as for various programs funded outside of LCFF. Unfortunately, due to the projected revenue shortfall, the Governor’s proposal, while providing an additional $744 million for LCFF implementation, “maintains the implementation formula at the current-year level of 96 percent.”[1]  Though we understand the new economic reality the state faces, we urge the Governor to fully implement LCFF as quickly as possible.
The budget also boosts investment in California’s Community College system. Notable areas of increased spending include efforts to address student disparities; the Guided Pathways program, an institution-wide approach to improving student completion rates; and school facilities energy efficiency projects financed through the Prop. 39 Clean Energy Job Creation Fund, which, in addition to improving energy efficiency on school campuses, targets training and jobs to individuals with barriers to employment.
Despite these positive investments in the community college system, the budget disappointingly proposes to phase out the Middle Class Scholarship Program, which provides has helped thousands of student to afford enrollment at CSU and UC campuses.
Even though the state faces a growing housing affordability crisis, the budget provides virtually no new funding for affordable housing. The proposal recaptures $400 million for affordable housing development included in the Budget Act,  and conditions continued financial support for the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities Initiative (AHSC), a major source of state funding for affordable housing in recent years, on the extension of the cap-and-trade program by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.
In the coming months, we urge the Administration to partner with the Legislature to allocate resources for AHSC without condition, provide meaningful new investments in affordable housing, and establish a permanent source of funding for the construction, preservation, and rehabilitation of affordable units.
Transportation Infrastructure
Although much of the transportation budget continues to focus funding on maintaining highways and roads in California, we are pleased to see an annual increase of $100 million for the state’s Active Transportation Program, which aims to improve the mobility, health, and safety of vulnerable residents by targeting walking and bicycling infrastructure in low-income communities.

To ensure our increased transportation spending achieves state equity and climate goals, funding should be targeted to grow investment in transit operations and complete streets, prioritize transportation projects that provide meaningful benefits to low-income people of color, and connect disadvantaged community residents to transportation sector training and jobs.
Public Safety and Justice
While the budget’s public safety proposal highlights many of the anticipated positive effects of Proposition 57[2], we hope the revised budget will deepen California’s commitment to investing in our people and communities, divesting from systems that separate families and perpetuate trauma, and eliminating policies that serve as barriers to the success of low-income people and people of color. These values are reflected in the budget’s proposal to end the use of driver’s license suspensions as a debt collection tool, a counterproductive practice that has caused financial insecurity throughout California’s low-income communities of color.
We hope the May Revision will build on the proposed repeal, by reducing funding for harmful institutions, including immigration detention centers, prisons, and law enforcement, and investing in reintegration services, quality legal representation for immigrants, and support for other vulnerable groups.
Climate Change and Natural Resources
The budget proposes a $2.2 billion dollar Cap-and-Trade Expenditure Plan using revenues generated through the State’s carbon trading program. This plan includes needed investments in transportation, housing, pollution reduction, and other programs that provide benefits to low-income, pollution-burdened communities. Unfortunately, the budget makes allocation of these proposed investments contingent upon the Legislature approving an extension of the state’s cap-and-trade program. Accomplishing this will require support of two-thirds of the Legislature and poses a significant hurdle to securing these important investments.
The Governor’s environmental and natural resources proposal also acknowledges the severe drinking water challenges faced by disadvantaged communities across California and commits to working with the Legislature and stakeholders to address these challenges. This commitment is very encouraging. However, with over one million Californians being served drinking water from systems that do not meet safe drinking water standards, we urge the Administration to take this commitment further and prioritize developing a sustainable funding source to ensure that all Californians have safe and affordable drinking water.

As we learn more about the incoming presidential administration’s policy goals, the Governor’s budget proposals are likely to change. In the coming months, advocates should engage their legislators and the Governor to ensure that hard fought gains for California’s low-income communities and communities of color are protected and expanded.

[1] Governor’s Budget Summary – 2017-18, “K-12 Education,” 20,
[2] Proposition 57 allows non-violent offenders who have completed the prison term for their primary offense to be considered for parole and authorizes the Department of Correction and Rehabilitation to establish a “credit” system under which individuals can earn an early release from prison. The law also provides that only judges may determine whether juveniles 14 and older can be prosecuted or sentenced as an adult.

Marching Forward: Closing the Women’s Wealth Gap

Written by Elena Chavez Quezada and Heather McCulloch and cross-posted from Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity

Many of us thought it would be the swearing in of the first woman president that would galvanize women to mobilize, organize, and take action to advance women’s rights. Ironically, it is the specter of the impending presidency of Donald Trump that is catalyzing women to come together and speak out.

On January 21st, women from across the country will converge on the nation’s capitol and in cities across the country. This mass mobilization is partially defensive, sparked by looming threats to women’s reproductive, political, and economic rights. But it would be a mistake to view this groundswell as defensive alone.

This Saturday’s women’s marches are laying the groundwork for a new women’s movement with multiple focal points and priorities, both defensive and aspirational. While some observers have criticized the absence of a unified agenda, others understand the importance of engaging in multi-faceted conversations about the issues and barriers to women’s personal, political, and economic security. These conversations mirror the complexity of women’s lives and the intersecting elements of their identities. They’re about race, ethnicity, legal status, sexual identity, discrimination and privilege. They’re often uncomfortable, messy, and complicated—as they should be.


1/30 - Upcoming Webinar on Sanctuary Spaces

In today’s political climate, immigrant families, Muslim residents, and other communities of color face increased surveillance and growing threats to their safety and well-being.

Join PolicyLink and our partners on January 30, 2017 at 11:30 a.m. PT (2:30 p.m. ET) for a discussion on how state and local leaders across the country can create safer environments for vulnerable members of their communities.
This webinar will provide an overview of what sanctuary cities and sanctuary spaces are; how such spaces can make all people safer; and how leaders can create – or safeguard – sanctuary spaces in their own communities.
This is the first installment of several webinars the All-In Cities Initiative will be hosting throughout the year on local policies to build equitable cities.

Featured Speakers:

  • Angela Glover Blackwell, PolicyLink (moderator) 
  • Linda Sarsour, MPower Change
  • Angie Junck, Immigrant Legal Resource Center
  • Jorge Gutierrez, Familia Trans Queer Liberation Movement

        *Additional Speakers to be confirmed*


All-In Cities Update: December 12, 2016

In the aftermath of November 8, it is clearer than ever that cities and the counties and metropolitan regions in which they are situated are the crucibles where an inclusive American economy and democracy can and must be forged. From Atlanta to Indianapolis, cities across the country passed ballot measures designed to expand opportunity and dismantle barriers to inclusion. In our hometown of Oakland, the anti-displacement and equitable infrastructure measures we supported won handily. As the All-In Cities team plans for the year ahead, we are look forward to continuing to help local leaders ensure that the cities they love are places where all can thrive and participate in building the next economy. 
Building Community Power in the Age of Trump
Following the election, associate director Tracey Ross wrote a piece for Rooflines, the Shelterforce blog, critiquing post-election narratives. She explains, “As the media and national figures continue to tell a story that overlooks how the concerns of people of color may have impacted the election, local leaders must be working to ensure workers of color are empowered to tell their own story.” Check out the full piece here.  
Buffalo: Health Equity and Inclusive Growth Profile Launched
With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, PolicyLink has partnered with Open Buffalo, a community coalition focused on justice and equity in the city of Buffalo, to produce a comprehensive equity profile that can inform policy solutions for health equity, inclusive growth, and a culture of health in the “Queen City.” We kicked off the engagement with a site visit on December 1 that included tours of West Buffalo and the historic Fruit Belt neighborhoods, interviews with community and city leaders, and a review of the initial data. We will be releasing the report and policy agenda in March 2017. 
Pittsburgh: Next City Highlights Equitable Development Momentum
Next City covered the progress that has been made since the release of Equitable Development: The Path to an All-In Pittsburgh in September. Senior director Sarah Treuhaft discusses the growing momentum among community leaders. “When we started working there, there was definitely not that sense that change was possible,” she explained. “By next year we want to see more of that, and create a sense that change is happening — that it’s not just possible but it’s actually happening and progress is being gained.” You can read the whole article here.
New Equitable Growth Data for Cities
The National Equity Atlas, produced in partnership with the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE), continues to expand to meet the data needs of those working to advance equitable growth in cities and metros. In October we added new neighborhood-level maps for four indicators, including unemployment and disconnected youth. And in November we updated 17 of our 32 indicators to 2014 five-year pooled data (it was previously the 2012 five-year pooled data).

Learn more about our All-In Cities initiative and sign up for updates at


It Takes a City: How Detroit Is Making a Homegrown Comeback

Conjuring a mental image of Detroit is easy if you've been paying attention to some of the comeback stories that have been streaming out of the city: it is the Rust Belt's chrome mecca coming back from the brink, with daring restauranteurs and visionary start-ups injecting new life into ghostly factories and disinvested working-class neighborhoods. But these predominant narratives only tell part of the story: economic growth is concentrated in pockets close to the central core, and has benefited outsiders more than locals. In 2007, 36 percent of jobs in the central business district were held by Detroiters, but by 2013, that number dropped to 23.7 percent.

"The condition that Detroit is in has created a can-do, collaborative, maker culture," said Kevin Ramon, business coach at Central Detroit Christian Community Development Corporation. "But there are a lot of people in Detroit's underserved communities that don't have the financial capacity or skill sets to get their businesses off the ground as fast as others outside of those communities." But a network of organizations in the city is working to change that.

Ramon provides marketing and general business coaching support for Central Detroit residents through the business development work of Central Detroit Christian, which is part of a cottage industry including foundations, nonprofits, incubators, and co-working spaces that provide Detroit's low-income residents and people of color with resources and opportunities to launch successful small businesses.

Detroit is proving what can happen when a robust business ecosystem — one that is committed to inclusion — sprouts up to combat the economic inequality that too often accompanies a city's comeback. Below are three examples of companies owned by Detroiters that are tapping into the new business resources available to grow and ensure that Detroit's renaissance is built on a foundation of success for local residents of color.

From Returning Citizen to In-Demand Business Owner

When Craig Grissom returned to Central Detroit after 14 years of incarceration, he turned to landscaping work to make money.  "I couldn't get hired anywhere, so I had to create my job," he said.

In 2009, Grissom started to build his own small clientele. Two years later, Lisa Johanon, who oversees Central Detroit Christian's portfolio of 10 businesses, offered Grissom the job of managing one of them, Higher Ground Landscaping. "I had been making a couple of dollars on my own, but it wasn't steady," he said. "With that opportunity, I had a steady income."

In return, Grissom has tried to hire other returning citizens from the neighborhood. "Somebody gave me a chance," he added. "Lisa helped me out and if I could help someone else out, sure enough, I would. I hired someone this past summer who was just a new release and I gave him the opportunity."

Through Central Detroit Christian, Grissom completed an entrepreneur training class at ProsperUS in 2014. He was able to purchase Higher Ground Landscaping in 2015 and obtained working capital through loans from ProsperUS and Southwest Solutions (both of which have since been paid off). Grissom's contracts now include Henry Ford Health Center and the Woodward Avenue Streetcar project.

Both Central Detroit Christian and ProsperUS receive funding from the New Economy Initiative (NEI), a collaboration of 13 national and local foundations founded in 2007 that has grown into one of the largest philanthropy-led regional economic development initiatives in the United States. A recent report from NEI outlines the impact of its grantmaking, and the results are impressive: through $96.2 million in grants, NEI has helped to launch 1,700 new companies, creating more than 17,000 jobs.

The success of Grissom and other entrepreneurs like him speaks to the power of Detroit organizations working together and collaborating to build a network of entrepreneurs of color — especially those with a passion for training and employing locally. According to Matthew Lewis of NEI, the initiative wants to focus its grantmaking efforts to ramp up local hiring to ensure that Detroit residents reap the benefits of their city's comeback.  The results so far are promising: the 2016 NEIdeas winners were 75 percent people of color and 60 percent women-owned businesses, and NEI has received applications from every Detroit zip code.

From Selling out of a Trunk to the Shelves of Whole Foods

Nailah Ellis-Brown, another local entrepreneur, feels frustrated about the way that Detroit has been portrayed in the media. "A lot of people think you can just buy a building in Detroit and grow a $1 million business," said Ellis-Brown. "Detroit has been portrayed as this wide-open market, but people are just coming in and not providing jobs or training. They are bringing in the workers they want to use. It doesn't make sense to come in and fix downtown, midtown, and a couple of blocks along Woodward. That's not the entire city."

Ellis-Brown began selling her grandfather's hibiscus iced tea recipe out of the trunk of her car in 2008. Today, Ellis Infinity Beverage Company drinks are being sold in over 300 retailers throughout the Midwest, including at Whole Foods, and she was named one of Forbes magazine's "30 Under 30" in the manufacturing industry. Along the way, Ellis-Brown found resources throughout the region, including from Michigan State University Product Center, "which has been amazing as far as labeling and the random stuff like barcodes and nutritional information," and Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council, which helped Ellis-Brown with contracting. But she is proud of how much she's been able to do on her own.

"Being a Detroit native, I've never been the type to wait on handouts," she said. "If there's something you want, you've got to go get it yourself. That's how I was raised and how things tend to be for people within the Black community." She's committed to hiring local residents, and nine of her 15 staff members on the production line have special needs. She works through a program called Services to Enhance Potential and also hires walk-ins, online applicants, and over social media. "No one really takes the time to work with individuals with special needs. With the passions they have and the joy I see when they come to work, it makes all of the difference in the world to me," said Ellis-Brown. "One of my passions and aspirations is for my company to provide job support and job opportunities for Detroit natives."

A Master Plumber with a Vision

One of NEI's grantmaking programs, NEIdeas, challenges entrepreneurs to come up with ideas to help grow their businesses. Businesses that gross under $750,000 annually compete for one of 30 $10,000 awards; businesses that gross between $750,000 and $5 million compete for one of two $100,000 awards.

Benkari Mechanical, a plumbing enterprise, won a $10,000 award in 2015. Founded by Adrienne Bennett, said to be America's first Black female licensed master plumber and Michigan's first and only female licensed master plumber and plumbing contractor, the company was looking for a way to grow to its next level.

"We are small, we are minority, and we are just trying to fit in," said Bennett. "Until now we have been self-funded. Now we are at the point that for us to grow, we have to pursue larger projects. Banks literally want your life for the money they want to loan you." With the NEIdeas grant, the company purchased software and training to help automate its contract bidding process. The first time Benkari used the software, it won its biggest contract to date — for the new Detroit Red Wings arena currently under construction.

"It would have taken a much longer time to estimate without the software," said A.K. Bennett, Adrienne's son and project manager for the company. "We see this project as being a stepping stone to larger projects'"

One of Benkari's biggest growth challenges is finding qualified local union workers. The union provides a five-year apprenticeship program, but with the growth of the central business district and an executive order that projects are required to have 51 percent of local trade labor to qualify for city financing, Benkari Mechanical's labor pool is often dry. "After the 2008 crash, there was no push to open the apprenticeships and a big loss of people to retirement," said Bennett, the business owner. "Now since the boom has come back and it has come back so fast, there aren't that many people with talent or experience to do the work. Now there are people who have never had a hammer in their hands on a construction site."

Even so, the business is poised to meet Bennett's vision for growth. "We have set goals as far as where we would like to be financially — owning our own office space with a pre-fabrication facility and developing a fleet of company vehicles. As far as the things we see as happening in the city, we think this is all attainable."

With Ben Carson at HUD, America’s Cities Really Could Become Hellholes

(Cross-posted from The Nation)

If Democrats want to make the case that Dr. Ben Carson is unqualified to be secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, they can use the words of Carson himself: “Dr. Carson feels he has no government experience; he’s never run a federal agency,” his friend Armstrong Williams told reporters, when rumors of Donald Trump’s plan to put Carson at HUD first emerged. Carson told Trump, “I preferred to work outside of government as an adviser.” But on Monday, Trump tapped Carson to head the $47 billion agency that oversees home-mortgage lending, public-housing administration, desegregation efforts, and fighting housing discrimination.


Secure Retirement for All Californians: An Interview with State Senator Kevin de León on the Nation’s Largest Retirement Savings Program Since the New Deal

Thanks to nearly a decade of advocacy and research, and to the inspiring leadership of California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León — the kind of leader the nation needs — California has taken another step forward by making  portable, auto-enrolled, individual retirement accounts available to millions of Californians who lack such benefits.  Workers participating in the newly passed Secure Choice Retirement Savings Program will have at least 3 percent of their earnings deducted from their paycheck and deposited in an individual retirement account, managed by the Secure Choice Retirement Savings Investment Board. They will be able to opt out at any time.

Given that many participants will have no experience with saving for retirement and many may currently rely on public benefits programs, PolicyLink worked with partners and De León's office to advocate for equity measures within the bill to ensure that the program best serves the needs of low-income workers. Thanks to this advocacy, the Board is required to establish a comprehensive outreach and education program to inform eligible workers of the risks and benefits of the program, and there is now increased attention on ensuring that retirement savings do not count toward assets, which could potentially disqualify low-income workers from receiving vital public benefits.

Touted as the broadest enhancement of retirement benefits since Social Security, Secure Choice provides a crucial opportunity to prove the merits of state-backed retirement pans. 

Senator de León spoke with Christopher Brown, director for financial security at PolicyLink, to share his insight into this innovative new policy and discuss how other states might follow in California's footsteps.

Why is it so important that the state step in to provide opportunities for workers to save for retirement?

