The Dual Reality of Economic Recovery in Cities

This post was co-written by Emily Robbins.

This is the first post in a series about NLC’s new economic analysis, Cities and Unequal Recovery, which reveals ways that cities can support and accelerate inclusive economic growth.

To better understand the specific, local-level impacts of unequal recovery and the policy implications for city leaders, we conducted the Local Economic Conditions Survey 2015. Cities and Unequal Recovery analyzes that survey and offers a place-based perspective on economic recovery from the unique vantage point of those who are held most accountable for prosperity and equity in cities: chief elected officials.

Here’s what we found:

At the local level, most cities experienced either greatly improved or slightly improved conditions.New businesses and business expansions are widespread in cities, however, labor force challenges threaten to stymie this business growth.The trend of increased home values is great news for local property tax rolls and for existing property owners, but bad news for the growing number of individuals that are currently priced out of the housing market.The widening income inequality in cities is striking, and underscores the fact that local economic recovery is not taking root across the entire socioeconomic spectrum.While comebacks in key business sectors and property markets are stabilizing local economies, rising tides do not lift all boats. As cities continue to attract more residents and businesses, they are faced with the challenge of ensuring that the benefits of growth reach everyone in the community. This new local economic reality must be matched with strategies to address inequality not only as a deeply concerning social problem, but an economic one as well.

About the Authors:

christy-mcfarlandChristiana K. McFarland is NLC’s Research Director. Follow Christy on Twitter at @ckmcfarland.

Robbins_small (2)Emily Robbins is the Senior Associate of Finance and Economic Development at NLC. Follow Emily on Twitter: @robbins617.

Better Outcomes Through Data-Sharing: San Francisco’s Shared Youth Database

Do we really know our kids well enough to serve them well? If not, how do we build local partnerships and systems that make it possible to share sensitive and confidential information about young people while still protecting the privacy rights of parents and children?

troubled teen(Dobok/Getty Images)

Over the course of four decades working to keep young people safe and helping them to thrive, I’ve learned that nothing is more important than seeing the entire picture.

If a child is disruptive in school, her teachers and the school social worker may only know that the child has a discipline problem that needs to be addressed. They may not know that she suffered abuse at the hands of an “uncle” for several years (information held by child protective services), that her father is in prison (information held by the court or probation), or that her brother was shot on the street a few weeks earlier (information held by the police).

nutter-pull-quoteSimilarly, if a youth is charged with a juvenile offense, her probation officer may see a requirement of school attendance as in her best interests. What that officer may not know is that her learning disabilities make school a place of personal shame and pain rather than a place where she feels she can get her life back on track.

The stakes can be frighteningly high. I’ll never forget listening to Michael Nutter, mayor of Philadelphia, as he framed the challenge of data-sharing as a matter of life and death. “Look,” he said, “we’re often faced with situations where we know a youth is about to kill or be killed, and we have to rethink all the data and legal issues, because this is not a legal or technical issue. We’re talking about saving lives. Data-sharing is a moral issue!”

For parents seeking help for their children, “the confusion can be overwhelming,” says Dan Kelly, director of planning for San Francisco’s Human Services Agency. “Every mother and father, no matter how troubled, wants their child to have a better life. To see a child struggling in school or in the community and know that help is available but difficult to find because the systems providing it are scattered and disorganized — that must be profoundly frustrating.”

Most importantly, danger signals are not shared. As a result, youth — many of whom might have been diverted from trouble or harm — are not identified early on as being at extreme risk. Andrew Wong, an expert in data-sharing strategies who analyzed youth data used by the City of San Francisco, concluded that those served by multiple systems were at increased risk of committing a serious crime; over half of young people in the city that are involved in multiple service systems have been convicted of, or have been the victim of, a serious crime.

The City and County of San Francisco (a consolidated unit of local government) is at the vanguard of efforts to overcome these barriers. Its Shared Youth Database, a product of more than a decade of arduous work and cross-agency negotiations, balances the need to improve outcomes for clients and increase efficiency of operations while protecting the privacy of families and children.

