There is growing recognition that New York will need to build a more inclusive economy. But what exactly should the next mayor and the next administration in Washington do to get us there? Check out below for nine concrete ideas that came up during CUF’s October 27th policy forum, titled “Building an Opportunity Agenda for America’s Cities”.
You can also watch a video of our forum, which was generously supported by Fisher Brothers and Winston C. Fisher and featured Gary Cunningham of Prosperity Now; Joseph Parilla of Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program; Sarah Treuhaft of PolicyLink; and Winston C. Fisher, co-author of The Opportunity Agenda: A Bold Democratic Plan to Grow the Middle.
The following are nine policy ideas that came out of our discussion, some of which will need federal action but others where New York policymakers can take the lead.
- Create a service corps like Birmingham’s “BhamStrong.”
Joseph Parilla says that cities should follow the lead of Birmingham’s BhamStrong initiative, “A local service corps that deploys recently unemployed residents to meet short-term community needs.” Programs like this, he says, not only connect out-of-work residents with jobs, but help them gain skills and transition to better jobs, like “training to be community health coaches or digital health coaches.”
- Mobilize the corporate community to help scale up minority-owned businesses through models like Cincinnati’s Minority Business Accelerator.
Sarah Treuhaft suggests that cities emulate Cincinnati's Minority Business Accelerator, an initiative of the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce that helps dozens of businesses owned by people of color to scale up. Crucially, the program taps the city’s corporate sector to provide resources and drive spending that can help existing minority-owned businesses to grow, including everything from business advising to supply chain spending.
- Close the racial wealth gap by investing in baby bonds.
Gary Cunningham argues that next administration in Washington should make a major investment in baby bonds as a way of helping to close the racial wealth gap. Government would set up a savings account for every newborn in families under a certain income threshold, with the money growing—through interest and additional contributions—until the child turns 18. “When they get to 18, they can make some investments in their future. They can go to college because somebody is invested in them. They can buy a house because we know that they would never have the capital to buy a house unless there's some other mechanism. They can start a business.” New York City already has a such a model—NYC Kids RISE—that is ripe for expansion. Its Save for College program has provided up to $275 into a 529 account for nearly every kindergarten student in School District 30 in Queens.
- Help freelance and gig workers gain financial security by establishing portable benefits programs.
Winston Fisher suggested that cities and states look to Oregon’s universal portable benefits program as a model for enhancing financial security for the growing number of gig economy workers and freelancers, too many of whom are working without benefits. Portable benefits are benefits—like healthcare, retirement, worker’s comp, and paid parental leave—that are not tied to a specific job but rather the worker themselves. “Portable benefits would actually create a strategic advantage over other places. It's not creating one program, it's creating an ecosystem . . . for low-wage and gig economy workers to thrive so that they can get that safety net that really only exists for people working at big companies.”
- Retool economic development organizations to focus on inclusive growth, following the path of San Diego’s ConnectAll program.
Parilla argued that building a more inclusive economy requires more leadership from local economic development organizations. He said they should follow the lead of San Diego’s Connect All program and transition from a purely economic development focus to one that is grounded in inclusive growth. “Connect was founded in the 1980s to help transition San Diego from a military-driven economy to one that now is powered by life sciences and technology. Like a lot of tech ecosystems, it was fundamentally driven by men and particularly white men. And none of the benefit of that innovation economy was being broadly felt by San Diego's primarily Latino community,” he says. According to Parilla, the organization’s leaders—including prominent tech CEOs—wisely set out to change this, recognizing that the region’s future workforce was increasingly Latino. “So they created ConnectAll, an accelerator that is about finding and scaling minority-owned businesses and [investing in] digital skills training. That is the type of coalition that it's going to take to start to address the problems that we're talking about today.”
- Boost minority-owned businesses with increased city support for CDFIs and significant new federal spending on small businesses.
“Before the COVID crisis, the federal government spent about $4 billion on small businesses in this country. That's enough to buy one nuclear submarine,” said Cunningham. “We need to quadruple that, and make sure that that money is getting to businesses of color. We're going to have to make the critical investments that have left people of color behind, particularly in access to capital for minority businesses.” Locally, Cunningham argues that city officials can help by boosting financial support for CDFIs, which he said have the strongest track record of helping minority-owned businesses but which lack sufficient funds to meet the demand for technical assistance or microlending. He said cities and states can get more capital into these vital organizations through municipal bonds. “We really need to build the ecosystem of support for CDFIs and strengthen those in New York across the board. We need to build on that network because many CDFIs suffer from the same issues that their clients do, which is access to capital. And each one is shopping for capital independently. The city could put up a bond.”
- Center equity in city policymaking with tools like Seattle’s Racial Equity Toolkit.
Treuhaft suggests that, rather than viewing equity as an isolated issue, cities should follow the model set forth by Seattle’s Racial Equity Toolkit and center racial equity in every aspect of policymaking. “All of the city's policies are analyzed through the lens of equity: Who is going to be impacted, what are the root causes, what are the structural barriers, where is systemic racism showing up? And then changing and adapting policies accordingly.” Among other results, since implementing the toolkit, Seattle has tripled the amount of contracting dollars going to minority-owned businesses.
- Enact universal child care.
Fisher urged the next administration in Washington to make a big new commitment to universal child care. “Access to affordable childcare is one of the greatest taxes on families. The average cost of early childhood care is $12,000 to $13,000 a year, much more in New York. People drop out [of the workforce], they can't afford it. What that does to lifetime earnings is traumatic,” says Fisher. A universal childcare program would be a major relief for working- and middle-class families, and expand economic opportunities for women, on whom the burden of childcare typically falls.
- Create a federal jobs guarantee.
Treuhaft suggests that the federal government embrace a federal jobs guarantee, which would guarantee unemployed Americans a job, whether in infrastructure, caregiving, community development, or another area where their labor would produce public benefits. She says it would “ensure that everyone who wants a job can have one [with] a living-wage income and it would dramatically change the quality of work.”
Check out CUF’s other forums exploring how to plan for an economic recovery in New York: "Relaunching NYC’s Economy: What Industries Are Poised to Lead the Recovery?;" “Ensuring an Inclusive Economic Recovery in NYC;” and "Planning for a Recovery: Restarting New York City’s Economy in the Wake of the Coronavirus Pandemic.”
This symposium is made possible through generous support from Fisher Brothers and Winston C. Fisher. We are also grateful for general support from The Clark Foundation and the Bernard F. and Alva B. Gimbel Foundation, and ongoing support from a number of other philanthropic funders.
CUF’s Jonathan Bowles moderated the forum, which included the following panelists:
- Gary Cunningham, President & CEO, Prosperity Now
- Winston C. Fisher, Co-Author, The Opportunity Agenda: A Bold Democratic Plan to Grow the Middle Class; Partner, Fisher Brothers & CEO, AREA15
- Joseph Parilla, Fellow, Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program
- Sarah Treuhaft, Vice President of Research, PolicyLink
A video of the full discussion is available here.