We have close to seven million workers in California in the private sector with no access to any retirement security plan — neither a defined benefit nor a defined contribution plan. This means that 50 percent of middle-income workers are at risk of retiring into poverty. The numbers are worse for women retirees, who make up two-thirds of retirees today who live in poverty. When I think of women like my mother or my aunt, women who raised us, clothed us, fed us — it's immoral that these women should retire into poverty. After a lifetime career of hard work, helping to make California the sixth largest economy in the world, they deserve to live with a modicum of dignity and respect. This is a not a partisan issue. Retirement insecurity impacts all Americans, regardless of the hue of your skin or your geographic location. Secure Choice is a complete game changer. It gives millions of workers the option to save automatically, through their employer's payroll.  No matter what job you hold in California, you can plan for your future. 

What were some of the challenges you faced in creating this legislation, and how were they overcome?

It's been a long, arduous journey to get this approved. The first iteration of this measure failed in 2008, and again in 2009. But in 2012 Governor Jerry Brown signed a measure that allowed us to appoint a Secure Choice Board and raise money to conduct the necessary feasibility studies and market analysis to show that this would be financially viable and self-sustaining.  It took years of going back and forth to Washington, DC to meet with the Department of Labor, the Treasury Department, and other key players on Capitol Hill. We rolled up our sleeves and went to work, going over the arcane technical aspects and trying to find a solution to this vexing problem of retirement insecurity.

All along the way we had very strong opposition on Wall Street and in Washington, DC, because our program was seen as competing with financial markets for retirement.  However, we were able to make the case that this wasn't about competition or cannibalizing an existing financial market sector, because we are trying to reach a highly fragmented, diverse community made up largely of lower-income workers who need retirement security the most and aren't being reached by private financial providers. We also stressed that this is a policy issue, not a commercial one — that too many people are hurting because they don't have access to retirement savings as part of their employment, and too many people would be forced to rely on government assistance in retirement because they had not had the opportunity to save throughout their careers.

What will be the next steps in implementing Secure Choice?

The law will go into effect on January 1, 2017, and will authorize the Secure Choice Board, chaired by Treasurer John Chiang, to begin the development of the program. Over the course of three years we will phase in employers by company size; ultimately, all employers with five or more employees will be required to participate.  We still have a lot of work to do to educate consumers about what's going to happen and why it's important. We have seven million people in California who will be eligible for this, so we need to take them all on a journey to educate them about the importance of retirement savings, and the power of saving early so that you compound your principal investment.

We've scaled the mountain and withstood the powerful, well-moneyed opposition, but now we need to roll up our sleeves and take this to the people to make sure the outcomes are positive.

The Department of Labor recently issued a proposed rule that would pave the way for local governments to follow California's lead in providing retirement plans. What advice would you give to other states wishing to provide their own retirement savings plans?

I'd say the critical thing that is going to help expand these policies is leadership — both nationally and within states. This leadership needs to be bipartisan, as it was in California, and they need to step up and make their fellow politicians understand that their citizens are hurting in retirement. They have a choice: they can represent the people and try to increase access to retirement benefits, or they can represent the interests of Wall Street and do nothing. The good news is that the concept of state-backed retirement savings has caught on like wildfire.  We know of at least 15 other states that are following our lead with plans to adopt similar programs in the future, and we couldn't be more excited.

The Commons: The Community-Led Commercial Hub that Is Transforming Milwaukee’s Poorest Neighborhood

(Cross-posted from Next City)

Just two years ago, the corner of 16th and North Avenue in Milwaukee looked like the vast majority of the commercial strip within the city's historic Lindsay Heights neighborhood: the buildings were boarded up, vacant, and in disrepair. As in so many American cities, racial redlining, decades of economic disinvestment, and the recent housing crisis devastated this once-bustling working-class hub.

Visitors today will find this intersection transformed: Teenagers gather for book clubs while they sip fruit and veggie concoctions from the Juice Kitchen. Neighbors chat over organic bulk grains at the Outpost Natural Foods co-op. And local residents facing barriers to employment get job training at the Milwaukee Center for Independence Hospitality Academy. 

This vibrant hub of commerce, healthy food, and community gathering is the Innovations and Wellness Commons, and it is the brainchild of an entire community.

Led by residents Larry and Sharon Adams and their community nonprofit, Walnut Way Conservation Corp., and supported by ongoing funding and technical assistance from the Zilber Family Foundation, The Commons proves what is possible when community, local business, and philanthropy unite around a shared vision for a healthier, more prosperous neighborhood.

"This isn't about one lot or one store. We're building a vibrant community supported by a quadruple bottom line: investments that are financially viable, green, socially equitable, and honor the culture and history of Lindsay Heights," said Sharon Adams.

Read more in Next City.

Vote Yes on Measures KK and JJ for an All-In Oakland

As America’s cities face the challenges of inequality, structural racism, and displacement, local governments must take bold steps to put in place a new model of equitable growth. One imperative is to transform underinvested neighborhoods into “communities of opportunity” that provide their residents with the ingredients needed to thrive. That is why I am excited about Oakland’s Measure KK, a $600 million infrastructure bond that promises to boost opportunity and mobility for residents in long-underserved Flatland neighborhoods, and Measure JJ, a measure to extend and reform renter protections for Oakland’s residents vulnerable to displacement.

Infrastructure — streets, sidewalks, parks, water lines, and more — might not sound like the solution to Oakland’s challenges of uneven growth. But it is crucial. As Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx likes to say, infrastructure is a “ladder to opportunity” for struggling families. Streets and transit routes make it possible to access family-supporting jobs. Parks and recreation centers provide spaces to exercise, play, and socialize. Libraries connect people to learning opportunities. And so forth. Infrastructure is the skeletal support that connects people to resources, opportunities, and each other.

Despite its critical role in bridging to opportunity, years of discriminatory land use planning and inequitable investment have saddled low-income communities of color with some of the worst infrastructure deficiencies. Oakland overall needs an estimated $2.5 billion in infrastructure investment — including a $443 million paving backlog. The neighborhoods where cash-strapped families can afford to live are more likely to have potholes, crooked sidewalk squares, and tattered playground equipment. These inequities aren’t just inconveniences: they drain already-tight family budgets. Oakland residents spend hundreds of dollars every year on flat tires and car repairs due to potholes and bad roads — and this “hidden tax” hurts low-income residents far more than wealthier drivers.

Measure KK has the potential to dramatically improve health, quality of life, and economic security for thousands of Oaklanders. With Measure KK funds, Oakland’s new Department of Transportation is prepared to deliver ten times the current levels of street repairs for 10 years. Imagine, instead of just a quarter of our streets being in good shape, in ten years 72 percent of our roads could be smooth and safe.

Moreover, the funds would go where they are most needed. While typical infrastructure bonds do not target resources, Measure KK includes historic social equity requirements that will ensure that investments are distributed fairly across Oakland, and especially in underinvested, low-income communities of color. Projects will be selected through a transparent, multilingual public process, and an oversight committee will conduct independent audits of the spending. My organization, PolicyLink, is looking forward to working with the city, under our All-In Cities initiative, to develop the best possible equity criteria and make this infrastructure bond a model for the nation in terms of equitable infrastructure funding.

In addition, Measure KK has an intentional focus on “investment without displacement.” $100 million of the proceeds will fund anti-displacement and affordable housing preservation. This is essential in a city facing a ballooning housing crisis, where rents have increased 34 percent since 2011. Measure KK will provide critical funds to protect Oaklanders all across the city from being forced to move out of affordable housing so we can keep long-term residents in our community. Measure JJ will in turn add protections to residents in their existing rental homes as their neighborhoods improve.

Building the infrastructure needed to transform neighborhoods is the right thing to do for our neighbors who are struggling to stay and succeed in a rapidly-changing city. It is also a smart economic strategy. With the right hiring, job quality, and workforce development strategies in place, this investment can provide career pathways to hundreds of Oaklanders of color who are currently locked out of good jobs. Improving infrastructure in distressed neighborhoods will also have indirect economic benefits because living in a neighborhood with quality parks, safe streets, sidewalks, and other quality infrastructure improves one’s economic chances. There is also evidence that lower-wealth residents who stay in gentrifying neighborhoods improve their financial conditions (thus also adding to the local economy), while those who move out end up living in neighborhoods with higher unemployment, lower-performing schools, and lower quality of life.

On Tuesday, Oaklanders have a chance to truly expand opportunity and take a serious step toward making Oakland an “all-in” city where everyone — especially those who’ve been waiting the longest for this moment of resurgence — has a chance to fully thrive. I encourage all Oaklanders to vote YES on Measures KK and JJ this election day.

Angela Glover Blackwell is the Chief Executive Officer of PolicyLink, a national research and action institute advancing economic and social equity by Lifting Up What Works.

Six Ways to Vote for Equitable Growth and Shared Prosperity

Introducing New Neighborhood Opportunity Maps


We know that opportunity differs by neighborhood, and maps are one way to visualize this variation across a given city, region, or state. That’s why today, we are adding mapping breakdowns to the following four indicators on the National Equity Atlas:


These new interactive maps allow you to visualize data by county or by census tract as well as by city, region, or state. You can also toggle back and forth between different years to see how the geography of opportunity has changed over time and create custom maps using an interactive filter and scroller. On the race/ethnicity map, for example, the scroller allows you to visualize measures of opportunity (e.g. homeownership) in relation to neighborhood composition (e.g. the share of the Latino population). And on the disconnected youth and unemployment maps, the scroller allows you to visualize the indicator as neighborhood compositions (e.g. share of the Black or Native American population) vary.

This blog walks you through how to access and use the new maps. Register for our 30-minute webinar on November 2 for a live walk through.

How to find the new maps

To access the new maps for the people of color indicator, click on the Indicators tab in the top navigation bar. Then under the Demographics menu, select “People of color.” You can look at the data by county (the default), by the largest 150 regions, or by state. You can also toggle back and forth between every decade from 1980 to 2040 to see how the share of people of color in the U.S. has changed over time. The GIF below pulls from the new maps to show how the share of people of color has changed from 1980 to 2010 and how it is projected to change by 2040. You can also see the new people of color map on the homepage of the Atlas.

You can filter by White areas, Black areas, Latino areas, etc. in the people of color, unemployment, and disconnected youth maps, and you can also filter by different measures of opportunity in the race/ethnicity map. To get to the race/ethnicity indicator, select Race/ethnicity (also in the Demographics menu).

The default breakdown shows a chart of how the racial/ethnic composition of the country has changed from 1980 to 2010, and how it’s projected to change through 2040. Underneath the graphic display, you’ll see the different breakdowns, the second of which is the “Race and ethnicity map.” The default map is the percent people of color in 2014, but you can also look at the data from 2000. Under the year options, you’ll see the six major race/ethnicity groups and all people of color. If you select “Native American”, for example, you’ll get a map of the percent Native American by county. The darker purple counties represent areas with a Native population larger than 40 percent (see screenshot below).

Using the opportunity filters

The filters located on the bottom right of the page allow you create custom maps based on various measures of opportunity such as homeownership and the share of the population with an associate’s degree or higher. To illustrate how the filters work and how to access data by neighborhood, take the state of Mississippi as an example.

You’ll notice that census tracts are not one of the geography options in the map above. In order to view the data by census tract, you must type in a state, region, or city in the Explore box. After typing in and selecting Mississippi, you get a map of the state by tracts (the default geography at the sub-national level). If you click on “Black”, you get a map of the Black population share. The purple tracts are neighborhoods with a Black population greater than 40 percent. The light blue areas, on the other hand, have a Black population under 10 percent.

To use the filters, first select one, like homeownership, then move the scroller at the bottom to only show areas where the homeownership is at least a given percentage. The overall homeownership rate in Mississippi is 68 percent, but moving the scroller to 68 percent, creates a map of census tracts where the homeownership rate is 68 percent or higher and many of the purple tracts (representing majority Black tracts) in the northwestern part of the state disappear as a result (see maps below). Those tracts that disappear have a homeownership rate less than 68 percent.

Using maps to inform decision-making

These maps can be especially helpful in developing targeted employment or workforce development initiatives. The overall unemployment rate in Mississippi was 10 percent, but this was clearly not the case across all census tracts. Filtering the map by tracts with an unemployment rate of at least 15 percent produces a map with several majority Black tracts. This map can support programs and initiatives through the state workforce investment board by ensuring that resources are targeted to communities that need them most.

Note: While the size (land area) of the census tracts in the state varies widely, each has a roughly similar number of people. A large tract in a more rural part of the state likely contains a similar number of people as a seemingly tiny tract in an urban area. Care should be taken not to pay an unwarranted amount of attention to large tracts just because they are large.

Mississippi has the highest rate of disconnected youth of all states, so understanding how the number and share of disconnected youth varies across the state is central to developing an effective workforce development or education program. To find the map for disconnected youth, select “Disconnected Youth” in Readiness section of the Equity menu. The very last breakdown is the mapping breakdown. As you’ll see in the map below, there are several red census tracts, symbolizing areas where the share of disconnected youth is greater than 20 percent. As you hover over different tracts, you can see both the share and the total number of disconnected youth. In census tract 9504 in Prentiss County, for example, more than 100 young people, or 57 percent of 16 to 19 year olds, were disconnected from both school and work.

The filters and scroller on this map allow you to visualize disconnectedness in relation to neighborhood composition. As you filter to majority White or majority Black neighborhoods, you’ll notice how disconnectedness varies geographically.

For a walk through of the unemployment maps, view our previous blog. For a live walk through of the new maps, register for our webinar. Share your thoughts or questions during the webinar or through our contact form.

This Atlas of Racial Equity Just Keeps Getting Better

Cross-posted from CityLab

How do race and inequality intersect with space? American mapmakers have been trying to answer this question since at least 1895, when a group of reform-minded Chicago women published the Hull-House Maps and Papers. At the height of the Gilded Age, inequality was skyrocketing. Housing and labor conditions among droves of new immigrants were dire.

Putting their faith in data as catalyst for progress, the Chicago reformers meticulously surveyed the ethnicities and wages of industrial workers living in a tenement neighborhood on the Near West Side, and then plotted their findings in vivid color on a set of blank property maps. The result was a groundbreaking visual demonstration of poverty as a product of a person’s spatial context, rather than some damning individual quality—a belief that was commonly held then (as it is now).

Flash-forward 120-plus years, and we’re living in an era some call a second Gilded Age. In fact, income inequality is even worse now than it was then. Mapmakers are still figuring out the best ways to plot disparities across all sorts of measures—jobs and school quality, environmental health, and transportation access, for example—to advocate for policy change. The National Equity Atlas, developed by PolicyLink and the University of Southern California’s Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE), might be the best and most comprehensive graphic call for economic equality available today.

Read the full article in CityLab.

A Seat at the Table: Through Community Participation, New Orleans Leads the Fair Housing Movement

Isabel Barrios, a program officer at the Greater New Orleans Foundation, recently facilitated a conversation with young people in New Orleans in which they were asked what health and public safety mean to them. They responded by saying things like: "It means not hearing gunshots when I'm playing on the basketball court," and "I would be able to ride my bike somewhere and not have to worry about it being stolen," and "Health means having water fountains in our neighborhood, because it can get very hot out and I want to be able to drink water when I'm playing outside."

"There were all of these great things that all of these kids brought up that barely fall within into what people call public safety in city planning processes," said Barrios. "There is an incredible opportunity if you have meaningful engagement and really hear people out." She mentioned that when residents asked to return to their public housing developments after Hurricane Katrina, their calls were translated by politicians into requests for more "affordable housing" in the form of vouchers — signifying that filtering may still affect their trust.

Last week, the City of New Orleans and the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) made a concerted effort to respond to city residents' specific appeals for improved housing and greater connection to opportunity in the joint Assessment of Fair Housing (AFH) plan they submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). By submitting this plan, New Orleans became one of the first of 20 jurisdictions in 2016 to adhere to the update to the Fair Housing Act released in 2015 requiring federal housing funding grantees to "Affirmatively Further Fair Housing" (also known as the AFFH rule). Over 100 more will follow in 2017, and all remaining HUD jurisdictions in the following years. The revamped AFFH rule lays the foundation to ensure that HUD resources are being effectively used to foster communities of opportunity. The framework helps cities, counties, regions, states, and housing authorities examine historic patterns of segregation, expand housing choices, and foster inclusive communities free of discrimination.

Community outreach that builds on past efforts

Over the course of the summer and early fall, HANO and the city met with residents, housing, transportation, and health advocates, and community organizations to get their input on the housing opportunity plan. They also coordinated with the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) to hold sessions to train community-based groups on the more technical aspects of the AFH plan, and to engage communities not usually at planning tables. Seven partner groups (including PolicyLink) served as a coordinating committee that synthesized community input, guided research, addressed gaps in the data that were being gathered, and drafted the Assessment of Fair Housing that set goals for healthy communities of opportunity and prioritized actions to be pursued over the next five years.  The plan's development was guided by equity, as defined by PolicyLink: "just and fair inclusion into a society in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential."

The plan includes a summary of residents' concerns gathered during the community participation process channels, such as escalating housing costs within proximity of new hospitals (making both health care and job access more difficult), criminal background checks limiting employment opportunities, and transportation services prioritizing tourists over transit-dependent residents. It also reports on demographic trends in the city and where racially/ethnically concentrated areas of poverty exist. The numbers were revealing, with 66 percent of the more than 75,000 renter households classified as low-income, and 77 percent of those households reporting housing problems.

The factors contributing to disparities in access to opportunity informed the development of the AFH plan's key goals, which include expanding affordable housing in high-opportunity areas, reducing housing segregation, and prioritizing public investments in transit, quality schools, housing, parks, and other amenities in underserved communities. (Read more about the plan's goals here.)

