Improving economic mobility for millions of Americans will require changing the narrative, creating access to good jobs, ensuring that ZIP codes are not destiny, and transforming the use of data, a report from the US Partnership on Mobility from Poverty argues.
Launched in 2016 with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and staffed and supported by the Urban Institute, the partnership was tasked with answering the question: "What would it take to dramatically increase mobility from poverty?" The report, Restoring the American Dream: What Would It Take to Dramatically Increase Mobility From Poverty? (22 pages, PDF), found that the changing nature of work, stagnating wages, and increasing wage disparities are limiting Americans' chances of earning more than their parents did. The report also found that a child who grows up in a low-opportunity neighborhood can expect to earn up to 40 percent less than if s/he grew up in a high-opportunity neighborhood; that historical legacies and structural biases continue to limit upward mobility for people of color, women, and immigrants; and that the poor in America are isolated and stigmatized.
The report offers a definition of mobility comprising three core principles — economic success, power and autonomy, and being valued in the community. Based on discussions with residents of more than thirty urban, suburban, rural, and tribal communities, as well as experts, policy makers, advocates, and social entrepreneurs, the study recommends a framework of five interconnected strategies to address all three principles, including supporting efforts to dispel myths that dehumanize the poor, exposing structural factors that contribute to poverty, working with new partners to reshape the narrative of poverty, establishing policies aimed at improving the quality of education and skills training programs, upgrading low-wage jobs, and ensuring the portability of benefits.
"A key insight from our deliberations and from discussions with urban, suburban, rural, and tribal communities is the need to rethink how we define mobility from poverty, and therefore, how we measure success," said Nisha Patel, executive director of the US Partnership on Mobility from Poverty. "Economic success is, of course, fundamental. But power and autonomy, having a sense of agency and a say over the trajectory of your life, and being valued in community — or belonging — are as important. If governments and philanthropies demand outcomes across these principles, in addition to traditional economic measures like income and assets, it could create a seismic, positive shift in policies and programs to create access to the American dream."