Report: Seven ways county governments play a key role in equalizing economic mobility
Among the most fundamental tenants of Americanism is the belief that anyone can achieve success—the “American Dream”—through hard work and stick-to-itiveness. But in a country often divided along the lines of race, gender and class, institutional barriers prevent many constituents from achieving that goal.
In this endeavor, county governments can play a key role making sure everyone has an equal opportunity to climb the economic ladder, according to a new report, County Levers to Drive Economic Mobility, published by the National Association of Counties.
“Counties have a vested interest in the economic well-being of our residents,” said Matthew Chase, the association’s executive director in a statement. “County leaders across the country are pursuing innovative approaches to create economic opportunities and support the upward economic mobility of our residents.”
The report outlines seven important ways that county governments can support economic mobility, or the ability for people to move in status up or down on the economic ladder over a lifetime or across generations. Those seven areas are housing, education and workforce development, health, community and neighborhood development, justice and public safety, access to technology and information, and financial security, according to a brief about the report from the county association.
“In the United States, the concept of economic mobility centers around the ideal that each generation can do better than the last. Local conditions, community characteristics and even power and autonomy can affect opportunities for individuals’ long-term economic success; these aspects can be shaped by local policies,” the report says, noting, “economic mobility is a highly local, connective and relational issue. Because counties have power and authority to impact factors and conditions that influence long-term economic outcomes and boost upward mobility, county leaders can benefit from a comprehensive understanding of economic mobility and the intersections of related issues.”
Through case studies of more than a dozen counties across the United States, the report details various ways in which county governments are actively leveling the playing field for those most vulnerable by investing in critical human services programs, passing policy resolutions or ordinances, and forming impactful partnerships, the brief says.
In Florida’s third-largest county, Palm Beach County, local leaders launched the Securing Our Future Initiative, a collaborative aimed at reducing poverty and creating “pathways to economic mobility for families with children living below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. The county also created an Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to ensure that all county programs are equitable,” the brief says.
Elsewhere, in Erie County, Pa., administrators manage a program that helps attract and establish private and nonprofit community organizations—supporting business development through features that include “a data dashboard showcasing the county’s economic indicators, access to resources and connections to foster development and low-interest financing options.” And in Mobile County, Ala., a coalition of organizations and local governments provide financial education and resources to underserved residents, helping them achieve financial stability.
“The report finds that neighborhoods with high upward mobility levels possess common characteristics, such as less residential segregation, lower rates of inequality by income and race, lower violent crime rates, better educational opportunities, and access to well-paying jobs,” the brief says.
Promoting economic mobility requires a comprehensive approach to community development because social needs are interconnected.
“Without safe and affordable housing,” for example, “businesses are less likely to attract workers, hindering the economic well-being of the community,” the report says. “Children who have access to stable and affordable housing have a healthy cognitive development, and families gain access to improved educational opportunities, well-paying jobs, workforce training and resources to improve their financial well-being.”
And a robust education system is “a key element to success as it helps break the cycle of poverty and inequality and fosters mobility in current and future generations.”
In the effort to bring about equality through economic mobility, the report highlights that “Counties and county leaders are uniquely positioned as changemakers through local authorities and duties to have a direct impact on each of these and more. Economic mobility is a highly local, connective and relational issue.”
The complete report can be found the National Association of Counties’ website.