A formal memorandum of understanding (MOU) ensures compliance with legal requirements regarding confidentiality of data and allows the departments of public health, child welfare and juvenile probation to pool information in a secure database.

The MOU has transformed how the city responds to children and families in need. For example, a child protective services worker can now find out if a child in an emergency situation has a probation officer or a psychiatrist who should be involved in a response plan.

Trish Rudden, a child welfare supervisor in San Francisco’s Human Services Agency, brings home the critical importance of the city’s data-sharing efforts: “Without the Shared Youth Database, child welfare workers have to rely on an archaic system of communication, often based on the foster parents themselves. They don’t find out if a child is missing his appointments until a negative pattern sets in.”

To learn more about San Francisco’s Shared Youth Database and the challenges that city leaders overcame to put it in place, read my article on NLC’s website, The Case for Data-Sharing: San Francisco’s Shared Youth Database. 

Jack CalhounAbout the Author: John A. “Jack” Calhoun is an internationally-renowned public speaker and frequent media guest and editorial contributor. He currently serves as Senior Consultant to the National League of Cities and is the founder and CEO of Hope Matters. For more than 20 years, Mr. Calhoun was the founding president of the National Crime Prevention Council, prior to which he served under President Carter as the Commissioner of the Administration for Children, Youth and Families.

City Leaders Champion Financial Inclusion Programs that Put Families First

This is the second post in a new blog series on financial inclusion. The series explains what financial inclusion is and provides examples and action steps to help city leaders start or strengthen financial inclusion efforts. This post focuses on the role of city leadership in using financial inclusion to help strengthen and provide a safety net for struggling families.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh speaks to local residents at Christopher Columbus ParkBoston Mayor Marty Walsh speaks to local residents at Christopher Columbus Park. Credit: MattConti/ walsh-pull-quote

As noted in the first post in this series, financial inclusion strategies are gaining momentum in cities across the country and making a difference in the lives of countless American families.

It’s no surprise that we’re seeing an uptick in the number of city leaders that are rallying behind innovative and proven programs that help low-to-moderate income residents to enter the financial mainstream.

NLC’s recent report, which highlights findings from a national scan of city leaders, found that 66 percent of cities surveyed reported having a mayor and/or city council member who designated financial inclusion issues as a ‘top’ or ‘high’ priority.

Figure03_builldingblocksFindings from our national scan also showed that cities in which financial inclusion is a high priority for elected officials have the greatest number of programs and/or activities operating in the community.

San Francisco Treasurer José Cisneros has made financial inclusion one of his highest priorities, claiming that his duty to safeguard San Francisco’s money also extends to improving the financial stability and well-being of the city’s residents. His leadership has turned San Francisco into a hub of innovation for financial inclusion programming, including Bank On San Francisco, PayDay Plus SF and more recently Kindergarten to College, all of which are being replicated in other cities across the country.

By promoting awareness of financial issues facing low-to-moderate income families, city leaders can use their bully pulpit to engage stakeholders and the public about the impact of financial challenges on families. City leaders are in a unique position to spearhead partnerships between city agencies, nonprofit organizations and private partners. By partnering with local stakeholders, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh launched Boston’s Office of Financial Empowerment to provide comprehensive financial inclusion services to the city’s diverse population.

Elected officials also report that financial institutions and foundations are more responsive to funding requests that demonstrate invested city leadership and broad stakeholder alignment. In 2008, Mayor John Hickenlooper (now Governor Hickenlooper) gained broad support when he formed the Denver Economic Prosperity Task Force, composed of 35 members representing local government, policy makers and community and business leaders, to coordinate the city’s response to residents’ economic challenges. Current Mayor Michael B. Hancock’s administration has continued to support financial inclusion, and has created the Denver Financial Empowerment Center.

In Memphis, Tenn., Mayor A C Wharton used his authority and status to create a task force of cross-sector stakeholders committed to reducing poverty in the city.