The AFH plan is building on recent community-based planning efforts, including: HousingNOLA, a 10-year strategy and implementation plan launched in August 2015 as a partnership of community leaders and public, private, and nonprofit organizations working to solve New Orleans's affordable housing crisis; Housing for a Resilient New Orleans, a five-year strategy for the city to build or preserve 7,500 affordable housing units by 2021; and a rental housing assessment released in March 2016 — conducted by the Center for Community Progress and commissioned by the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority — which found that nearly four out of five low-income, cost-burdened renter households in New Orleans are Black.

"Redlining is not a thing of the past"

The community engagement groundwork laid through these other strategic processes had a direct impact on the AFH plan, and will enable concrete federal resources to be invested in results. Andreanecia Morris, executive director of HousingNOLA, related how the HousingNOLA community review team recommended that the AFH plan look to leverage more private investment in low-opportunity neighborhoods through encouraging banks to spend their Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) money in those places — fulfilling the banks' obligation to meet the credit needs of low- and moderate-income neighborhoods.

"Redlining is not a thing of the past," said Morris. "We called for an assessment of where lenders are working in New Orleans. The community took advantage of the opportunity to participate in the Louisiana Reinvestment Summit and submitted and integrated those comments into the AFH plan and HousingNOLA's 2017 Action Plan."

"Racial discrimination undergirds a lot of the discrimination that we see"

In addition to leading the community engagement work of the AFH plan, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center provided data to the city and HANO about both public sector barriers and private acts of discrimination to fair housing choice.

"Racial discrimination undergirds a lot of the discrimination that we see," said Cashauna Hill, executive director of the Center. "When we conducted an investigation of landlords discriminating against housing choice voucher program participants, we found that 80 percent would not accept voucher holders, which is still not illegal in New Orleans or in the state of Louisiana. We found that racial discrimination was at the root of some of the refusals to accept vouchers."

The Center receives daily calls from people being discriminated against: families being told that landlords will not accept children, people with disabilities finding limited choices for accessible apartments, renters living in substandard living conditions and struggling to get their landlords to treat mold or repair sewage lines.

"The good news is that we've got some leaders at the local level who are really interested in making living conditions better for renters in the city and in enacting policies to address the affordability crisis that's going on," said Hill. "We're working with a coalition that includes public health advocates to continue to raise these issues. What we need is a mechanism or framework that is going to require housing providers in the city to live up to their end of the deal to provide healthy and safe housing for the tenants." Adopting health and safety standards for occupied rental housing in the form of a citywide rental registry ordinance is listed as one of the short-term goals of the AFH plan.

Staying close to "the gumbo you like"

Barrios from the Greater New Orleans Foundation added that the release of New Orleans's AFH plan will have implications not only for HUD's decisions but also for the foundation's own grantmaking. As she said, if the Foundation wants to support a transit advocacy organization like Ride New Orleans, "the AFH plan will help us get a good sense of how Ride New Orleans is working along with housing advocates and workforce development folks to keep them abreast and informed. In that sense, the AFH plan is a great way to create a space for Ride New Orleans to be more connected with housing folks who may not have been making those connections before," she added.

"The people of New Orleans are pretty clear on their own sense of well-being," Barrios concluded, emphasizing once more the importance of meaningful community engagement in making far-reaching decisions about making places more opportunity-rich. "It's not only just connecting places to health care. Our sense of well-being can also be closely related to proximity to our families and friends — the things we've always known and cherished," said Barrios. "It can even be where you can get the gumbo you like — it's all part of what makes people feel good."

Earlier this year, PolicyLink and the Kresge Foundation released Healthy Communities of Opportunity: An Equity Blueprint to Address America's Housing Challenges. It explains how health, housing, and economic security policies must be aligned to achieve equitable housing outcomes and discusses how the AFFH rule presents a key avenue to advancing opportunity. PolicyLink played a supportive role in developing the Assessment of Fair Housing (AFH) plan in New Orleans.

Fueling an Equitable Labor Movement: A Conversation with Jobs With Justice Executive Director Sarita Gupta

Named one of Bill Moyers's "19 Young Activists Changing America," Sarita Gupta, executive director of Jobs With Justice, is a driving force for economic and social justice within today's labor movement. Drawn to the labor movement as a student activist at Mount Holyoke College, Gupta has spent her career fighting for the rights and dignity of working people, especially low-wage earners and workers of color. 

Under Gupta's direction, Jobs With Justice has helped to win wage increases for 10 million low-income New Yorkers and Californians, secured overtime and wage protection for two million home-care workers, and helped update overtime regulations that affect 12.5 million workers. Gupta also serves as co-director of Caring Across Generations, a national movement working to transform the growing care-giving sector. 

Here, Gupta shares her vision for a healthier economy and brighter future through advancing the rights, voice, and power of America's workers.

You began your career in advocacy as a student activist, and you served at the United States Student Association from 1996 to 1998 first as vice president, then as president. How did this early work in education set the stage for your transition into the labor movement?

As a student activist, I witnessed friends and fellow students having to drop out of school because they couldn't afford tuition. I began to see systemic issues at play. You can't achieve educational success without having economic stability, and without attaining a higher level of education, your job options are limited. So, I was moved to get involved and help break this cycle.

During my tenure at the United States Student Association (USSA), I realized that the forces moving an agenda to privatize and corporatize higher education, cut taxes, and limit student voice in shaping policies in their states, were many of the same special interests who stood against the rights and opportunities of working people. It was clear to me that the only way to counter the attacks on students and working people was to build a joint movement. 

Given that the fight to increase worker power in the United States is often in opposition to powerful corporate interests, how can advocates meet the challenge of changing the culture of labor in the U.S.?

There will always be antagonism between corporate interests and working people's interests, so it's healthy and honest for there to be conflict and differences. And one should be suspect if someone argues otherwise. In the history of the United States, working people have struggled for all the protections that we have earned — from the safety net to child labor laws, to the eight-hour workday. These bedrock protections weren't handed down to Americans out of the charity and benevolence of corporations or our government. Thirty years of neoliberal policy in this country led to corporations holding an extreme concentration of wealth and power. If we are ever going to achieve the type of equity that is necessary and healthy for the economy, we need to shift the balance of power back into the hands of working people and ensure that the voices of unions of working people are respected, as they are in many industrialized nations.

Is it going to be culturally challenging? Of course, but by joining for a common cause, we can have more of a say and negotiate more for ourselves, as well as the next generation. Corporations are not immune from the pressure of a rising tide of public outrage and a groundswell of critique from employees. We also can look to the growing movement of socially responsible business models, like B corporations, as evidence that there are American businesses striving to reconsider their relationship with their employees. They are proving that businesses thrive when they listen to and invest in people who make them successful.

In your opinion, what is the relationship between workers' rights and the overall strength of the economy?

In recent decades, much of the discourse around the economy has focused on the needs of corporate interests, which only addresses one part of the whole economy. As a result, policies that address the economic security of families are often cast as a threat to economic growth. But, if people lack the means to participate in the economy as workers and consumers, then the economy suffers.

At Jobs With Justice, we believe a strong and vibrant national economy is one in which the needs of both families and firms are met. Our economy is off-balance with too much power and money in the hands of too few. When working people can come together and negotiate over the terms and conditions in the workplace, and can have input over their communities, we can rebalance the economy.

How will labor movements help the United States navigate the dual demographic shifts facing our economy: the increasing size of our aging population and the rapidly growing majority of color?

This is an exciting time for our nation. We have the opportunity to write new rules to address the future of our communities, the future of work, and future generations. But by failing to implement solutions, we're allowing some profitable employers to push people of color into low-wage jobs with no opportunity for advancement. Many hardworking moms, dads, and young people aren't earning enough to sustain their families, despite working in booming sectors of society like home care, restaurant and food services, child care, and retail, to name a few.

Thankfully, the growing Fight for $15 and a Union movement, the movement for Black lives, adjunct professors pushing back against poverty wages, and countless other campaigns for change are all fueling the demands for a better life and a new social contract. 

Given the growth of our aging population, we're in the midst of an unprecedented boom in the need for care providers. At the same time, the baby boomers are living longer than any previous generation, thanks to advances in technology and health care. While care is the work that makes all other work possible, caregivers like nannies and home care aides who look after our elders and children work under strenuous, highly vulnerable conditions, while earning poverty wages.

We have a tremendous opportunity to meet the soaring need for high-quality caregivers and ensure these jobs are good jobs — ones that offer stability and opportunity for the millions of people who do this work every day. To meet that challenge, the campaign I co-created called Caring Across Generations, is mobilizing millions of people to place care at the forefront of the national conversation, and move policies that make care affordable and accessible.

As grassroots organizations work to shape U.S. workforce policies, how should they decide where to focus their energy?

Deploying energies locally would be smart, as generally, we have the most opportunity to win at the state and municipal level. Local wins are foundational. By winning a new policy demand, organizations can set in motion more change by inspiring other communities to follow suit and demonstrate what's possible. Regardless of the gridlock in DC, the campaigns that are most transformative have been focused locally, modeled a new policy approach, and built momentum across the country.

For example, we led the charge with Jobs With Justice San Francisco to enact the first set of comprehensive and meaningful standards to address unstable work schedules and stop employers from assigning employees too few hours on too short notice, which jeopardizes their ability to provide for their families. Now 40,000 people who work in large retail and restaurant establishments in San Francisco have stronger guarantees of a fair and consistent schedule. Our friends at Working Washington were coordinating and learning lessons from us as they mounted a similar campaign, and just last month the Seattle City Council passed their robust scheduling legislation, which the mayor has committed to signing.

Grassroots organizations also should focus their energies on shaping the public conversation about the policies they want to enact. Grassroots groups and policy groups too often fall back on doing what they know best — talking to their bases and constituencies in the language that speaks to them. It's not enough. We have to build the muscle of connecting with people who aren't already on board with us.

The Second Annual p4 Conference Envisions a Just Pittsburgh

The City of Pittsburgh and The Heinz Endowments are spearheading a major effort to forge a new model of urban growth and development that is innovative, inclusive and sustainable.

This model is based around a central, unifying framework — p4: People, Planet, Place, and Performance — and was launched at an international summit in 2015.

p4’s second annual conference will take place on Oct. 18-19, 2016, at Pittsburgh's David L. Lawrence Convention Center. The event will feature a range of national and international experts as well as discussions on all aspects of the p4 framework, and a highlight will be a focus on economic and social equity — the framework’s People strategies — during the second day of the summit.

PolicyLink CEO Angela Glover Blackwell will be a featured speaker on Day One of the summit, speaking on the topic “People – Advancing the Just and Sustainable City.” On Day Two, PolicyLink Senior Director Sarah Treuhaft will be discussing the recommendations of the recently released Equitable Development: The Path to an All-In Pittsburgh.

In advance of the conference, Pittsburgh and The Heinz Endowments have released this powerful new video framing the summit and the issues facing the future of the city:

p4 Pittsburgh 2016

Visit to learn more.

Fairfax County Reaffirms Equity with a Resolution for “One Fairfax”

For many years, officials, advocates, and agency staff in Fairfax County, Virginia, have been concerned with the inequities affecting low-income residents and people of color in the county — and in its 2015 Strategic Plan to Facilitate Economic Success the County Board of Supervisors acknowledged the central importance of equity as a driver of regional economic growth and vitality. But they needed deeper, cross-sectoral data to help underscore their day-to-day experiences and to point the way toward actionable policy solutions.

With just over a million residents, Fairfax County has seen a surge of growth, primarily driven by people of color.  Between 2000 and 2010, the population of the county grew 11 percent, while there was a 42 percent increase of people of color in the county.

"Fairfax is generally a suburban community known typically to be affluent so these issues are sometimes masked in our general data," said Karla Bruce, deputy director of the Fairfax County Department of Neighborhood and Community Services.

In 2015, county officials and local community leaders partnered with PolicyLink and the University of Southern California's Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE) to release an Equitable Growth Profile for Fairfax County, Virginia. The disaggregated data reported in the profile brought Fairfax County's racial inequities into clear focus, and catalyzed a local coalition into action. By supporting the development of the profile, Fairfax leadership demonstrated its commitment to equity and a vision of "One Fairfax" — a community in which all can participate and prosper.

As the profile pointed out, Fairfax County ranks second nationally in terms of household income, with a median of $110,292. At the same time, the middle class is shrinking: workers in the bottom 20 percent saw their wages stagnate between 1979 and 2012, while workers in the highest 20 percent have seen above-national-average wage increases. More than 10 percent of Latinos and Blacks lived in poverty in 2012 compared to less than 3 percent of Whites.

"I think the Equitable Growth Profile affirmed some things that many folks had been talking about anecdotally in terms of demographic shifts, population needs, and concerns that a number of people were having," said Patricia Mathews, president and CEO of the Northern Virginia Health Foundation. "I think it wasn't so much a new statement, but rather it allowed people to say, 'Now we have data. Now we can think about this a lot more strategically.'" Community leaders like Mathews were engaged in the process of producing the profile and in discussions about its findings. The county has been guided by a collective impact framework to advance equity, characterized by its "respect for and integration of the wisdom, voice, experience, and leadership of community residents."

"We need to understand and improve our work"

This summer, Fairfax County rededicated itself to equity by passing the One Fairfax Resolution, a formal declaration of commitment to racial and social equity passed by both the County Board of Supervisors and the Fairfax County School Board. The resolution will direct the development of a One Fairfax policy, which the boards hope to adopt as early as next summer.

The resolution formalizes the county's definition of racial and social equity and acknowledges the importance of equity to fostering greater opportunities and inclusive growth: "to truly create opportunity, we need to understand and improve our work through a racial and social equity lens from the very core of the organization outward, focusing intentionally and deliberately towards sustainable structural changes."

Over the last several years, Fairfax County has undertaken several initiatives to address racial and social disparities in a variety of areas, including juvenile justice, education, employment, health, and child welfare. Prior to the publication of the Equitable Growth profile, a 2012 study from the Center for the Study of Social Policy encouraged government leaders to scrutinize the pathways and institutions — including the police and school systems — that caused Black and Latino youth to be disproportionately represented in the juvenile justice system. They created an interagency team to go through the analysis and drill into what could be done to address disparities. They also joined the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE).

Karen Shaban, strategic project manager of Fairfax County government, said that all of these efforts helped officials to realize that sustainable change goes beyond human services and moved them to look at other parts of their system, such as zoning policies, transportation, and land use. "All of these efforts set the stage for us to formally say there needs to be more intentionality to make sure that Fairfax County's institutions and systems are not contributing to the disparities that exist."

Currently, the County is using the equity concepts of the new One Fairfax resolution to guide planning related to a number of strategic initiatives in the areas of early childhood education, community development, and recreation.  "These are ripe opportunities to bring an equity lens to the work," said Shaban. The lens can help guide future redevelopment projects like the planning for a 10-acre campus of a former high school. 

Experimenting with "equity-in-practice" — particularly expanding community engagement beyond common public meetings — will give county staff an opportunity to try out some tools and processes to see what works best as they continue to develop the equity policy mandated by the One Fairfax resolution.

"I think we have a really progressive government in Fairfax County," said Karen Cleveland, president and CEO of Leadership Fairfax, a community leadership development organization. "But when you work for the government, you can very easily get drawn into policy development and policy implementation. What this One Fairfax resolution does is lift the work above that. It says, 'This is going to be our umbrella.'"

Leadership Fairfax, the Northern Virginia Health Foundation, and other organizations are working as thought partners with county staff to make sure that community needs are consistently prioritized — and not just from a government services perspective.


"It's helped us to not only have a common agenda but also to really commit to outcomes," added Bruce, "so that we can shift the possibility for progress and share in the responsibility for change. We haven't reached our destination, but there is definitely power in the networks that we are creating. I am hopeful that we will be able to realize this vision of One Fairfax."

Check out the rest of the September 27, 2016 America's Tomorrow: Equity is the Superior Growth Model issue.

September National Equity Atlas Update

The Atlas is announcing the beta version of a new feature that highlights the equity movement on-the-ground:
Preview neighborhood-level mapping added to the Atlas
Today, we released the beta version of new interactive neighborhood-level mapping on the Atlas. These new maps allow users to understand how selected indicators (e.g., unemployment) vary across neighborhoods within a city or region, and can help inform targeted employment and workforce development initiatives as well as infrastructure investments. This beta release features county and census-tract level maps of the unemployment indicator. Register for our special preview of the maps on October 6 specifically for Atlas subscribers and share your feedback ahead of the public release next month.
Welcoming America webinar
Welcoming America helps communities across the country achieve prosperity by becoming more welcoming toward immigrants and all residents. On October 7 the National Equity Atlas will be featured in a webinar on eelcoming and economic development. Participants will examine selected economic indicators on the Atlas to get a sense of how immigrants are faring in their communities. Angel Ross, Research Associate at PolicyLink and Justin Scoggins, Data Manager at the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE) are featured speakers. Register here.
Forward Community Investments webinar
Last week, the National Equity Atlas kicked off the Forward Community Investments 2016-2017 Racial Equity Webinar Series. The goal of this series is to provide FCI partners with tools and approaches that can be used to advance social, racial, and economic equity and inclusion within their work. The webinar provided an overview of the Atlas framework and a walk through of the Atlas, focusing specifically on Wisconsin.

New Report Makes Case for Equity in Metro Atlanta
A new report from the Partnership for Southern Equity (PSE), Growing the Future: The Case for Economic Inclusion in Metro Atlanta, describes how equity is both a moral and economic imperative for the Atlanta region and for the nation as a whole. The report highlights our full employment analysis and GDP with racial equity analysis, both of which underscore how eliminating racial inequities results in “equity dividends” for the broader economy. See our short post about the report here.

