The Problems & Progressive Local Solutions
Federal grid lock makes it incumbent upon local government to provide leadership and a path forward to economic equality. Promoting economic equality is also essential in order to rectify the historical marginalization of minority populations.
Local progressive programs for combating economic inequality focus on investing in equitable economic development, providing security for working families, and ensuring ample opportunities for future generations. Creating economic equality depends on holistic growth that requires local value capture mechanisms, investments in education and innovation, and leveraging the economic benefits of anchor institutions in the community.
Available Local Levers & Targets of Reforms
Striving toward local economic equality is a project that requires municipal coordination. Leadership from elected representatives can set the agenda, but coordination across departments is necessary for successful implementation. Houston, TX, for example, committed to a master plan called Rising Together following the flood devastation of Hurricane Harvey, which took the recovery efforts as an opportunity to increase economic equality and reimagine the city’s future.
There is no “one-size-fits-all” plan for increasing economic equality. Local governments must be attuned to the needs of the community. The Mayor’s Innovation Project provides excellent resources on how to compile an asset map of local economies that surveys the available resources. To ensure investments actually promote economic equality, municipalities and counties should ensure that contract workers are paid a living wage and that development projects are not used simply as a channel for corporate subsidies. When connected to local education and individual communities, such efforts can have a sustained positive impact on levels of economic equality.
Current Reforms & Tools to Fight for Them
After drafting an asset map, local governments can use it to design an economic development strategy that promotes equitable growth, and the ProGov21 database offers a wealth of resources and case studies that can help in this task. The Houston Rising Together plan mentioned above provides a useful example, and on ProGov21 you can find an excellent review of it by the Kinder Institute. The Twin Cities Region equitable development plan provides an excellent model of equitable development which creates a unified development plan for the cities, suburbs, and rural counties in the area. In Portland, OR, the city decided on a five-year development plan that took a neighborhood by neighborhood approach. Additional resources on ProGov21 include the National League of Cities guide to elected official’s role in economic development and PolicyLink’s guide to local equitable growth.
To promote equitable development it is also important to secure smart local investment in innovative industries which can provide good jobs well into the future. An Example of such an initiative is found in San Antonio’s clean-tech cluster development strategy. Additional resources include Brookings guide to data driven economic growth through Metropolitan Business Plans, the Center for an Urban Future innovation guide, Living Cities guide to embedding innovation in local government, and the Partnership for Working Families report on ensuring local neighborhood capture during economic development projects.
When designing an economic equity program, local government should focus on building around existing anchor institutions. ProGov21 offers numerous resources on leveraging the benefits of anchor institutions, including the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities’ guide to using Urban Universities for economic development, UPenn and Mayor’s Innovation Network study on the economic impact of UPenn on Philadelphia, the Democracy Collaborative guides on the use of anchor institutions for job creation as well as improving outcomes for children and families.
While a well-designed development strategy is necessary for increasing economic equality, it is not a sufficient condition. To ensure working families benefit from development efforts, local governments must set wage and benefits floors and promote labor rights. ProGov21 offers useful policy roadmaps on wages and benefits and job quality for this purpose. Our database includes detailed resources for generating a living wage policy such as NELP’s model law, and concrete examples from Los Angeles and Minneapolis. The UC Berkeley Labor Center has produced another useful guide on calculating the impact of a living wage law.
To improve economic equality, it is also necessary to provide working families with access to affordable healthcare and housing solutions. ProGov21 provides roadmaps to both healthcare and housing. Examples of cities that have extended their successful their living wage ordinances to include healthcare and benefits such as paid sick days include Chicago, New York City, and Seattle.
Taking it to the Next Level
While much has been done by local governments to promote a more equitable economic future, there is still much work ahead. In particular, local economic equality programs must address the problems marginalization and discrimination that still persist across the nation.
The ProGov21 database has excellent resources and case-studies of local governments’ efforts to combat economic discrimination. Boston’s Neighborhood Jobs Trust, for example, was created in the 1980s to ensure that development generated training and jobs for the cities low-income residents. Other examples include first source local hiring in Palo Alto, CA, and the Shared Prosperity Plan in Philadelphia, PA. The National League of Cities and NELP also offer a useful guide to local hiring plans for citizens with a criminal record.
To combat the historical exclusion of minorities from construction trades, the UCLA Labor Center offers a useful guide on targeted hiring in construction. Similarly, Local Progress provide a guide for ensuring racial equality in public contracting. The Partnership for Working Families and the Community Benefit Law Center created a guide on developing Community Development Agreements (CBAs) for economic projects, and LAANE also has a wealth of materials on the topic. UCLA and the Mayors Innovation Project offer a useful infographic explaining Project Labor Agreements (PLAs), and Los Angeles provides a useful example of an ordinance requiring PLAs to focus on hiring of under-and-unemployed.
Helpers & Allies
- The National League of Cities has a wealth of smart growth resources for cities.
- The Mayor’s Innovation Project, a network of progressive mayors from across the nation, offers excellent information on designing an equitable growth plan.
- Democracy Collaborative is a national initiative working to promote equitable, inclusive and sustainable development through community wealth-building and democratizing the economy.
- PolicyLink is an excellent source for solutions and methods to increase urban equality.
- Partnership for Working Families fights for progressive solutions to urban governance.
- UCLA Labor Center has great resources on government contracting and equity.
- LAANE has excellent resources on community benefits agreements.