NLC’s report details additional ways city leaders are supporting programming in their cities, such as:

  • Making policy changes that promote financial inclusion,
  • Leading or supporting coalitions to align and connect the city’s efforts,
  • Giving the green light for financial support to launch or sustain financial inclusion programs, and
  • Explicitly dedicating staff time to financial inclusion by hiring a dedicated city employee or creating a new agency or financial empowerment center to house the city’s financial inclusion efforts.

Strong city champions who are willing to take action to start or strengthen financial inclusion programs are able to customize strategies to meet the needs of their residents, and often plant the seeds for innovation that can be replicated at the state or federal level. While municipal leaders are the linchpin to a successful financial inclusion city system, they cannot do it alone.

Mara Heneghan
About the Author:
Mara Heneghan is a summer intern with the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Contact Mara at

Financial Inclusion Efforts Can Provide a Brighter Future for Low-Income Residents

This post was co-written by Courtney Coffin. Courtney is the senior associate for financial inclusion in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.  

This is the first post in a new blog series on financial inclusion. This series will explain what financial inclusion is and provide examples and action steps to help city leaders start or strengthen financial inclusion efforts.

Money stairs - blogAs many city leaders can attest, recovery from the 2008 recession has been uneven in communities across the country. Many families remain financially vulnerable, unable to cover monthly bills or save adequately for emergencies.

The Corporation for Economic Development (CFED) found that 43 percent of U.S. households do not have a basic safety net — enough savings to cover basic expenses for three months — to weather emergencies such as a sudden job loss or medical crisis, or to prepare for future needs, e.g., a child’s college education or homeownership.

Additionally, a 2013 national survey from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) revealed that 28 percent of U.S. households either do not have a bank account at all, or do have one but also rely on alternative financial services such as payday loans or check-cashing services.

Individual and family financial instability jeopardizes the overall well-being of families and the health of local economies. Without financially stable residents, cities generate less money from property taxes and can lose revenue from unpaid public utility bills. Diminished health and education outcomes and higher foreclosure rates are also related to financial instability.

FI_QuoteConcern about the consequences of this instability has spurred many cities, including Columbia, S.C., Lansing, Mich., San Francisco and St. Petersburg, Fla., to implement robust financial inclusion strategies.

Financial inclusion strategies, such as Bank On programs, financial empowerment centers and children’s savings accounts, can bolster a city’s fight against poverty and help low-to-moderate income individuals and families move toward brighter, more economically secure futures.

NLC’s recent report, City Financial Inclusion Efforts: A National Overview, identifies seven key findings resulting from an in-depth scan of financial inclusion programs in cities across the U.S. The report explains the importance of city-led interventions to help families build financial stability, and highlights the role local elected officials and city leaders play in shaping innovative strategies to address the economic, public safety and personal concerns that are byproducts of family financial insecurity.

BUILDINGBLOCKSsmalltable_web-version_SorenA key finding from NLC’s scan was that financial inclusion strategies are best delivered through a comprehensive municipal framework built on strong city support, vision and leadership. Our report, which this blog series draws on extensively, illustrates that if key systems are in place, any city can become a major player in this arena.

The report and this blog series lay out an array of actions any city leader can take to leverage resources and expertise, regardless of a city’s level of experience with financial inclusion or related financial empowerment strategies. Each of the upcoming posts in this series will focus on one or two fundamental elements that the report offers as key building blocks for developing a city-led financial inclusion system.

Additionally, a guest post by a city leader from a community with a comprehensive financial inclusion program in place will highlight how these practices benefit residents, the local economy and the community overall.

Mara Heneghan
About the Author: Mara Heneghan is a summer intern with the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Contact Mara at

Local Governments and Anti-Hunger Organizations Work Together to Improve Children’s Health

This post was co-written by Signe Anderson.

Increasingly, city governments are partnering with local anti-hunger organizations to reduce child hunger and improve children’s health.