New “Chart of the Week” series
We've launched a new "Chart of the Week" series to add equity data about growth and prosperity to the national dialogue. Every week, we post a new chart drawing from the Equity Atlas related to current events and issues. Our inaugural post lifted up #BlackWomensEqualPay and looked at median wages for Black women in Atlanta, Georgia. We also shared charts highlighting the #Fightfor15, #NoDAPL, and the most recent Census report. Follow our posts on social media using #equitydata, #Fightfor15, and #NoDAPL and in our Data in Action section.

Foundations to Reinvest in One of Nation’s Strongest Networks of Support for Entrepreneurs

The New Economy Initiative (NEI), an entrepreneurial infrastructure building initiative for Detroit and Southeast Michigan, has granted a total of $96.2 million to organizations and programs supporting entrepreneurs since it launched in 2007.

According to analysis conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) and the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, NEI’s support has helped entrepreneurs and small businesses generate $2.9 billion in real economic output and create 17,490 jobs in southeast Michigan.

“Detroit’s evolution from recovering region to thriving economy demands more than just creating new businesses or restoring buildings. NEI is proving that intentional focus on equity and inclusion is driving Detroit’s ‘new economy.’” Angela Glover Blackwell, Founder and President, PolicyLink

NEI has achieved this impact by making grants to organizations and programs supporting entrepreneurs of all kinds, from grass roots to high growth, creating a vast network of entrepreneurial support in southeast Michigan. The economic and employment impact reports by PwC and Upjohn Institute analyzed years of information reported to NEI by grantees via quarterly reports, as well as interviews with regional entrepreneurs.

Findings include:

  • 4,400 companies directly serviced by NEI grantees through 2015
  • 179,571 attendees of events in metro Detroit’s entrepreneurial network
  • More than 1 million square feet of entrepreneurial space activated
  • $232 million in additional program dollars matched by NEI grantees
  • $1.9 billion in real gross domestic product generated by NEI-supported companies
  • $2.9 billion in real output generated by NEI-supported companies
  • 17,490 jobs created by NEI-supported companies, 70% of which are located in Wayne County.


For more information, read the full press release from NEI and download the full report.

All-In Cities: Building Momentum in Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Detroit, and Indianapolis


As America’s cities experience a comeback, city leaders need to implement bold strategies to ensure no one is left behind or displaced. All should have the opportunity to contribute to building new urban economies that are equitable, sustainable, and prosperous. Through the All-In Cities initiative, PolicyLink empowers city officials, community advocates, and other civic leaders with the policy ideas, data, and hands-on assistance to make racial economic inclusion and equitable growth their reality. We’ve had an exciting week full of milestones:

Pittsburgh: Equitable Development

Today, more than one hundred community leaders gathered at the August Wilson Center in Pittsburgh for the release of Equitable Development: The Path to an All-In Pittsburgh, produced in partnership with Neighborhood Allies and Urban Innovation21. Mayor William Peduto, City Council Member Daniel Lavelle, and other leaders from government, business, and the nonprofit sector discussed the recommendations. Follow the conversation on social media at #AllInPittsburgh

Indianapolis: Equitable Innovation Economies

Since 2014, New York, Indianapolis, Portland and San Jose have been piloting new approaches to advancing equity in innovation and manufacturing through the Equitable Innovation Economies Initiative, a multi-year project led by the Pratt Center for Community Development in collaboration with PolicyLink and the Urban Manufacturing Alliance (UMA). Yesterday at the UMA national convening in Indianapolis, we released a new report, Prototyping Equity: Local strategies for a more inclusive innovation economydocumenting the groundbreaking efforts of these cities. Join the conversation at #proequity.

New Orleans: #EquityNewOrleans

PolicyLink is advising the city of New Orleans in the development of its citywide equity strategy. On Tuesday, September 13, the city held its second community listening session to discuss how the city can integrate racial equity throughout its activities. Learn about the initiative at and participate at #EquityNewOrleans

Detroit: New Economy Initiative Impact 

On Wednesday, September 14, the New Economy Initiative released a report highlighting its impact. Since 2007, the unique funder collaborative has helped build an inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem in Detroit, providing direct support to over 4,400 companies, helping launch more than 1,600 new companies (39 percent of them owned by people of color and 32 percent by women), and creating more than 17,000 jobs. PolicyLink has advised the initiative on its equity strategy since 2009.

Learn more about our All-In Cities initiative and sign up for updates at


New Report Sets Equitable Development Agenda for Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh is a city on the rise, yet too many residents remain cut off from opportunity by poverty, structural racism, and discrimination. Local leaders must implement a targeted, intentional strategy for equitable development to ensure all can thrive in the new Pittsburgh. PolicyLink, Neighborhood Allies, and Urban Innovation21 convened dozens of Pittsburgh community leaders to create a shared definition of equitable development and craft an agenda to make it the reality. Equitable Development: The Path to an All-In Pittsburgh presents a roadmap to put all of the region’s residents on track to reaching their potential. Through the All-In Cities initiative, PolicyLink equips city leaders with policy ideas, data, and strategies to advance racial economic inclusion and equitable growth.

“Pittsburgh is the perfect place to start an All-In Cities initiative,” said Angela Glover Blackwell, PolicyLink president and CEO. “As the city successfully transforms its economy and sees a wave of new development, an equitable development strategy is essential to ensure that all neighborhoods and residents, including those of color, participate and benefit. Achieving full inclusion will lead to sustainable and shared prosperity.”

This report outlines a five-point agenda for equitable development:

  1. Raise the bar for new development — Growth must happen in a way that benefits and does not displace longtime lower-income residents and neighborhood entrepreneurs.
  2. Make all neighborhoods healthy communities of opportunity — The region needs a comprehensive strategy to increase housing affordability and stability and to unlock opportunity in its highest poverty neighborhoods.
  3. Expand employment and ownership opportunities — Connecting lower-wealth residents to good, family-sustaining jobs and asset-building opportunities is critical to ensuring they participate in and contribute to the region’s resurgence.
  4. Embed racial equity throughout Pittsburgh’s institutions and businesses — To eliminate wide racial inequities and uproot bias, the region’s institutions, organizations, and businesses need to adopt racial equity-focused approaches.
  5. Build community power, voice, and capacity — High-capacity community-rooted organizations and multiracial, multisector coalitions are essential to advancing equitable development policies and practices over the long term.


To learn more, download the full report.

Prototyping Equity: Local Strategies for a More Inclusive Innovation Economy

Since 2014, a visionary group of leaders from New York, NY, Indianapolis, IN, Portland, OR and San Jose, CA have been piloting new approaches to advancing equity in innovation and manufacturing through the Equitable Innovation Economies (EIE) initiative. Over two years, each city in this community of practice has evaluated a particular economic development project through an equity lens, working to increase benefits for all city residents and communities.
EIE’s flagship report, Prototyping Equity: Local strategies for a more inclusive innovation economy documents this work, including the tools guiding this pilot effort, candid perspectives from each city, and broader insights for the field. The Pratt Center for Community Development in Brooklyn, NY, and PolicyLink in Oakland, CA are leading this effort, providing technical assistance and facilitation. The Urban Manufacturing Alliance’s (UMA) expansive network of over 100 cities has served as a platform for this initiative, and the report will be shared with members at the UMA 2016 National Convening in Indianapolis on September 14-16.
Read more about this effort and download the full report and follow the event conversation on twitter at #proequity.

Chart of the Week: Why the Latest U.S. Census Report Matters

To add equity data to the national dialogue about growth and prosperity, every week the National Equity Atlas posts a new chart related to current events and issues.

Yesterday, the Census Bureau released a report on 2015 income and poverty data, announcing that median household income increased by over 5 percent—the fastest growth on record. As President Obama described in a Facebook post and video with Jason Furman, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, the gains were largest among the bottom fifth of households.

To highlight why this gain — especially among the bottom quintile of earners — is so important, this week’s chart looks at real earned income growth for full-time wage and salary workers in the United States from 1980 to 2012.


Over the three decades from 1980 to 2012, the inflation-adjusted earnings of the bottom 10 percent of workers decreased the most at more than 11 percent. In fact, the whole bottom half of workers experienced real declines in their incomes over this period. At the other end, those in the top 10 percent saw their earnings increase by nearly 15 percent. The announcement that real income growth in 2015 was the fastest since 1969 for households at the 10th, 20th, 40th, 50th, and 60th percentiles is a promising finding, though there is still more to be done.

These income increases, combined with refundable tax credits, lifted millions of families and children out of poverty. In 2015, 9.2 million Americans, including 4.8 million children, moved above the poverty line with the help of credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC). Expanding these social safety net programs through a more equitable tax code and advancing pre-tax income strategies like minimum wage increases and stronger collective bargaining rights are key to supporting the more than 8 million families still in poverty. For more information on policies that contribute to wage growth, see the Economic Policy Institute’s Agenda to Raise America’s Pay.

To view the distribution of income growth in your community over the last three decades, visit the National Equity Atlas and type in your city, region, or state. Download the charts and share them on social media using #equitydata.

Investing in Second Chances for Formerly Incarcerated People: An Interview with Department of Justice Fellow Daryl Atkinson

Sixteen years ago, Daryl Atkinson was like many of the 600,000 Americans leaving prison each year — excited to return home, but worried about the welcome he might receive as a formerly incarcerated person. Though his family refused to define him solely by his past mistakes and supported him as he pursued college and law school, society was another story. Not only did he face social stigma because of his past, he lost his driver’s license, making it difficult to find work; was barred from receiving federal financial aid for college; and, perhaps most importantly, is still denied the right to vote in his home state of Alabama.

It is this type of structural and cultural discrimination — the many ways that society forces those with a criminal record to continue to “serve time” even after they are released — that Atkinson now fights as the inaugural Second Chance Fellow at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Prior to this appointment, Atkinson was recognized as a White House “Reentry and Employment Champion of Change” for his work as a senior staff attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, where he advocated for the rights and needs of people with criminal records. America’s Tomorrow spoke with Atkinson about his many years working to shift the narrative about those who have been incarcerated, connecting them with the support, respect, and opportunity necessary for them to thrive.

You are the first Second Chance fellow at the DOJ, and you are a founding member of the North Carolina Second Chance Alliance. Can you explain what a “second chance culture” entails?

I often relate it to my personal experience after prison. I served 40 months in prison, much of it in a maximum security institution when I was in my twenties, and when my mom and my stepdad came to pick me up, they rented a Lincoln Town Car. I didn’t pay any particular attention at that time because I was so excited to get away from that place, but a couple of years later I asked my stepdad why. He said they wanted to make a grand gesture to send the message that my experience in prison didn’t completely define who I was and what I could be. They continued to support me — offering food and shelter and financial support — throughout college, and the combination of support and physical investment is a large part of what I view as a “second chance” approach. We need to invest in people’s success, so that they can be contributors to their community and society.

The Obama Administration has been instituting a number of policy solutions to cultivate this concept. The Second Chance Act, signed into law at the end of the Bush Administration, has resulted in more than 700 grants totaling over $400 million to reduce recidivism and improve outcomes for people returning from state and federal prisons, local jails, and juvenile facilities. These investments help people with criminal records by providing basic needs like housing assistance, job training, and substance abuse treatment. More recently, the Department of Education started the Second Chance Pell Program, which will allow over 12,000 eligible incarcerated students to pursue postsecondary education while in prison. These kinds of programs aren’t enough to meet the needs of the entire formerly incarcerated population, but they are helping the Administration build the evidence base for how powerful these programs are, which will aid in advocating for more funding for this work.

When you were at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, you helped to pass a “ban the box” policy in Durham, North Carolina, that had incredible results. Can you describe how that campaign developed?

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) is a civil rights advocacy organization that follows a community-lawyering model, meaning that we provide general counsel for the most vulnerable communities across the southeast, and we let them set the agenda of what issues are most important. Engaging the community around these issues is something that has guided my work at SCSJ and informs my work at DOJ. For instance, a few years back we were working on voting rights for those with criminal records in North Carolina, but when we engaged the community we realized that barriers to employment were the most pressing need. We were aware of the “ban the box” movement that had started in Oakland, California, and started a similar campaign in Durham, North Carolina, to remove criminal history questions from job applications and prohibit the use of a criminal record as an automatic bar to employment.

We knew that to successfully shift the narrative around employing formerly incarcerated people, we needed to ensure that people with criminal records were integrated into the policy-making process throughout. When there were city council meetings, we engaged with community partners to train local spokespeople who could speak in their own voice about the impact of not being able to work and how that affected their families. We reached out to faith-based organizations to put a moral force behind our campaign. We got some notable endorsements from the sheriff about how ban the box was consistent with public safety, because keeping people with criminal records from employment opportunities can force them back into an underground economy.

We also made the economic argument, pointing out that there are 1.6 million adults with criminal records who shouldn’t be sitting on the sidelines of the economy. By sharing these messages and engaging community members to tell their stories, we were able to convince the city and the county governments to pass ban the box policies that have had a huge effect. In the city of Durham, for example, the total percentage of city hires of people with criminal records was 2 percent in 2011, the year the policy passed; by 2014 it was over 15 percent — a greater than seven-fold increase.

How does the work you’re undertaking at the DOJ continue this work and connect to your larger goals of building a second chance culture?

In my fellowship at the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), I advocate for the rights and needs of those with criminal history, and I also work to ensure that DOJ is hearing from the stakeholders most directly affected by the justice system. This part of my work draws heavily on the lessons I’ve learned at the local level. Having this bridge between the policymakers and those most affected by the policy is a game-changer. Not only does it provide important feedback on the effects of policy, it also helps change the temperature of the exchanges between communities and the federal government. When policymakers have real exchanges with folks from the community, and hear about their family obligations and experiences — like dropping their kids off at daycare — it diminishes the “us versus them” dynamic that can make it easier to enact negative public policies. In general, I think we need more open dialogue about how common interactions with the justice system are, and how it is not just some fringe part of society that deals with these issues.

Ten to 12 million people in the U.S. cycle in and out of city and county jails, and one in three Americans have an arrest or conviction history. This is a huge segment of our adult population, and to continue to marginalize them through stigma and discriminatory policies has significant consequences for our society as a whole. That is why part of my fellowship includes qualitative interviews with formerly incarcerated people who have gone on to become highly successful. I want to identify which interventions changed the trajectory of their lives, and lift up these successes to the federal government for future policymaking. I am also going to create a digital story bank of their stories, so that the public can access these stories and see that people who have been in prison can go on to be active, positive, influential members of their community. Both the public and policymakers need to hear these stories and realize not only the hunger for opportunity that people who are leaving prison have, but the potential they have to go on to great things. 

Oakland’s Displacement Crisis: As Told by the Numbers

Oakland stands at the center of a perfect storm. The city and surrounding Bay Area region are experiencing extraordinary economic growth, but housing production is not keeping pace with the escalated demands, nor is sufficient housing affordable to many existing residents and the expanding lower-income workforce.  The current displacement crisis undermines the health and wellbeing of its residents, and threatens the historic diversity that gives Oakland its strength and vitality. 
Key Statistics:
  • Nearly half of rental households in Oakland are cost burdened.
  • 63% of African American households are housing cost burdened.
  • Oakland lost 34,000 African American residents – representing a 24% decline, between 2000-2010.
  • In the last year, the median market rent for an available two-bedroom apartment in Oakland has increased by 25%.

Vital community members have been priced out of Oakland. The housing crisis is impacting workers vital to a functioning economy, with little to no options for low and even moderate wage-earners seeking housing on the open market.

  • Number of Oakland units affordable for workers earning the City of Oakland’s minimum of $12.55/hour: Zero (Estimated salary of $26,104, $20,282 after taxes = $508/month towards housing).
  • Percentage of income average an Oakland minimum wage worker would have to devote for a 1BR apartment: 112% ($1900 average market rent (Trulia) out of total $1,690 estimated post-tax monthly income).
  • Number of Oakland units affordable for workers with entrance-level teacher salary: Zero (Estimated salary of $42,497 per Oakland Education Association, $31,634 after taxes = $790/month towards housing).
  • Percentage of income average a worker with an entrance-level teacher salary would have to devote for a 1BR apartment: 72% ($1900 average market rent (Trulia) out of total $2,636 estimated post-tax monthly income).
  • Number of Oakland units affordable for workers earning an entrance-level fire fighter salary: Three (Estimated salary of $81,419 per City of Oakland pay schedule for fire fighter, or $53,755 after taxes = $1344/month towards housing).
  • Percentage of income average entry-level fire fighter would have to devote for a 1BR apartment: 42% ($1900 average market rent (Trulia) out of total $4479 estimated post-tax monthly income).
To learn more, check out the PolicyLink brief: Oakland's Displacement Crisis: As Told by the Numbers, which highlights some of the challenges Oakland tenants are facing in the ongoing housing crisis, and some key policy steps that could provide much needed relief.

$65 Million Reasons to Stop Roadblocking City-Driven Job Creation

Orignal post published in Next City

In the last year, city officials in New Orleans, Cleveland and Nashville have found themselves scrambling to protect “hire local” policies from their respective state governments.

In all three cases, racially diverse cities struggling with high rates of poverty and unemployment sought to stimulate the local economy with provisions that focused on creating job opportunities for disadvantaged residents. And in all three cases, state senators representing wealthier, predominantly white districts sought to preempt city policies to protect business interests.

Read full article >>

How A Business Accelerator Is Literally Cementing Equity into Cincinnati’s Economy

Benefit corporations provide a way for businesses to make profit without having to slash wages or resort to environmentally destructive practices. Ben & Jerry's, for instance, is one of the world's most popular ice cream brands with an annual sales revenue of $132 million. Its lowest-paid worker makes $16.13 an hour, which is 46 percent above the living wage in home state Vermont, and the company offsets more than 50 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions. More than 40 percent of the board and management are from underrepresented populations, such as women, people of color, lower-income individuals, and people with disabilities.

