Rising Inequity and Local Solutions

In this 2014 file photo, people walk on the SUNY campus of the University at Albany, in Albany, N.Y.

In this 2014 file photo, people walk on the SUNY campus of the University at Albany, in Albany, N.Y. AP Photo

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

COMMENTARY | With programs to provide free college tuition for middle-class students to training workers for climate change-related jobs, state and local governments are looking to reduce inequality.

Inequality in America has climbed steadily since the Nixon administration. Americans of different races, ethnicities, educational attainment, and incomes experience sharply different outcomes in the job market, health status, and the opportunities they can shape for their children.

This is a familiar, if lamentable, story, and one very likely to worsen in the short term as wages continue to stagnate, recent changes in tax policy reward capital over labor, and millions more Americans slip out of health care coverage. But states and cities are coming up with strategies to reduce social inequities in their own backyard, without having to involve the federal government at all.

At the National Academy of Public Administration Social Equity Leadership conference, held at Baruch College’s Marxe School of Public and International Affairs in June, we found some surprisingly robust and promising practices ripe for application all over the United States. Here are just three of the most impressive practices that caught our attention:

  • Seeing opportunity in climate change for workforce development. At one level, climate change, in particular rising ocean levels and more frequent, dramatic storms, constitute an existential threat to coastal cities. But, as New York City Deputy Mayor J. Phillip Thompson observed, climate change is also going to be a consistent generator of jobs over the next century. Many of these jobs will be in construction and retrofitting, providing solid middle-income opportunities for less educated workers, as well as somewhat higher salaries for engineers trained in resilience technologies. To offer one example of an emerging job title, there is a new cadre of building managers who manage complex energy balancing systems in their buildings. New York City has teamed with NGOs, community colleges and unions to create the workforce that will not only, literally, stem the tides, but create a new, more sustainable and accessible city in the process.
     
  • Free college for the middle class. New York State and Tennessee have recently launched successful, “last-dollar” programs to send the sons and daughters of the middle class to college with tuition entirely subsidized by the state. Jim Malatras, president of the Rockefeller Institute at SUNY Albany, explained how Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Excelsior Scholarship program significantly addresses inequities in higher education by subsidizing middle income groups who earn too much to qualify for Pell grants or the state’s Tuition Assistance Program, (TAP) but lack the family resources necessary to pay undiscounted tuitions outright. The program has proven enormously popular and by next year will provide a path for free tuition at a state-supported institution for every New Yorker with a family income of $125,000 or less.
     
  • Measuring what you care about. This nostrum of public management – what’s measured is what matters – has been difficult to apply to equity issues, given the wide range of factors involved in considerations of equity and the interactions among multiple factors, such as housing, education, and contact with the criminal justice system. The CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance’s (ISLG) Social Equity Indicators project seeks to fill the void by working directly with local officials to create robust equity indices specific to their localities. In addition to ISLG’s Victoria Lawson, we heard from public officials in Pittsburgh, Tulsa, St. Louis and Dallas who are using Equality Indicators to address both individual problems and the intersections of inequality along many dimensions. Said one, “Even if the numbers are not where you want them to be, when you have the data, you can begin to make change.”

A consistent theme across these three areas and, indeed, throughout the entire two days of the conference, is the importance of multiple constituencies and robust, adaptable networks to any sustainable attempt to address social inequities. Government should always be a partner and a catalyst, but critical capacity and competency may also come from the nonprofit sector, the university community, labor organizations, or the private sector.

Bruce Katz, in a keynote address leading the conference, observed that the ability of cross-jurisdictional coalitions to aggregate and deploy financial assets will be the sine qua non of successful cities not only in the future, but right now. He points to the successes of cities such as Indianapolis and Pittsburgh in replacing a dead or dying manufacturing base with new initiatives, unfolding over decades, in health care, informatics, conference services and other areas. Their success makes manifest the critical transitions in skillset and mindsets from government to governance: collaborative, multi-sectoral, results-oriented, and deeply engaged with citizens at every level and every stage of the process of recrafting their cities for a more robust, equitable future.

NAPA has cared deeply about equity since its inception and established its Standing Panel on Social Equity nearly two decades ago. “Governance” has been in the Academy’s charter from the beginning as well, and today merits special attention as we assist governments and civic partners working closest to the people we serve to achieve the vital goals of social equity.

The national conversation can sometimes be highly politicized and repetitive, rendering real progress elusive. But there is more than enough hope in our states and localities to provide the solid evidence of success on the ground, working across the aisle as well as across sectors, to make us optimistic about our prospects. As concluding keynoter and immigrant leader Cristina Jimenez, executive director and co-founder of United We Dream, observed, “I know, because all of us truly believe in the power of a multiracial, inclusive democracy, where people like me cannot just survive, but thrive, [that] we will get there. I am certain.” Inspired by the demonstrated successes we saw at the Social Equity Leadership Conference last month, this is a certainty we share.

Teresa Gerton is President and CEO of the National Academy of Public Administration. David Birdsell is Dean of the Austin W. Marxe School of Public and International Affairs.

NEXT STORY: California’s ‘Sanctuary State’ Laws Withstand Federal Suit

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.