Columbus Rec and ParksColumbus, Ohio’s Make Summer Count program provides safe places for youth to get free nutritious meals. This summer, children can access these meals through the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department food truck‬. (photo: Columbus Recreation and Parks Department)

City leaders have found that partnerships with anti-hunger organizations enable them to increase participation in summer meal programs, expand the number of meal sites and provide educational and recreational programming at these sites. Expanding access to meal programs such as the Summer Food Service Program, the School Breakfast Program, the National School Lunch Program and afterschool snack programs is one of the five goals of Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties (LMCTC).

Nearly 500 local elected officials have signed up for LMCTC, which is a major component of First Lady Michelle Obama’s comprehensive Let’s Move! initiative to ensure that kids grow up healthy and are able to pursue their dreams. LMCTC awards medals to participating local elected officials based on their achievements in areas such as promoting healthy habits in early child care settings; expanding access to meal programs before, during and after the school day, and/or over the summer months; and increasing opportunities for physical activity.

Since 2012, NLC has awarded more than 2,500 bronze, silver and gold medals to local elected officials across the country. Over 77 million Americans live in communities participating in LMCTC.

Anti-hunger organizations can support local governments that are looking to join or are already involved in LMCTC. Many participating LMCTC communities, such as Arcata, Calif., and Columbus, Ohio, know firsthand the value of partnering with anti-hunger organizations to create successful summer meal programs:

  • Arcata, California: The anti-hunger organization Food for People developed a relationship with Humboldt Transit and UPS to provide meal transportation. With support from the city of Arcata, Food for People helps deliver meals to four summer lunch sites in Arcata, which serve an average of 60 meals each day.
  • Columbus, Ohio: There is a thriving partnership between the city of Columbus and the Children’s Hunger Alliance (CHA), an Ohio anti-hunger organization. CHA provides technical assistance to the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, and serves as the ‘eyes and ears’ at the city’s 270 sites. CHA cultivates what Amanda Wampler, Franklin County Summer Nutrition Manager, calls the four “F”s: fun, friends, family and food. CHA’s priority is to incorporate at least one hour of enrichment activities into all city-sponsored meal sites in order to increase retention rates by an average of seven percent. CHA’s initiatives complement Columbus’ commitment to ending child hunger and childhood obesity through participation in LMCTC.

Anti-hunger organizations are a natural partner for cities working to expand children’s access to meal programs, especially summer meal programs. City governments can utilize the expertise of anti-hunger organizations to expand participation in federal meal programs and in developing effective marketing outreach strategies. These organizations often act as connectors between city government, nonprofits and local businesses by facilitating conversations and encouraging coordination of meal planning and outreach efforts.

In addition to helping city programs ensure they are reaching food-insecure children, anti-hunger organizations can also provide technical assistance to local governments on the program application and reimbursement process, food safety requirements, meal planning and program design.

To find out if your city or county is participating in LMCTC, visit the Directory of LMCTC Sites. Share this information with your local government officials so that they can get started and encourage them to partner with local anti-hunger nonprofits. Learn more about LMCTC’s five goal areas.

About the Authors:
Elena Hoffnagle
Elena Hoffnagle is the Senior Associate for Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties at the National League of Cities. Contact Elena at


Signe Anderson
Signe Anderson is a Senior Child Nutrition Policy Analyst at the Food Research and Action Center. Contact Signe at

Early Learning Nation Expands by Seven Cities

The earliest years of life are critical to a child’s development. High-quality education and development for children from birth to age five not only promotes physical and social-emotional health and a strong foundation for success in school and life, it also helps build strong local economies and thriving communities.

kids painting - blogCredit: Ashley Wiley/Getty Images

Communities across the country are investing in early childhood programs and working to build comprehensive systems that address all aspects of a child’s development, and the role of the family in early learning and school readiness.