In a time when U.S. corporate profits are soaring but wages remain stagnant, Ben & Jerry's and hundreds of other companies, including Cooperative Home Care Associates profiled below, are choosing an alternative business model – benefit corporations – driven not just by profits but also by fair working conditions, diverse leadership, and environmentally sustainable practice.

One of the fundamental challenges to growing more "triple bottom line" businesses is the legal requirement to maximize profits that applies to corporations. Anything that takes away from profits, such as higher wages or more sustainable environmental practices, leaves the corporation vulnerable to being sued by its shareholders. This limitation hinders companies from advancing any values beyond profit making.

In response to this limitation, a movement was started to pass legislation allowing for a new type of corporate entity called the benefit corporation. The benefit corporation provides legal protection for businesses that choose to treat their workers well, protect the environment, and invest in their communities, even if it means their annual profits are not as high. As of 2013, 19 states plus the District of Columbia passed benefit corporation legislation, including Delaware, which is home to 50 percent of all publicly traded companies and 64 percent of Fortune 500 companies.

In 2012, Ben & Jerry's took a step beyond being a benefit corporation and became a Certified B Corporation, as conferred by a nonprofit organization called B Lab. There are currently more than 1,000 registered B Corps. A Certified B Corp voluntarily meets higher standards of governance, workforce treatment, environmental impact, and community involvement. Companies must score at least 80 points on a scale of 200 to be eligible for certification.

Certified B Corps are part of a community of socially responsible companies and span a large spectrum of goods and services. In 2012, Cooperative Home Care Associates (CHCA) in the Bronx, New York, became the first home care company to become a Certified B Corp. Their overall B Score, at 154, is nearly twice the median score.

One of the reasons CHCA scores so high in the B Impact Assessment is because it is a worker-owned cooperative with the vast majority of the workers and worker-owners being from the Bronx. In an industry where good-paying jobs are hard to come by, CHCA deliberately chose a different business model, one that prioritizes workers over profits, and has flourished for nearly 30 years. The company has grown from 12 people to now over 2,000 employees, 70 percent of whom are worker-owners.

"When we started, a lot of for-profit home-care companies were established and were seen as a way of making a lot of money in a short time," said Michael Elsas, president of CHCA. "You didn't have to pay workers that much, you didn't have to train them that well, and you could move in and make a killing. And, in that environment we wanted to establish something a little different, more socially responsible."

Treating the workers well was not just a social mission, but it made good business sense. Elsas said, "Many of the people we were seeing were women, particularly women of color. The thought was if we train people longer and really spend time with them, if we prepare them for an entry-level position and get them ready to work and remove those barriers to work, and, if we provided a lot of support for those workers both before and after they were trained by us, we could create quality, full-time jobs. And then as a result of that quality job, we would be providing quality care that we could, in fact, provide better services."

CHCA has been a co-op since the company started in 1985. Going from a co-op model to also certifying as a B Corp was an easy decision and made a lot of business sense, Elsas said. "Distinguishing ourselves as a B Corp would be helpful in marketing to be able to say we are the only B-Corp certified home care company. We thought that would be helpful for those entities that want to do business with a B Corp. Quite honestly, it was a natural for us. There was very little that we had to do to get certified because we were already a worker-owned company, we already had everything in place."

Elsas said that CHCA is successful not because it is a co-op but because of the best practices they employ. Currently, 90 cents of every dollar that comes into the company goes to the worker. While paying workers less would result in higher profits and better dividends, Elsas said higher dividends is not what has made the company successful for 30 years. Instead, what makes CHCA successful is "how we train, how we supervise people, how we respect people, how we let people participate in what we do."

Companies like CHCA and Ben & Jerry's show that businesses can make a profit and embrace socially responsible practices. Higher wages and better work environments help working families reach economic security. Consumers can support B Corps and environmentally and socially conscious businesses by buying their products and services. A full list of B Corps can be found here.

Gender and Racial Pay Gaps Stifle Local and Regional Economies

Cross-posted from the Toronto Star

Though they make up nearly half of the workforce in the U.S. and Canada, women — and women of colour in particular — continue to be marginalized in labor markets. Women make significantly less than men of similar experience and education, are vastly overrepresented in low-wage work, and are underrepresented in management — these are not just civil rights issues, they are fundamental failures within the labor market that are holding back economic growth for cities, regions, and entire nations.

When my mother, a young journalist, moved us from her home town of Montreal to New Jersey in the early 1950s, soon after I was born, she was looking for relatively better opportunities to advance in her profession as a woman, and the grass at least appeared to be greener in the States at the time. It did not necessarily turn out to be the case, and both countries still have a long way to go, but there are also promising changes in attitudes and concrete policy steps being taken on both sides of the border, as the imperative for justice intersects in new ways with strong economic incentives for inclusion and fairness.

Urban and regional economies -- in both the public and private sector — have a stake in seeing gender and racial pay gaps decline. As a group, women in the U.S. and Canada are more educated than their male peers and they are the fastest growing demographic of entrepreneurs, with women of colour leading the growth in small-business ownership in the U.S. This, in part, is why many local leaders are doubling down on efforts to address inequities in the workplace, seeking to capitalize on the often underappreciated talent and potential that women in the workforce bring to the table. For example, under the leadership of former Mayor Thomas Menino, Boston sought to become the “premier city for working women”, and current Mayor Marty Walsh recently pledged to become the first U.S. city to eliminate the gender pay gap entirely. Boston is home to the largest proportion of young women between age 20 and 34 — and the highest percentage of college educated women — of any major U.S. city, making the economic opportunity of its young women top priority for local leaders. To close the remaining 18-cent pay gap in the city, Mayor Walsh is leading the charge to educate businesses on the economic importance of closing the gender pay gap. One particular business-focused effort, 100% Talent, is a first-of-its-kind initiative that has enlisted 100 companies to voluntarily pledge to help close the gender gap by sharing payroll data (including metrics on gender and race), implementing recommended practices to reduce pay inequities, and participating in biennial reviews to discuss their progress. The Mayor has also spearheaded a $1.5 million project called Work Smart in Boston, which will provide 90,000 women with salary and benefits negotiation training over the next 5 years.

On the opposite coast, in a city home to the largest gender pay gap among major U.S. cities -- local government in Seattle, Washington is taking inspiration from Boston’s example. After a 2013 analysis found that women in the Seattle metropolitan area were earning 73 percent of what men make, with women of colour earning anywhere from 49 to 60 percent, then-Mayor McGinn’s office convened the City of Seattle’s Gender Equity in Pay Task Force, which has led the city to pass a resolution in 2014 calling on several cities departments, including the Personnel Department, Seattle Office of Civil Rights, and the Mayor’s Office, to promote progressive policies in hiring, pay, and benefits that specifically target both gender and racial inequities. Within the private sector, the city’s Chamber of Commerce and the Women’s Funding Alliance launched their own 100% Talent in 2015 whereby businesses will be obligated to identify internal gender equity issues, share lessons learned with other employers, and implement at least three of the 33 best practices identified by the initiative, including flexible scheduling, greater wage transparency, and increased diversity in hiring practices.

Though these efforts are still in their early stages, these leaders are proving that they understand the crucial opportunity facing cities and regions today: the places that will thrive the most in the 21st century economy will be those that embrace inclusion and capitalize on the talent, creativity, and potential of all residents — especially those who have too often been left behind. This dedication to inclusion is at the heart of All-In Cities — an initiative to promote inclusion and equitable growth in cities launched this year by my organization, PolicyLink.

Like the recommendations made by the 100% Talent initiatives above, All-In Cities seeks to support policymakers and businesses within metropolitan areas to foster comprehensive economic and racial inclusion. For gender and racial inequality in the workplace, this means looking beyond the pay gap to the very structure of the labor market — asking not only, how can we lift stifled wages for women, but how can we build work environments that are conducive to the needs of the ever-growing segment of female workers and their families.

In addition to reevaluating wage, hiring, and scheduling practices as mentioned above, this means policymakers and businesses should foster female entrepreneurship and leadership within organizations. They should promote women’s education and recruitment within high-paying fields — such as math, science, and technology — where they are historically underrepresented. Employers should offer paid family leave and sick leave, so that working mothers do not have to choose between a paycheck and taking care of a sick child.

Overcoming an issue as stubborn as the pay gap will require widespread cultural shifts — in classrooms, in boardrooms, in local councils and halls of parliament —but the rewards we will reap in justice and prosperity are well worth the effort. Advocates for equality from an earlier time, like my mother, would have appreciated how much the ground has shifted.

Read the full article in the Toronto Star (page 2).

Art Is an Asset in Every Community: An Interview with ArtPlace America’s Jamie Bennett

Just outside of Minnesota’s Twin Cities, a winter arts festival takes place in a pop-up village of ice fishing shanties. In Louisville, Kentucky, an artists’ collective is leading public workshops that blend traditional West African and Appalachian arts with contemporary urban performance. In Detroit, artists and local youth are designing a plaza and green space to boost entrepreneurial activity. These projects and 35 others are recipients of the ArtPlace America 2015 National Grants program, which aims to support artists and arts organizations to strengthen and transform the physical, social, and/or economic fabric of communities.

Jamie Bennett is the executive director of ArtPlace America, a 10-year collaboration of foundations, banks, and federal agencies launched in 2011. (PolicyLink is working with ArtPlace on its Community Development Investments Initiative, which is investing $3 million in each of six place-based organizations to investigate what it means to sustainably incorporate arts and culture into community development work.) Bennett sees creative placemaking as a way for arts and culture to act as a core sector of comprehensive community planning and economic development. America’s Tomorrow spoke to Bennett about the philanthropic world’s embrace of place-based strategies and the equitable economic impacts of ArtPlace America’s work.

Q: How are you trying to promote equity within the world of philanthropy and the arts?

A: The general definition [of arts and culture] we use is one that we borrowed from National Endowment for the Arts, which is “any generative act that's intended to communicate richly to others.” And when you use that definition, yes, you're talking about symphonies, operas, and ballets, but you're also talking about my grandmother's lacemaking; you're also talking about a Lakota dance. We tend to plot it out on a matrix, just by way of understanding it. And when you have that kind of bingo card, you can begin checking yourself and asking, “Am I working with all parts of this landscape or am I only connecting with certain parts?” So I think having that understanding of how the arts and culture ecology is organized really is a necessary first step towards making sure that you are engaging with all of it — and all of it equitably. 

Q: How is ArtPlace trying to bring equity into the language, traditions, and rituals of the philanthropic world?

A: I think it is important to understand philanthropy as a sector that does require a certain level of cultural competency in order to intersect with it.  And exactly as you said, there is a language, there is a series of rituals, and there is a semi-hidden, opaque power structure in place.  Navigating all of that can be tricky. I think it's really incumbent upon those of us in philanthropy to make sure that we offer an on-ramp that is as easy as possible and that is as accommodating as possible to the broadest range of people. 

An example is that those of us who have been working in philanthropy for 25 years know what an LOI [Letter of Interest] is.  Right?  It's a shorthand.  To the other 98 percent of America, LOI are three letters that might as well be PDF or STD or whatever other three-letter abbreviation you use.  So instead of saying we're releasing an LOI, we're simply saying, “Would you like to ask us for money?” We've [also avoided certain language] around outcomes assessment, outputs, and project evaluation.  And instead we simply say, “What is it you're trying to do?” and, “How are you going to know if you've done it?”

Q: What do you see as the role of arts and culture in community development and neighborhood change?

A: Arts and culture are assets that are present in every community. Not every community is on a waterfront, not every community has strong public transportation, and not every community has a hospital or university to anchor it.  But every community has people who sing and dance and tell stories.

We have to understand that every artist is somebody's neighbor and almost everyone has an artist as a neighbor. Issues of displacement are hugely important and need to be addressed, but I don’t know that arts-driven displacement issues are any different than any other kind of displacement issues driven by community development. I think we need to solve them together.

Q: Should place-based interventions be tailored to a neighborhood’s income level?

A: The mayor of New York City has just upzoned East New York, a neighborhood in Brooklyn.  Change is going to come to that neighborhood and we know what the change is going to be and when the change is coming

At the moment, there are many people focusing on affordability. How do we keep it so that if you are low-income you can continue to live there? Another thing that can help solve involuntary displacement is you can also make residents richer. I think we need to think about a strategy, for instance, that comes in and says to the barbershop that's been in the community for 30 years, “Change is coming; You need to negotiate a lease now that will be 20 years, or you need to try and buy your site; and maybe you want to put in three manicure stations and take advantage of the change in the market that's coming.”  And so if we came in with a market investment, if we came in with an equity investment for that, I think that is going to do so much more to keep that small business in that neighborhood than just giving a local group a $50,000 dollar grant for organizing around preserving affordability.  So I think in general my question is, “How do we bring in the market as a tool to work alongside philanthropic investment and/or community organizing investments?”

Q: Why are place-based strategies in philanthropy more than a trend du jour?

A: If you build really high-quality fabulous housing, but it's two hours away from any job, that's not going to work in terms of helping someone to build wealth and have an extraordinary life. So, the current movement I've seen with a lot of philanthropy is to really look at all of the systems that are at play in a community. So if a foundation cares about children, they realize that a child can't be healthy, happy, and achieve his or her full potential unless that child's family is also healthy and happy.  So if you care about children, you also care about their parents and caregivers having jobs.  And you care about all of them being educated.  And you care about there being a safe environment.  So whatever your point of entry, you really have to care about how all of these systems work together, which, I think in many ways, is Angela [Glover Blackwell]'s point about the series of systems that together add up to equity or inequity.  It is about how housing intersects with transportation, which intersects with the economy, which intersects with the education system.  So for ArtPlace and for philanthropy and government to say, “Okay, let's understand all these systems and how they intersect in their totality,” I think is a good move. 

Youth Take the Lead in Foodie Business Programs

At Whole Foods Markets and farmers’ markets in the Detroit metropolitan area, you can purchase a box of Mitten Bites, the yummy no-bake granola treats dreamed up by Hassan Amaleki and a group of his former high school classmates. These all-natural snacks come in two delectable flavors — dark chocolate peanut butter and cranberry date — and are healthy and sustainable to boot.

Mitten Bites are the first youth-created product of Small Batch Detroit, a social enterprise subsidiary of the youth leadership organization Detroit Food Academy.

“We had the task of figuring out a snack that everyone would want, whether you are a mom at home that has kids and need something healthy, or a biker that needs an energy snack to go,” said Amaleki, now 19, who first started attending Detroit Food Academy’s afterschool programs when he was a freshman at Cody High School.

Launched in 2011 as a one-semester program at Cody High, the organization currently offers afterschool programming in culinary arts, business basics, and leadership in 10 high schools through the school year, as well as a citywide six-week summer program. The Academy works in public, private, and charter schools: anywhere students and educators have expressed interest, administration staff have shown support, and the budget allows. “We encourage young Detroiters to raise their voices, explore their communities, and to actualize their vision for what they want to see in our city—all through the medium of food,” said Jen Rusciano, co-founder and executive director of the Academy. This year, 200 youth are participating (around two-thirds from their public and public charter school partners and the remaining in private schools). About 95 percent of the students are young people of color.

The focus of the fall semester is cooking basics: learning about knife skills, nutrition, grocery budgeting and shopping, and meal planning; this work culminates with a student-planned community dinner for friends and family. In the spring, students design their own healthy, local food products, with guidance on how they would turn their ideas into full-fledged food businesses. When summer rolls around, Academy graduates can apply for a paid internship within either a culinary arts or food entrepreneurship track.

Detroit Food Academy launched Small Batch Detroit last year as a way to help the organization grow toward financial self-sufficiency. Profits from products like Mitten Bites have so far helped to cover production expenses and some of the wages for graduates, like Amaleki, to work part-time for the enterprise. “It’s an alternative for someone who doesn’t want to go to college right away, like I didn’t,” he said. Wages for students who work for the Small Batch program year-round start at $12.50 an hour and can go as high as $15 an hour.

Rusciano said that it’s been challenging to scale the business up to fund more youth staff positions and programming, but with support and knowledge-sharing from local groups like FoodLab Detroit and the Product Center at Michigan State University, they are making their way through early-stage hurdles, like mastering the legal requirements for packaging products sold in grocery stores.

Rusciano mentioned that the goal of the enterprise — and what they instill in their students for their own businesses — is that entrepreneurship is more than profit. “We talk about going into business as a tool not just for making money, though it can be used that way,” she said, “but rather that it’s a powerful tool that can be wielded either for good or for dehumanization. You can make a lot of change if there are values built into how you run a business.”

Even if students choose not to pursue food entrepreneurship or employment in the future, Rusciano said experiences like staffing Detroit Food Academy’s table at a farmers’ market or receiving mentorship from local chefs in the afterschool program, helps to weave them more into the social fabric of the city. Often they are cut off from fair wage jobs, career pathways, and the opportunities for innovation that are helping Detroit to rebound from insolvency.

“[Students learn] there are communities out there that are willing and excited to embrace them,” she said. “They learn they are needed and wanted in the city, not just tomorrow when they get their degree, but right now, today, as young people.”

A new leadership model in culinary training programs

In other cities, youth-oriented organizations are combining the social enterprise model with leadership and culinary skills training. At Old Skool Café, a youth-run, jazz-themed supper club in San Francisco, teens are behind decisions related to everything from the restaurant’s entrées to uniform design.

Teresa Goines, a former corrections officer, envisioned a violence prevention program taking the form of a dinner theater in 2004. Finally opening four years ago in the Bayview-Hunter’s Point neighborhood, Old Skool Café is staffed by youth who have either been incarcerated, gone through the foster care system, or are otherwise disconnected from traditional work opportunities.

