Are Cities Rising - or Falling - to Meet the Equity Imperative?
By 2045, the United States population will be majority-minority. Children under five have already seen this milestone in their classrooms, and working adults will see this change in their workplace by 2039. Income and wealth gaps across the nation continue to widen by every statistical measure, impacting households of color by greater proportions. Unfortunately, one’s race and income-level has become the best predictors of quality of life, health, education, and employment.
These demographic and economic shifts have major implications on economic growth and development. These implications are particularly important to discuss in communities where the impacts of segregation are still startlingly clear in the stark difference in the experience of white residents, as opposed to residents of color. In their quest toward economic competitiveness, studies have shown that cities, regions, and countries that are addressing inequities across lines of race and income can experience long-term economic success and prosperity.
In their quest toward economic competitiveness, studies have shown that cities, regions, and countries that are addressing inequities across lines of race and income can experience long-term economic success and prosperity.
In our work with clients and in conversations with colleagues, there is a common sentiment and frustration: equity is an imperative. And yet, action, implementation, and evaluation are as complex as the issue itself. At Fourth Economy, we use our Community Index to gauge vitality and diversity at a regional level. However, we know we can do more to understand and address this imperative with a more targeted approach.
To continue learning about the most effective approaches, we’ve begun compiling a list of the nation’s 100 largest cities and analyzing their efforts centered around equitable economic development. Though equity efforts are hard to separate from other economic development and diversity initiatives, we’ve found that of the 100 cities, less than a quarter have created a plan, set explicit goals, established an office, and/or dedicated a public initiative toward advancing equity. Even fewer have determined a process - either a dashboard or common metrics - to evaluate their progress and impact.
Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing our findings on varying approaches, national partners in support of this work, shared metrics, and more. In the meantime, below is a framework to help analyze how cities are approaching the equity imperative.
A note on language and definitions: there are many ways to define and talk about this work. At Fourth Economy, our vision is that the economy should serve the people. From our perspective, the biggest goal of equitable economic development is to make sure that individuals are both benefactors and beneficiaries of community and economic development initiatives.
As we talk about this mission at Fourth Economy, we decided that “equity” best captured the rebalancing of systemic inequalities and disproportionate investment. We also discuss “development” as opposed to “growth” because of the one-dimensional implications of growth. “Development” is more strongly attached to our values of progress and innovation, rather than a mere expansion or increase in numbers.