Economic Equity Agenda Needed to Revive the American Dream for All

Sep 28, 2020 | News, Newsletter

David J. Robinson
The Montrose Group, LLC



2020 has been a disaster.  COVID 19 not only infected millions of American and likely will kill a couple hundred thousand more but, triggered by police misconduct, a surge of legitimate protests along with unwarranted violence lead to the destruction of neighborhoods and property across the United States.  The economic challenge for many communities even before COVID 19 illustrated a clear line between winners and losers.  In Franklin County, Ohio, home to mid-sized urban market winner Columbus, before the large negative impact of COVID 19 the county’s overall poverty rate was 16.7%, 29.9% for African Americans, and 25% for children.  Rural America has been struggling as they lose population and battle opioid addiction.  Public officials, economic development and private sector business and development leaders are searching for ways to address legitimate claims that the American Dream does not seem achievable by a share of the nation. 

The focus on reviving the American Dream needs to center on the development of economic equity.  Economic equity is not about government mandated equality based upon a disproved socialist notion that failed in Eastern Europe, former Soviet Union and China prior to their age of economic enlightenment.  Economic equity is not just a new set of government programs.  The Great Society launched government programs reaching middle age now that have obviously not brought economic equity.  Finally, economic equity is not just an issue for cities but applies to rural communities as well.

Economic equity is about opportunity for everyone.  It is not given but should be taken.  It requires engaged citizens and government incentives or subsidies that create social and economic opportunity.  Economic equity is impacted by decades of racism and public policy decisions that followed the market to high-wealth communities.  Economic equity is the opportunity to gain an education, build work and life experiences, develop a career that leads to work with a living wage that funds raising of a family, owning a home and being personally fulfilled.  Finally, no one has economic opportunity living in either a neighborhood riddled with violent crime or in a police state where the rights of the innocent are trampled.  The goal of economic equity programs is to address poverty rates and provide additional support to incentivize private sector job creation to distressed communities. 

An economic equity agenda centers on four key pillars: develop quality Missing Middle market rate housing; create job centers; connect skilled workers to these job centers; and promote innovation and small business creation all of which should create private sector jobs with a living wage.  The Missing Middle market rate housing is as much as about design and zoning as it is about tax incentives designed to support the development of workforce housing smaller in size but higher in quality.  Tax incentives from abatements to tax increment financing to state grants all impact the availability of Missing Middle housing.  Developing industrial job centers through urban industrial park development, where they likely once were, is a second critical step to recruiting companies in the logistics and manufacturing industry back to the cities.  Building industry-based workforce development programs is a critical tool for local economic development leaders and private industry to increase the education and skill level of the unemployed and underemployed in our urban centers.  Finally, fostering a merchant class in our cities poorest neighborhoods through the use of business incubators to support the startup and survival of small business is an important aspect of addressing poverty in our cities.   

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