The cuisine is international comfort food, specifically designed to reflect the cultures of the youth in the program. “We always encourage them to submit family recipes,” said Goines. “If their mom or dad or grandmother wants to come in and teach us how to make something, we’ll have them come in and there’ll be a tasting.” If restaurant staff like the dish, it will be produced as a special and get the chance to become a regular menu item. That’s how “Abu’s Peanut Butter Stew” got on the menu; the chicken dish is named after a staff member who created a take on his grandmother’s recipe from Sierra Leone.

In one case, two program participants were more interested in fashion design than food. Through a collaboration with retired NFL player Dhani Jones’s BowTie Cause initiative, they were able to design a bow tie worn by restaurant staff.

“We really want to encourage them to find what they love,” added Goines. “But also they’re getting to make money and have access to mentorship and life coaching.” As of 2014, the recidivism rate for graduates of the program is 10 percent (compared to the national rate of 76 percent). Ninety-four percent have either found outside employment or are enrolled in school. One alumnus has recently completed the University of Southern California’s master’s degree program in screenwriting. Goines said the student found her career passion outside of the food industry, but was able to pay for some of her tuition through waitressing after having gained work experience at the café.

Back in Detroit, other young people are flexing their training skills in interesting and innovative ways after graduating from Detroit Food Academy. Hassan Amaleki has been doing food demonstrations for Mitten Bites at local grocery stores, earning money for when he attends college in the fall. He is now enrolled to attend Schoolcraft College on a culinary arts track. “Right after I found out the right way to do business from scratch, it didn’t seem so hard,” he said. He added that his current hope is to work his way up to running Small Batch Detroit full-time.

Read the rest of the March 10, 2016 America's Tomorrow: Equity is the Superior Growth Model issue.

Power Your Advocacy with New Equity Data

Clean air and high-quality schools are fundamental elements of “communities of opportunity” that allow residents to thrive. Last week, the National Equity Atlas, produced jointly by PolicyLink and the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE), added three new opportunity indicators to equip local leaders with relevant data to build equitable cities and regions:


The National Equity Atlas team was proud to participate in the “The Opportunity Project,” an Open Opportunity Data event held yesterday at the White House where the new Atlas indicators were showcased. The White House effort focuses on facilitating the development of a suite of digital tools that puts neighborhood-level information on access to opportunity at the fingertips of families, community organizers, non-profits, local leaders, and the media.
Writing in a letter to the editor published in the New York Times, on March 7, PolicyLink President and CEO Angela Glover Blackwell noted the importance of disaggregating data by race and ethnicity is critical to understanding trends and developing solutions: “Recognizing this ‘people’ dimension of poor neighborhoods — and the complex interplay of race and place — is essential for catalyzing equitable and sustainable economic prosperity for all.”
School Poverty Data Highlighted in The Atlantic
The Atlantic is already demonstrating the analytical power of this new data. Abigail Langston and Sarah Treuhaft from PolicyLink are quoted in “The Concentration of Poverty in American Schools,” by Janie Boschma and Ronald Brownstein, who note that in about half of the nation’s largest 100 cities, most Black and Latino students go to schools where at least 75 percent of all students qualify as poor or low-income:
“Kids who spend more than half of their childhood in poverty have a high-school graduation rate of 68 percent,” said Abigail Langston, a senior associate at PolicyLink, and a public fellow at the American Council of Learned Societies. “You see how these things compound over time. There is a link between housing policy, economic and racial segregation, you see what those do to schools and to people who grow up in those neighborhoods.”
In the article, promising school integration models from Dallas and New York City are lifted up as tools to address these gaps. The Atlantic also uses the National Equity Atlas’s school poverty indicator in the stories “Separate and Still Unequal” and “Where Children Rarely Escape Poverty.”
Join upcoming Equitable Development and Environmental Justice Webinar
On Friday, March 11 the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice will conduct the free webinar “New Data Tools for Supporting Analysis of Equitable Development and Environmental Justice.” Sarah Treuhaft, who is PolicyLink director of equitable growth initiatives will present the new air pollution indicators in the National Equity Atlas. The webinar will also feature a demo of the new environmental justice screening and mapping tool. Register here

Transportation, Jobs, and Civil Rights for the 21st Century: An Interview with Faith-Based Leader Ana Garcia-Ashley

For Ana Garcia-Ashley, living out the values of her Catholic faith is about more than helping one's neighbor, or caring for those in need — it’s about dismantling systems of oppression and racism that have left so many Americans cut off from opportunity. As executive director of Gamaliel, a national network for faith-based community organizing, Garcia-Ashley has helped engage congregations across the country around a range of political issues — from predatory lending to immigration reform to congressional spending. The first woman of color to lead a national community organizing network, she has brought a relentless activist spirit to the faith-based work of her organization.

Advocating for a more equitable transportation system, both in terms of access to quality transportation and access to jobs in the transportation industry, is a core part of Gamaliel’s work.  Leveraging 44 Gamaliel affiliates in 17 states and the grassroots Transportation Equity Network that includes over 300 community organizations, the organization advocates for transportation as not only a civil right, but a crucial driver of upward mobility — a link bolstered by a recent Harvard study that identified lower commute times as the single strongest predictor of escaping poverty for low-income families. This connection between transit and economic opportunity can also be seen in Gamaliel’s recent work to promote the Department of Transportation’s local and targeted hiring pilot — a one-year initiative launched last March that allows city and state governments to prioritize the employment of local, low-income workers for contracts to build roads, bridges, and transit facilities.

Garcia-Ashley spoke with America’s Tomorrow on the importance of transportation access — a sector of Gamaliel’s work that has taken center stage following the approval of the local and targeted hiring pilot. 

Q: Why is local and targeted hiring important for building opportunity for low-income communities and communities of color?

A: You have these multibillion dollar highway projects that could provide quality jobs with benefits and career pathways into construction jobs. And these projects are often being built in neighborhoods with high unemployment, often that are communities of color. It’s a no-brainer that these projects should be used to have positive impacts on the communities where they’re being built by ensuring that a portion of the construction jobs go to local workers in that community. And we already see that they have been successful when implemented on a local basis. But for decades, there was essentially a moratorium on local hire for federal projects, because unions, developers, and others in construction felt that there wouldn’t be ready labor and it wouldn’t be cost-effective to hire locally. So we were very emotional and excited when, after years of advocating for local hire, Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced the pilot of local hire in March. Of course, now it’s up to advocacy groups like PolicyLink and Gamaliel to go into the communities where we have a footprint and ensure that they put this pilot to use, that we document best practices, and show how all the fears about efficiency and cost-effectiveness aren’t actually a problem.

Q: What has been the most crucial element within the organizing that Gamaliel does to promote local hiring?

A: We need community members to be able to talk about these policies and their impact – not just policy wonks. We need to have the housewife, the preacher, the young person being able to talk about local hire and regulations and transportation access — just like they talk about Beyoncé! Young people always seem to know what she’s doing, but not what the Department of Labor is doing — but the DOL affects their lives a lot more. It’s about building awareness and civic-mindedness in the young generation, building these local champions who can talk about what it means to them, what it means to their communities.

Q: Can you give an example of where local hiring as a policy in transportation projects has been a success?

A: In the building of the I-64 bridge in Missouri, advocates were able to get 1 percent of the budget to go into training and hiring single moms and people of color. So they spent $2 million to not only hire locally, but to train people to take on these jobs — and the project came in under budget. We need more opportunities to implement projects like this, and we need to collect data about them to back up their success and make the case for these policies being applied more widely. Then, hopefully, we can institutionalize local hire into all infrastructure projects and maybe expand it to other federally funded projects. We should be using federal money — tax payer funds — to empower all Americans, not hold up a system that oppresses them, that builds highways that divide low-income communities and displace homes, without giving anything back to the people who live there.

Q: A crucial part of Gamaliel’s work is advocating for access to public transportation as a civil rights issue for low-income people and people of color. Why do you view transit access as a civil right?

A: During the Civil Rights movement, advocates were looking at the immediate and urgent ways of gaining basic rights as citizens, but transportation was always a piece of that larger picture. Rosa Parks did not just sit on the bus because she wanted to sit anywhere she wanted on the bus — it was a symbol of the dignity of people of color, the right to have access to the bus, to have a job to go to on that bus. Victories like the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act provided us a platform, and a responsibility to make sure that people can move to opportunity — because the structures of our society were not designed to serve women, people of color, or the poor. Instead, these structures have created and preserved hyper poverty areas where people literally cannot leave their neighborhoods because of lack of transit.

But when we hear transportation, the dominant narrative is always the highways, the two-car garage. This is reflected in a transportation budget that has been so focused on the creation of highways and connectors that have historically destroyed and divided communities — especially communities of color. Countless highways have cut through Black communities, displacing residents and destroying Black businesses. We need to move away from just thinking about highways and cars and start thinking about a transportation system where everyone, no matter how poor or elderly or young you are — you can get where you need to go.  Because equal opportunity includes being able to get to where you need to go without having to spend $10,000 to own a car. That’s why we feel that transportation is the civil rights issue of the 21st century. It’s essential we expand our conceptions of civil rights to include it.

Q: Gamaliel is a faith-based advocacy group — how do you see the issues of the church intersecting with transportation and civil rights?

A: It’s not a connection that everyone makes right away. I still get push back from people — “Why is a faith-based network so obsessed with the Department of Transportation and how highway dollars are spent, and what does that have to do with living out your faith?” But we see transportation and infrastructure as determining the quality of life people can have, and we see public transit as protecting the planet because, for every bus, you're taking hundreds of cars off the road. People want to know where in the scripture it talks about public transit, but the scripture talks about caring for your neighbors, being a steward of the earth, and living in a community that respects the dignity of people — and we see quality, affordable transportation access as central to living up to these values.

Oakland Army Base Is a Model for Equitable Development

Nearly three years ago developers, unions, community leaders, and government officials in Oakland, California, came together to make sure the city’s biggest construction project in decades would create jobs and apprenticeships for residents who need them most. By every measure, the agreement for redeveloping the old Oakland Army Base is a resounding success.

It is meeting ambitious targets for local hiring and far exceeding targets for connecting people facing employment barriers to career-path training. It has inspired a similar agreement on a $178 million construction project for Bus Rapid Transit from downtown Oakland to San Leandro. Perhaps most importantly, the Army base deal demonstrates what it takes to translate large-scale urban investments into equitable economic growth — and why it matters.

“This has changed my life,” said Sadakao Whittington, who landed an $18.29-an-hour apprenticeship with Laborers Local 304 a few months after he was paroled from state prison at age 40. After working on demolition at the base, he moved on to similar jobs around the Bay Area while earning certification in welding, heavy machine maintenance, and more than a dozen other skills. Now a member of Sprinkler Fitters Local 483, he earns $24.42 an hour plus full benefits. His wage will rise to $60 within five years.

“I have a nice apartment that’s fully furnished,” Whittington said. “I have a good credit score and a bank account. I pay taxes and spend my paycheck inside my community. I have a sense of achievement. I feel valued.  All these things happened because all these people came together in a collaborative and cohesive way to provide opportunity to someone trying to get somewhere.”

The labor and community benefits agreement covers the first phase of an $800 million public-private venture to transform the shuttered Army base into an international trade and logistics center at the Port of Oakland. The deal pertains to the city-owned portion of the project; a similar agreement is in the works for the port’s piece. The project broke ground in late 2013. It is expected to create more than 1,500 construction jobs over seven years and 1,500 permanent jobs in operations. About 500 new hires currently work there.

Read the full story in Next City.

Worker Ownership Behind Bars: The World’s First Co-op Run Entirely by Prisoners

Roberto Luis Rodriguez Rosario with his book, Corazon Libre, Cuerpo Confinado.

By David Bacon

It was a cooperative in Puerto Rico's Guayama prison that changed his life. Growing up, Roberto Luis Rodriguez Rosario was surrounded by violence, and lived most of his pre-teen years in foster homes. "By the time I was a teenager, I was filled with anger," he remembers. "I became a rebel, and lost my way in drugs and alcohol. I stopped going to school at 14, and began getting arrested at 15. By the time I was 17 I was doing things that could get you locked up for life. Then, when I was 19, I saw what a disaster my life had become."

There were arrest warrants out for him, and Rodriguez made what he calls the most important decision of his life. He turned himself in. His sentences totaled 125 years, and even served concurrently, they still added up to 35 years behind bars. "But I began to work on my life," he reflected. When he was transferred from a maximum-security institution to the medium security prison in Guayama, Puerto Rico, he joined a worker-owned co-operative run entirely by the inmates.

"I was looking for tools to help me work on my problems,” said Rodriquez. “I thought at first [the co-op] was just a way to reduce my sentence, but once I got involved, and started practicing the principles of co-operativism, I realized it was making a big change in my life."

The co-op, started in 2003, has helped dozens of inmates reduce their sentences and return to their communities. Of the 50 co-op members who have been released from prison in the past ten years, including Rodriguez, only two have gone back to prison, and one of them is again out on parole. The recidivism rate elsewhere in Puerto Rican prisons is over 50 percent per year according to Lymarie Nieves Plaza, director of marketing at a local credit union. Today, the co-op has 40 active members, in a prison with a population of roughly 300. And cooperative projects have sprung up in three other prisons throughout Puerto Rico, where they plan to make everything from children’s clothing to renewable energy products.

“These are jobs that are much better than the slave labor the prison itself offers,” said Jessica Gordon Nembhard,  professor of community justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York, where she studies how cooperatives can empower communities of color, prisoners, and returning citizens (read our interview with her about her latest book Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice). “There are many benefits from co-ops that extend beyond their market value. They promote leadership development, financial education and literacy, high level social skills, and collective decision-making that extend beyond the operations of the co-op.” 

The culture of cooperatives and democratic decision-making has had a big impact on the lives of many prisoners, Rodriguez explains, and cites his own history. The co-op meetings are run democratically, and every member has a voice. That creates the basis for trust in each other. "I can have an opinion in a meeting, but the members decide everything," said Nieves who has been working as a co-op educator and marketer with the prison co-ops.

“The co-op provides a different point of view,” said Gordon Nembhard. “It's not ‘me against the world’. It’s the co-op and my fellow members working and thinking together. They can now afford to pay for the things they need and help to support their families even though they are in prison. That is transformational.”

Changing laws and changing lives

Creating the co-op took several years and a change in the law. In 2000, a small group of prisoners in the Guayama state prison began to create craft items in an art therapy program. Some combined clay figures of Don Quixote or of saints, on a carved wooden base, holding a brightly painted Puerto Rican flag. Some inmates were leather workers, and made portfolios, belts, hats, and sandals. Others carved boats, or made pencil portraits.

None could be sold outside the prison, however. One of the inmates, Hector Quiñones Andino, began to investigate how prisoners might organize themselves so that their work might find a market. He looked at two possibilities. One was to form a corporation. "But they didn't like that idea much," Rodriguez says, "because it focused too much on individual profit." Quiñones found a book about cooperatives, and that provided another alternative. So he asked for an orientation from the Co-operative League of Puerto Rico, according to Rodriguez.

Discovering that they faced a legal prohibition from participating in cooperatives because of their criminal history, Quiñones and fellow prisoners in the art program wrote a letter to the governor at the time, Sila Maria Calderon, asking her to modify the law. She was moved by their story, met with some of the prisoners, and in 2003 she worked with the legislature to amend the law.

The co-op they established, the Cooperativa de Servicios ARIGOS, was the first co-op ever organized exclusively by prisoners themselves, with a board of directors made up solely of inmates. To become a member, a prisoner has to buy a $20 share, and inmates without the money up-front can work off the cost in about two months. After that, each co-op member has a voice in meetings, and one vote.

Most of the craftwork is sold in assemblies or public events organized by other cooperatives or associations. Inmates themselves can go to present their work, but they must pay for transportation and the prison guards who accompany them. They have recently expanded their work to include a nursery growing cucumbers, bell peppers and tomatoes used in the food eaten by inmates.

Rodriguez is not much of an artist, he says, so he became the co-op's secretary, responsible for keeping the books and seeking new markets. Of the money received in sales, 15 percent goes to the prison for the cost of the space and services, and 10 percent is invested by the co-op in capital expenses. The other 75 percent is divided among the co-op members. "For us, this is so much better than working for the prison itself, where they only pay $25 for 160 hours you work in a month," he explains.

The co-op has to defend its existence to the prison, often in strict economic terms. Rodriguez smiles at the way they have been able to meet objections that the co-op costs the prison money. "We showed that the prison was getting $10,000-$15,000 from its share of our sales," he recalls. "That made them much more interested in supporting us."

After serving just over 14 years of his sentence, Rodriguez was released on parole, which he completed a year ago. Life outside, however, has been challenging. Rodriguez would like to start a co-op for ex-co-op members, but it's difficult to get people together, and parole restrictions bar socializing among ex-inmates, a law they hope to change soon. Rodriguez recently released a book on his experience, entitled Corazon Libre, Cuerpo Confinado (Free Heart, Confined Body).

"We've learned how to run a business, and some former inmates now have their own small businesses outside as a result,” said Rodriguez. “If you can change the way people think in prison, you can do anything. It is a model for social change."

Four Ways to Lift Up Women of Color in the Workforce

Ensuring the economic success of women of color has never been more crucial to America's future. Though women of color make up a large and growing share of the workers, breadwinners, and entrepreneurs that are driving local and regional economies, they are consistently paid less than all other groups of workers — White women, men of color, and White men [see graph above]. Further, women of color are all too frequently employed in low-wage jobs that fail to provide family-supporting wages or basic benefits such as paid parental and sick leave.

"More than 70 percent of women of color are either the sole or co-breadwinner, making their economic security inextricably linked to that of their family," said Fatima Goss Graves, vice president for education and employment at the National Women's Law Center.

Tackling the disparities in pay and employment facing women of color will require policies at the national, state, and local level that link these women to the education, workforce training, business support, and work opportunities necessary to thrive. Several cities and states have taken pioneering steps to enact the types of policies and programs that lift up women of color workers, providing models for other local, state, and federal initiatives. These local successes center around four policy priorities:

(1)   Improve the quality and wages of low-wage jobs: Because women of color are disproportionately employed in the low-wage sector and live in or near poverty, strategies to raise the floor on low-wage work can have immediate impact for these women and their families. Effective policies to raise the floor include those that encourage workplaces to invest in their workers (e.g., programs that upgrade workers' skills and pay) or make it easier for workers to organize and collectively bargain for better pay and working conditions. "You are seeing some companies recognize the value of investing in their workers — that it is valuable for workers to feel good about their workplace and be able to fill their roles at home," Goss Graves said.

Policies that directly establish higher standards for wages and working conditions, such as increasing minimum and living wages, eliminating the sub-minimum tipped wage, and providing paid sick leave, child care supports, and retirement savings are also vital to increasing the pool of quality low-wage jobs. In September 2014, after a two-year campaign by community, labor, and civil rights groups, the Los Angeles City Council approved a living wage ordinance to raise the minimum wage for the city's hotel workers to $15.37 an hour. This will raise pay for 13,000 low-income hotel workers, most of them women and people of color. 

(2)   Create pathways for women of color to access good jobs: Women of color often face barriers to accessing "middle-wage" jobs that offer career pathways but do not require a four-year degree, such as those in construction or some health care. Targeted and local hiring policies for public investments can increase access to middle-wage jobs for women of color, as can workforce training strategies that connect women of color to apprenticeship programs and workforce training programs in high-growth industries.

The Washington State's Home Care Worker Training Partnership is the nation's first large-scale career pathway program for home care aides, training 40,000 aides a year in 200 classrooms across the state and online, providing instruction in 13 languages. The partnership runs the nation's first registered apprenticeship for more advanced training so that aides can increase their earnings and move up the career ladder.

(3)   Support women of color to become entrepreneurs: Despite many barriers to quality employment, women of color are the fastest-growing segment of entrepreneurs and job creators, numbering 1.4 million workers and generating more than $220 billion in revenues in 2013. At the same time, numerous studies show that women of color have a harder time getting business loans or equity investments than their White and male counterparts. Policies that increase access to affordable capital, support business development for entrepreneurs of color, and leverage government procurement policies to link women of color-owned businesses to government contracts are all effective strategies for supporting these entrepreneurs, and helping them create employment opportunities within their communities.

The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority has dramatically increased contracting with firms owned by women and people of color from 11 to 31 percent as part of a new commitment to equity.  

(4)   Ensure girls of color can succeed in school and access science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education and careers: Higher education (at least an associate, if not a bachelor's degree) is a critical stepping stone for success in the 21st century job market, but girls of color often face challenges accessing high-quality preK-12 public education and are more likely to attend schools that lack STEM-related courses. Many girls of color are also subject to overly harsh school discipline measures that result in disproportionately high rates of suspensions and expulsions, reducing their learning time and ability to thrive in school, according to Goss Graves. Policies to eliminate the use of harsh school discipline measures, increase access to high-quality public education and STEM courses, and supplemental programming that exposes girls of color to STEM-related skills and experiences are key to setting girls of color on a track toward later career success and financial stability.

Black Girls CODE is a San Francisco-based nonprofit dedicated to training and empowering girls of color to become leaders and innovators in computer science and technology. In the three years since its founding, it has served more than 3,000 girls ages seven through 17 and opened seven chapters around the country.

For more data on women of color in the economy, such as the percentage of people of color who earn $15 an hour or more, see the National Equity Atlas.

Read the rest of the May 15, 2015 America's Tomorrow: Equity is the Superior Growth Model issue.

How the Proposed Fair Housing Rule Will Boost the Economy

Strong and effective fair housing laws are essential for building prosperity — for people struggling to get by, for local and regional economies that benefit from thriving communities, and for the nation as a whole. That’s why a proposed rule by the Department of Housing and Urban Development is so important. As inequality soars and neighborhoods of concentrated poverty are on the rise in most American cities, the rule would push municipalities to deliver on the promise of fair housing. By helping to connect low-income families to neighborhoods of greater opportunity, the rule has the potential to spur economic growth not only within these households, but within cities and regions.

The rule, due out this summer, is called Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH). It would sharpen the tools that equity advocates and public sector leaders can use to increase investment in high-poverty neighborhoods, fight racial discrimination in the housing market, and add more affordable housing choices in neighborhoods with jobs, good schools, and other essentials. It would do this in three important ways:

(1)  It would make municipalities more accountable to community member needs by requiring resident engagement on fair housing and community development issues.
(2)  It would require a data-driven analysis (an "assessment of fair housing") of community conditions and impediments to fair housing, including factors that contribute to areas of racially concentrated poverty and high unemployment (e.g., school performance, transportation access, and toxic exposures).
(3)  It would require jurisdictions to tie federal funding — such as Community Development Block Grants and HOME funds — to addressing the fair housing challenges that are identified.

Taken as a whole, the proposed rule would mean that cities, counties, and states must be proactive to ensure all people can live in neighborhoods where they have access to the opportunities and resources we all need to succeed.

This rule is long overdue. It will help turn around the lasting negative impacts of historically discriminatory practices that contributed to the creation of poor neighborhoods of color, and it will reduce barriers that cut millions of Americans off from economic opportunity. This rule can be a powerful tool to advance equitable economic growth for the nation, and here are five reasons how:

(1)  Reducing growth-limiting racial and economic exclusion: Research shows that families living in disinvested and low-income communities have limited economic mobility and reduced future earnings. This effect creates generational cycles of poverty and limited opportunity: For example, two-thirds of Black children raised in the poorest quarter of U.S. neighborhoods a generation ago are now raising their children in similarly poor neighborhoods. This proposed rule has been proven to help direct more investment to neighborhoods that need them and help low-income families move to neighborhoods with more resources. Both the Puget Sound and the Twin Cities regions built off of their fair housing assessments – part of a pilot for the proposed AFFH rule – to focus new infrastructure investment in Native American, African American, African immigrant, Latino and Southeast Asian communities in need of investment. When St. Louis conducted a fair housing assessment, the city found that Housing Choice Vouchers were being used primarily in low-income neighborhoods where there were few jobs and community amenities. This assessment helped the city revamp its program to help residents find diverse housing choices that better met their needs.
(2)   Connecting people to job opportunities: By encouraging more job investments in high-unemployment communities and promoting transit investments that connect these communities to jobs elsewhere, this rule would help people previously isolated from employment opportunities better engage in the regional workforce and contribute to local economies. For example, Puget Sound used its fair housing assessment to strategically plan for a new food distribution hub and job incubators within historically disinvested neighborhoods where job growth was needed. And a New Orleans assessment that found transit was not serving late-shift schedules for hospitality and healthcare workers led to realignment of services to better meet low-wage, transit-dependent workers’ needs.
(3)  Creating jobs:
Places that support the development of quality affordable housing and new infrastructure in disinvested neighborhoods also create new jobs both in the short- and the long-term for communities. The National Association of Home Builders estimates that building 100 affordable homes can lead to the creation of more than 120 jobs during the construction phase and roughly 30 jobs in a wide array of service industries once homes are occupied. When coupled with job training, inclusive hiring and contracting practices, and provisions for good wages and benefits, these jobs can help put low-income and unemployed residents on a pathway to good careers and financial stability.
(4)  Attracting new employers: Lack of quality affordable housing that connects to transit makes it more difficult for employers to recruit and retain employees, putting the local economy at a competitive disadvantage. In a national survey of more than 300 companies, 55 percent of large companies reported an insufficient level of affordable housing in their area, and two-thirds of these respondents cited this shortage as negatively affecting their ability to hold onto qualified employees. Other survey data suggests that affordable housing availability plays an important role in where new businesses decide to build or expand their operations. In Boston and Chicago, fair housing assessments helped these cities support new affordable homes around growing job centers in order to attract more employers to the area.
(5)  Providing low-income families with more disposable income to invest and save: The disproportionate housing burden on low-income communities and communities of color makes it hard for them to save for emergencies, make long-term investments, or spend money within the local economy on necessary goods and services. Affordable rent and mortgage payments, and access to affordable transportation, can substantially decrease household costs, in some cases by as much as five hundred dollars a month. When families can save on housing and transportation costs, it bolsters their resiliency and financial stability and allows greater spending on health care and education. These investments contribute to greater stability not only for these households, but for the broader economy: a recent study found that every extra dollar going into the pockets of low-wage workers actually adds about $1.21 to the national economy.

The Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule is powerful only if we understand it and put it to use. Learn more about the rule in our upcoming webinar.

How the Proposed Fair Housing Rule Will Boost the Economy

Strong and effective fair housing laws are essential for building prosperity — for people struggling to get by, for local and regional economies that benefit from thriving communities, and for the nation as a whole. That’s why a proposed rule by the Department of Housing and Urban Development is so important. As inequality soars and neighborhoods of concentratedpoverty are on the rise in most American cities, the rule would push municipalities to deliver on the promise of fair housing. By helping to connect low-income families to neighborhoods of greater opportunity, the rule has the potential to spur economic growth not only within these households, but within cities and regions.

The rule, due out this summer, is called Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH). It would sharpen the tools that equity advocates and public sector leaders can use to increase investment in high-poverty neighborhoods, fight racial discrimination in the housing market, and add more affordable housing choices in neighborhoods with jobs, good schools, and other essentials. It would do this in three important ways:

(1)  It would make municipalities more accountable to community member needs by requiring resident engagement on fair housing and community development issues.
(2)  It would require a data-driven analysis (an "assessment of fair housing") of community conditions and impediments to fair housing, including factors that contribute to areas of racially concentrated poverty and high unemployment (e.g., school performance, transportation access, and toxic exposures).
(3)  It would require jurisdictions to tie federal funding — such as Community Development Block Grants and HOME funds — to addressing the fair housing challenges that are identified.

Taken as a whole, the proposed rule would mean that cities, counties, and states must be proactive to ensure all people can live in neighborhoods where they have access to the opportunities and resources we all need to succeed.

This rule is long overdue. It will help turn around the lasting negative impacts of historically discriminatory practices that contributed to the creation of poor neighborhoods of color, and it will reduce barriers that cut millions of Americans off from economic opportunity. This rule can be a powerful tool to advance equitable economic growth for the nation, and here are five reasons how:

(1)  Reducing growth-limiting racial and economic exclusion: Research shows that families living in disinvested and low-income communities have limited economic mobility and reduced future earnings. This effect creates generational cycles of poverty and limited opportunity: For example, two-thirds of Black children raised in the poorest quarter of U.S. neighborhoods a generation ago are now raising their children in similarly poor neighborhoods. This proposed rule has been proven to help direct more investment to neighborhoods that need them and help low-income families move to neighborhoods with more resources. Both the Puget Sound and the Twin Cities regions built off of their fair housing assessments – part of a pilot for the proposed AFFH rule – to focus new infrastructure investment in Native American, African American, African immigrant, Latino and Southeast Asian communities in need of investment. When St. Louis conducted a fair housing assessment, the city foundthat Housing Choice Vouchers were being used primarily in low-income neighborhoods where there were few jobs and community amenities. This assessment helped the city revamp its program to help residents find diverse housing choices that better met their needs.
(2)   Connecting people to job opportunities: By encouraging more job investments in high-unemployment communities and promoting transit investments that connect these communities to jobs elsewhere, this rule would help people previously isolated from employment opportunities better engage in the regional workforce and contribute to local economies. For example, Puget Sound used its fair housing assessment to strategically plan for a new food distribution hub and job incubators within historically disinvested neighborhoods where job growth was needed. And a New Orleans assessment that found transit was not serving late-shift schedules for hospitality and healthcare workers led to realignment of services to better meet low-wage, transit-dependent workers’ needs.
(3)  Creating jobs: 
Places that support the development of quality affordable housing and new infrastructure in disinvested neighborhoods also create new jobs both in the short- and the long-term for communities. The National Association of Home Builders estimates that building 100 affordable homes can lead to the creation of more than 120 jobs during the construction phase and roughly 30 jobs in a wide array of service industries once homes are occupied. When coupled with job training, inclusive hiring and contracting practices, and provisions for good wages and benefits, these jobs can help put low-income and unemployed residents on a pathway to good careers and financial stability.
(4)  Attracting new employers: Lack of quality affordable housing that connects to transit makes it more difficult for employers to recruit and retain employees, putting the local economy at a competitive disadvantage. In a national survey of more than 300 companies, 55 percent of large companies reported an insufficient level of affordable housing in their area, and two-thirds of these respondents cited this shortage as negatively affecting their ability to hold onto qualified employees. Other survey data suggests that affordable housing availability plays an important role in where new businesses decide to build or expand their operations. In Boston and Chicago, fair housing assessments helped these cities support new affordable homes around growing job centers in order to attract more employers to the area.
(5)  Providing low-income families with more disposable income to invest and save: The disproportionate housing burdenon low-income communities and communities of color makes it hard for them to save for emergencies, make long-term investments, or spend money within the local economy on necessary goods and services. Affordable rent and mortgage payments, and access to affordable transportation, can substantially decrease household costs, in some cases by as much as five hundred dollars a month. When families can save on housing and transportation costs, it bolsters their resiliency and financial stability and allows greater spending on health care and education. These investments contribute to greater stability not only for these households, but for the broader economy: a recent study found that every extra dollar going into the pockets of low-wage workers actually adds about $1.21 to the national economy.

The Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule is powerful only if we understand it and put it to use. Learn more about the rule in our upcoming webinar.

B Corporations Deliver on Equity, Sustainability

Benefit corporations provide a way for businesses to make profit without having to slash wages or resort to environmentally destructive practices. Ben & Jerry's, for instance, is one of the world's most popular ice cream brands with an annual sales revenue of $132 million. Its lowest-paid worker makes $16.13 an hour, which is 46 percent above the living wage in home state Vermont, and the company offsets more than 50 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions. More than 40 percent of the board and management are from underrepresented populations, such as women, people of color, lower-income individuals, and people with disabilities.

In a time when U.S. corporate profits are soaring but wages remain stagnant, Ben & Jerry's and hundreds of other companies, including Cooperative Home Care Associates profiled below, are choosing an alternative business model – benefit corporations – driven not just by profits but also by fair working conditions, diverse leadership, and environmentally sustainable practice.

One of the fundamental challenges to growing more "triple bottom line" businesses is the legal requirement to maximize profits that applies to corporations. Anything that takes away from profits, such as higher wages or more sustainable environmental practices, leaves the corporation vulnerable to being sued by its shareholders. This limitation hinders companies from advancing any values beyond profit making.

In response to this limitation, a movement was started to pass legislation allowing for a new type of corporate entity called the benefit corporation. The benefit corporation provides legal protection for businesses that choose to treat their workers well, protect the environment, and invest in their communities, even if it means their annual profits are not as high. As of 2013, 19 states plus the District of Columbia passed benefit corporation legislation, including Delaware, which is home to 50 percent of all publicly traded companies and 64 percent of Fortune 500 companies.

In 2012, Ben & Jerry's took a step beyond being a benefit corporation and became a Certified B Corporation, as conferred by a nonprofit organization called B Lab. There are currently more than 1,000 registered B Corps. A Certified B Corp voluntarily meets higher standards of governance, workforce treatment, environmental impact, and community involvement. Companies must score at least 80 points on a scale of 200 to be eligible for certification.

Certified B Corps are part of a community of socially responsible companies and span a large spectrum of goods and services. In 2012, Cooperative Home Care Associates (CHCA) in the Bronx, New York, became the first home care company to become a Certified B Corp. Their overall B Score, at 154, is nearly twice the median score.

One of the reasons CHCA scores so high in the B Impact Assessment is because it is a worker-owned cooperative with the vast majority of the workers and worker-owners being from the Bronx. In an industry where good-paying jobs are hard to come by, CHCA deliberately chose a different business model, one that prioritizes workers over profits, and has flourished for nearly 30 years. The company has grown from 12 people to now over 2,000 employees, 70 percent of whom are worker-owners.

"When we started, a lot of for-profit home-care companies were established and were seen as a way of making a lot of money in a short time," said Michael Elsas, president of CHCA. "You didn't have to pay workers that much, you didn't have to train them that well, and you could move in and make a killing. And, in that environment we wanted to establish something a little different, more socially responsible."

Treating the workers well was not just a social mission, but it made good business sense. Elsas said, "Many of the people we were seeing were women, particularly women of color. The thought was if we train people longer and really spend time with them, if we prepare them for an entry-level position and get them ready to work and remove those barriers to work, and, if we provided a lot of support for those workers both before and after they were trained by us, we could create quality, full-time jobs. And then as a result of that quality job, we would be providing quality care that we could, in fact, provide better services."

CHCA has been a co-op since the company started in 1985. Going from a co-op model to also certifying as a B Corp was an easy decision and made a lot of business sense, Elsas said. "Distinguishing ourselves as a B Corp would be helpful in marketing to be able to say we are the only B-Corp certified home care company. We thought that would be helpful for those entities that want to do business with a B Corp. Quite honestly, it was a natural for us. There was very little that we had to do to get certified because we were already a worker-owned company, we already had everything in place."

Elsas said that CHCA is successful not because it is a co-op but because of the best practices they employ. Currently, 90 cents of every dollar that comes into the company goes to the worker. While paying workers less would result in higher profits and better dividends, Elsas said higher dividends is not what has made the company successful for 30 years. Instead, what makes CHCA successful is "how we train, how we supervise people, how we respect people, how we let people participate in what we do."

Companies like CHCA and Ben & Jerry's show that businesses can make a profit and embrace socially responsible practices. Higher wages and better work environments help working families reach economic security. Consumers can support B Corps and environmentally and socially conscious businesses by buying their products and services. A full list of B Corps can be found here.

New York City Invests in Worker Co-ops — and Equitable Growth

Before Yadira Fragoso became a worker-owner at Si Se Puede, a housecleaning cooperative of immigrant women in New York, she earned $6.25 to $10 an hour in various jobs. She had no control over her hours or schedule and sometimes had to bring her children to work.
Now she earns $20 to $25 an hour. Along with the cooperative's 50 other worker-owners, she shares decision making for all business policies and operations. Most importantly, she says, she has greater economic security and job flexibility, so she can spend more time at home with her kids. Joining the co-op "changed my life," she recently told the New York City Council.
Stories like this and determined organizing by advocates for a fairer, more inclusive economy have persuaded city officials to invest $1.2 million this year in developing worker-owned businesses in low-income communities and communities of color. It's the largest investment in such businesses ever made by a city government in the United States (though only a tiny fraction of the city's $75 billion budget).
The initiative aims to support the creation of 234 jobs and bring training and financial resources to 20 existing co-ops and 28 start-ups. It promises to raise the profile of worker-owned cooperatives as a strategy for equitable economic growth.
How worker co-ops spur the growth of good jobs
Job growth in New York City since the Great Recession has been concentrated in low-wage industries. Black and Latino communities are unemployed or underemployed at double the rates of Whites. Economic barriers have left more than one in five New Yorkers in poverty and driven income inequality to a historic high. A recent report by the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies (FPWA) documents these trends and says they threaten the city's economic growth.
The report points to small businesses — the city has about 200,000 — as the largest job creator, and to worker-owned businesses as an effective model for closing income and wage gaps by moving people from joblessness or precarious employment to dignified jobs. Worker co-ops tend to provide higher wages, good benefits, training, and career pathways, particularly in typically low-wage industries like housecleaning and home care.
At the eight-year old Si Se Puede, for instance, worker-owners receive 100 percent of the pay for their work — there are no agency fees or middlemen — and receive training in the use of safe, eco-friendly cleaning products.
Most successful co-ops provide financial returns to worker-owners, creating avenues to accumulate wealth. And because they are democratically owned and managed, they empower workers, build dignity, and inspire engagement in civic society. "There's no greater medicine for apathy and feelings of living on the edges of society than to see your own work and your voice make a difference," says the FPWA report.
A beacon for the burgeoning worker co-op movement in the city and across the country is Cooperative Home Care Associates (CHCA) in the South Bronx. Founded in 1985 with 12 workers, it employs more than 2,000 people, making it the nation's largest worker co-op and a significant driver of employment in the Bronx. Wages and benefits for CHCA home care aides have increased more than 40 percent in the past five years, and turnover is 15 percent, compared with more than 60 percent for the industry overall.
New York is also home to several dozen young worker co-ops, mostly in immigrant communities. Occupy Sandy — an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street that mobilized to aid cleanup in the Rockaways after Superstorm Sandy — has seized on co-op development as an important growth strategy for the area, which was struggling even before the storm. The group has partnered with The Working World, a nonprofit organization that provides investment capital and technical assistance to co-ops, to incubate worker co-ops in the area, particularly in the large Central American community.
A bakery and a construction co-op have launched, and three more co-ops — juice bar, landscaping, and screen printing — are in development, said Pablo Benson, a consultant for Worker-Owned Rockaway Cooperatives.
"A huge component of the long-term recovery effort is to help develop a more democratic form of economic redevelopment," he said. "It's remarkable what can be unleashed when people have the power to make decisions."

Building a Worker-Owned Innovation Economy

Tucked between the steep mountains and rugged coast of northern Spain, a vast network of worker-owned businesses is producing everything from electric cars to advanced robotics. It's also inspiring equitable growth strategies in low-income neighborhoods in the United States, from Cleveland, Ohio, to Richmond, California.

Mondragon Corporation is a network of over 100 worker-owned cooperatives and businesses with nearly $20 billion in revenue and 74,000 employees. Its home province, where the corporation employs one in 14 workers, is an economic driver for the nation, and has the highest per capita income in the country. Mondragon is an impressive business model to build an equitable innovation economy.

Economic resilience in action

Growth and innovation have been central to Mondragon’s mission and success, but for reasons different from most companies. “Our purpose is to create wealth and jobs in society. Work with dignity, this is the goal,” said Mikel Lezamiz, director of cooperative dissemination at Mondragon.

Executive pay is capped at eight times that of the lowest-paid worker in the company. “And we still attract top talent,” said Lezamiz. Worker-owners are involved in major decisions in their companies, and annual profits are distributed among them. Wages before profit sharing for entry-level workers are roughly equal to industry averages, according to Mondragon.

The bulk of Mondragon’s companies are in advanced industrial manufacturing and services. The corporation also runs a major local bank, a national grocery store chain, several vocational schools and universities, and over a dozen research and development centers. While headquartered in a small town in the Basque region of Spain, the corporation generates over half of its jobs outside of the region, including a growing number of manufacturing subsidiaries around the globe (at present, 122 plants employing 12,000 workers, who are not worker-owners).

Solidarity across the businesses has allowed most workers, if not the companies themselves, to weather the economic crisis that has crippled much of Spain. Unemployment in the area is less than half that for the rest of Spain. And when staffing at one company needs to be reduced, the cooperatives help each other place workers in job openings elsewhere. During the recent recession, over 1,000 workers in struggling cooperatives were moved to jobs in more stable ones, according to Lezamiz.

However, businesses are not immune to exposure to risk. Last year, Mondragon’s first and oldest cooperative, a household appliance manufacturer that was hard hit by the housing foreclosure crisis, filed for bankruptcy, threatening the jobs and investments of 1,800 worker-owners. The cooperative group is trying to relocate affected workers to other cooperatives.

Humanity at work

Mondragon’s slogan — “humanity at work” — is a marriage of its social justice roots and business smarts. It represents a business model that places workers as the strongest asset of a company, not a cost to be minimized. A growing number of American business leaders are recognizing the competitive advantage this approach can bring to companies, particularly ones competing in a global marketplace.

In practice, at Mondragon, this means a commitment to worker-owner participation at the highest levels of governance. Members meet annually to set the overall direction and mission of the business group, and they elect representatives to the governing council that oversees management of the businesses. All members are given full access to internal financial documents of their companies, and time during work to read through them and discuss with co-workers.

It also means a strong investment in education. Mondragon runs three community colleges and a university that offer degrees in engineering, cooperative business, humanities, and more. Students from low-income families get preference for scholarships and access to jobs to make it more affordable for them to attend, according to Lezamiz.

Spreading the model

Fifty years ago, Mondragon began with a technical school and one small factory. Soon after, they started a local bank to keep workers’ wealth in the community and reinvest it in new cooperative ventures. Today, the bank has over $32 billion in assets.

This is perhaps the greatest lesson from Mondragon. What began as a tiny venture 50 years ago is today a global powerhouse. And this was accomplished by building community wealth and maintaining a commitment to worker dignity and empowerment. In recent years, Mondragon staff have worked to spread their business model to new places, including in the formation of the Evergreen Cooperatives in Cleveland, Ohio, an initiative in Richmond, California to start several worker co-ops, and a new partnership with the United Steelworkers to develop a union-cooperative model. If these projects can replicate Mondragon’s success, they may become important drivers of an equitable economy in the United States.

In June 2014, Angela Glover Blackwell, Anita Hairston, and Chris Schildt from PolicyLink traveled to Bilbao, Spain, to participate in a German Marshall Fund summit on urban transformation, and visited Mondragon Corporation headquarters in Gipuzkoa Province, Spain. To learn more about the German Marshall Fund summit, read this blog post.

The Benefits of Paid Sick Days: What’s Good for Workers is Good for Businesses

In 2011, Connecticut became the first state to require workers to be able to earn paid sick leave. For many part-time workers, especially in industries like retail and hospitality, it was their first opportunity ever to earn paid sick leave. Though opponents to the law claimed that it would negatively impact business in the state, an evaluation of the law to date by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, however, found the opposite to be true. Not only was the impact on business minimal, employment actually rose in several sectors, including hospitality and health services, again proving that what is good for workers is good for businesses.

The need for basic work supports, like paid sick leave, was a cornerstone of the White House Summit on Working Families last week. The Summit brought together advocates, business leaders, elected officials and workers to focus on ways to help support working families. As part of the Summit, several business leaders testified to how providing work supports not only helped increase productivity and returns, their businesses also thrived and expanded. Ranging from large, multi-national corporations to small, local restaurants, providing paid time off and flexible work schedules improved staff morale and productivity and also helped business growth.

Moreover, these basic work supports are being offered by small businesses and industries that are in highly-competitive and predominantly low-wage industries. In Seattle, Plum Bistro Restaurant led the successful effort to increase the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour. A member of the Main Street Alliance, a network of small business owners, Plum Bistro’s owner stated that while offering paid sick days costs only pennies per plate, the costs are more than made up for by improved retention, higher employee morale and increase customer satisfaction.  Costco uses a model counter to most retailers and pays living wages and provides paid benefits to all its employees. Not only do its profits steadily grow, Costco has a remarkably low turnover employee turnover rate--only 5 percent for employees who have been there over a year leave.

Currently, 41 million people do not have access to paid sick leave. Women and people of color are overrepresented in industries that do not offer paid sick leave. African American and Latino workers, in general, are far more likely to not have access to paid sick days than white workers. While businesses would see little to no impact on their bottom line, offering paid sick leave is the number one policy women living in poverty or right on the edge say would give them a leg up, even more than a wage increase or other benefits.

Giving workers the ability to earn paid sick leave is more than the right thing to do, it’s a smart business move that underscores how what’s good for workers is good for the economy.

Collective Courage: Jessica Gordon Nembhard on Black Economic Solidarity

Worker cooperatives and other cooperative enterprises can spur neighborhood revitalization and equitable, sustainable growth. That's because they create meaningful jobs and build community wealth while grooming local leaders and inspiring democratic participation. So argues scholar and activist Jessica Gordon Nembhard, whose new book, Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice, reveals the rich, hidden history of African American cooperatives. The 30,000 co-ops in the United States today have helped create 2.1 million jobs and contributed more than $150 billion to our total income, according to a study from the University of Wisconsin. In an interview with America's Tomorrow, Gordon Nembhard explains how the lessons of the past can foster an even stronger, more inclusive cooperative movement.

Let's start with basics: what is a cooperative?

It's an enterprise, a business model, based on a set of values and principles that are grounded in economic democratic participation. It's about supplying and supporting economic activity based on need, not based on profit, and about building assets that will stay in the community, because it is owned by the community.

How can co-ops advance community revitalization and build a stronger economy?

Cooperatives address problems created by market failures, discrimination, and underdevelopment. They help people collectively to get the goods and services they need that they can't get anywhere else or that they can get only under inferior conditions. For example, many African Americans started credit unions because banks wouldn't serve them or charged unfairly high interest rates. Co-ops are a way for groups that have faced discrimination to gain some amount of economic stability, and from there you are in a much stronger position to gain political and civil rights. Fannie Lou Hammer said you can't have civil rights if you don't have economic independence, and that's still true today.

The biggest problem is that people don't know enough about this model. We're all brought up to operate as individuals and to compete individually. But the problems we face are too big to solve individually. Cooperatives are a way for people to come together, to pool together what they do have to get something for their community, for themselves and their families. You get all these interlocking benefits, more dignity of work, more connection to the community, social and human capital development, in addition to a viable business that is stabilizing a community.

How far back can African American co-ops be traced?

I began my research by reading W.E.B Du Bois. He wrote a book in 1907, Economic Cooperation among Negro Americans. He starts reporting about enslaved people working together to save enough money to buy somebody out of slavery, or to do a community garden so that they all can get some extra vegetables and fresh food to eat. And the roots of collective action and pooling of resources go back even further. Every society, every group in the world through history has used some form of economic cooperation. To say it came only from a European tradition, which I sometimes hear, is unfair and untrue.

But what is true is that this work — actually doing alternative economics in black and other communities — was always very dangerous work, which is why I titled this book "Collective Courage." I've documented how there was physical violence and many times there was economic sabotage against these businesses. I often found instances of people getting killed, co-ops being burned down, commercial banks not lending or providing financial services to these businesses.

You describe hundreds of fascinating examples of African American cooperative activity through the centuries.

Right. I thought this book would take two years and I'd find maybe 10 examples. Fifteen years and hundreds of examples later, I'm still finding new information. I didn't expect that I would find such a rich history of African American cooperatives and cooperative activity, from slavery times to today. And I found that in each of these periods, there were black organizations that were deliberately promoting co-ops. So in the 1880s it was integrated unions, like the Knights of Labor, and black organizations like the Colored Farmers' National Alliance and Co-operative Union. In the 1930s and 40s it was the Young Negroes Cooperative League — which had Ella Jo Baker as the executive director — and the Ladies Auxiliary to the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, led by Halena Wilson, with support from A. Philip Randolph. And then in the 1960s and 70s, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Black Panther Party started cooperatives; and the major civil rights organizations created the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, which is still around today promoting cooperative development in the South.

In each of these periods, having strong black organizations that were deliberately doing co-ops seems to have really made a difference. And today, we have a resurgence of cooperatives, especially worker cooperatives, among immigrant communities, young people, and people of color. And again, this is being led by strong organizations, like the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives, which I helped to start 10 years ago. People also start cooperatives during bad economic times, such as during the Great Depression and during the Great Recession.

What surprised you the most in doing this research?

One of the biggest surprises for me was how many black leaders were actually talking about and creating co-ops, but that's not what they were famous for. W.E.B Du Bois, A. Philip Randolph, Marcus Garvey, Ella Jo Baker, and others all spoke or wrote about, and were involved in black cooperatives and democratic ownership. African American cooperatives grew side by side with the European American cooperative movement, and grew side by side with the long civil rights movement.

Ten years ago, I'd go to co-op gatherings and find very few black people in the room. Urban African Americans felt like the co-op movement had nothing to offer them and was not relevant to them. I still get people who tell me that blacks don't have this tradition, that this is not an indigenous model. Part of my work is to remind African Americans of our long and strong history of cooperative economic activity. And once they hear some of the examples I've researched, people start to realize that this is in their own family history, and start sending me stories of their aunts or grandparents who were involved in a co-op.

Tell us about a cooperative that's around today.

One of my favorite examples is about a 25-year-old co-op, Cooperative Home Care Associates in the South Bronx. It was started by a nonprofit with the purpose of giving low-skilled women, mostly black and Latina women, much better jobs. There are over 1,000 worker-owners today, and they provide themselves with health care, good pay, a matched savings programs, and annual dividends. They really galvanized the home care industry throughout the city to get better wages for everybody and to provide better training and job-ladder support.

What's needed to advance cooperative development?

First is education. We really need more people to just understand the option, understand the model. We need to be teaching it to kids in middle school and high school. Second, we need more financing, especially if we want to do co-ops with low-income people. We need bridge loans, start-up funds, and grants; we have to educate and interest the funding community, whether it's foundations or municipalities or workforce development programs. Third, what we need is strong, uniform co-op laws. Some states have great co-op laws. Some states have none. For example, you can't license a worker co-op through Mississippi state law. We need to fix that.

What's next for you?

My book came out less than a month ago, but I have many more stories and materials that didn't fit in the first volume, and I am learning more every day. So I'm working on volume two.

To learn more about starting or supporting cooperatives in your community, go to the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives , the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, and Grassroots Economic Organizing Newsletter.

Read the rest of the May 7, 2014 America’s Tomorrow: Equity is the Superior Growth Model issue.

Fast Food Nation: Why Higher Wages for Workers Benefit Us All

From New York to San Diego, thousands of fast food workers have gone on strike for higher wages and the right to form unions. Roughly three million people – disproportionately people of color – work in fast food, earning a median wage of $8.94 an hour. Better pay would not only benefit them and their families; it also would strengthen the U.S. economy. Here's why:

  1. Increase consumer spending. Every $1 increase in the minimum wage increases a household's consumer spending by $2,800 a year, estimates the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank. Multiply that by three million fast food workers, and the nation would see tens of billions of dollars in new consumer spending.
  2. Create better-paying jobs in low-income neighborhoods. Fast food establishments tend to cluster in low-income neighborhoods where there are few other employment options, including in poor suburbs. Raising wages for fast food workers would provide better employment opportunities, helping to revitalize neighborhoods while we continue to work to improve food choices in these communities.
  3. Reduce strain on our public assistance programs. Restaurant workers, including fast food workers, are on public assistance programs like food stamps at twice the rate of the rest of the U.S. workforce, according to Saru Jayaraman from Restaurant Opportunities Centers United. More than 80 percent of fast food workers earn less than $10.10 an hour, or $18,500 per year, which means they are eligible for food stamps if they're in a family of two or more. Raising the wage would allow our public dollars to go towards necessary investments in infrastructure and education, not subsidizing employers for low-wage jobs. 
  4. Raise the floor for all. Higher wages for fast food workers would put upward pressure on other low-wage industries that hire from a similar pool of workers, like other restaurant work and retail. Restaurant, retail, and service occupations are projected to have the largest employment growth in the economy, and even though many who work in these occupations have some college education, these are among the few jobs that do not require a high school diploma. Raising the floor for these jobs is an essential step towards rebuilding a middle-class economy.
  5. Create better opportunities for the next generation. More than one in four fast food workers struggle to support at least one child. Research from the Partnership for America's Economic Success shows that an increase in household income to 150 percent of the poverty line (roughly $14/hour) during early childhood can lead to increased earnings – by as much as $200,000 over his or her lifetime.