To support these efforts, the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families has selected seven cities to participate in City Leadership for Building an Early Learning Nation, a technical assistance initiative designed to help communities strengthen or build early childhood education systems and provide national visibility to the early childhood work being done in these communities. The seven selected cities include:

  • Dayton, Ohio
  • Jacksonville, Fla.
  • Kansas City, Mo.
  • Minneapolis, Minn.
  • Pittsburgh, Pa.
  • Portland, Maine
  • San Francisco, Calif.

As a part of this project, NLC is partnering with the Center for the Study of Social Policy’s Early Childhood-LINC (Learning and Innovation Network for Communities) to connect strong leaders who are committed to helping young children get the best possible start in life. In addition to the seven cities NLC will be working with, Early Childhood-LINC has an existing, robust network of nine communities in place.

Each city will receive assistance in:

  • Building partnerships,
  • Promoting parent engagement,
  • Increasing enrollment in high-quality early education, and
  • Communicating the importance of high-quality early education to diverse audiences.

The technical assistance provided by NLC and Early Childhood-LINC will develop or enhance local early learning systems to ensure they are based on best practices and meet the needs of local families. NLC will emphasize creative approaches to stimulate local innovation based on up-to-date research and promising practices. Communities will also receive assistance with developing/implementing local plans and support in developing new or sharing existing metrics meant to help local governments evaluate their early learning systems.

This project is made possible by generous support from the Bezos Family Foundation, which is working to make the U.S. an Early Learning Nation.

Katie Whitehouse
About the Author: 
Katie Whitehouse is the Senior Associate for Early Education in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Katie on Twitter at @KatieLianeTX.

NLCU Summit Keynote: How One Great Mayor Transformed His City

This is a guest post by Brian Egan.

The Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando Resort. (Getty Images)

When you think of Orlando, Fla., what comes to mind? Many of us think of Disneyworld, Universal Studios or Epcot Center. Perhaps you imagine palm trees, year-round warm weather, and international tourists. But Orlando’s mayor Buddy Dyer wants you to also envision a strong economy, public safety, great public transportation, a lively arts scene, and academia – and he’d like you to come see for yourself just how much his city has grown.

You can hear first-hand how Mayor Dyer is transforming his city at this year’s National League of Cities University (NLCU) Leadership Summit, September 16-19 in Orlando. Mayor Dyer will serve as the keynote speaker for Thursday’s lunch at 12pm on September 17, and will deliver an address titled “Reimagining and Remaking the City Beautiful.”

As Orlando’s 32nd mayor, Dyer has received acclaim for his efforts to transform the economy of Central Florida. Orlando’s economy has traditionally relied heavily on the tourism market, and has struggled to diversify. Under the efforts of Mayor Dyer, however, Orlando and the surrounding region have blossomed into a center of academic research, digital media, simulation training and high tech investment.

Mayor Dyer has showed lasting commitment to making Orlando one of the best places to live in America. Orlando has one of the top-ranked police and fire departments in the nation, and under the mayor’s watch the city has seen its largest reduction in crime in recent history. Massive infrastructure projects under the Dyer administration have further changed Orlando as well. The SunRail, Central Florida’s first commuter rail, opened in 2014, and is just one is just one of the many transportation improvements made over the past decade.

The Leadership Summit at which Mayor Dyer will speak is NLCU’s most exclusive leadership retreat; NLC caps attendance for this event at 125 registrants so all attendees can personally connect and have one-on-one interactions with speakers and colleagues.

At this year’s Summit, leadership scholars and industry experts will explore ways to effectively lead through tough times. In addition to the keynote address from Mayor Dyer, attendees will also have the opportunity to learn about NLC’s new REAL (Race, Equity And Leadership) initiative. They’ll hear from field experts on topics ranging from resilience and sustainability to personal leadership development and crisis management, and they’ll attend mobile workshops that provide a chance to experience firsthand the innovations taking place in Central Florida. Many other opportunities will be offered at the Summit as well, giving city leaders and administrators the chance to greatly increase their leadership skills.

This will be an informative, engaging and entertaining event in the beautiful city of Orlando. We invite you to join us.

Click here to learn more about NLCU’s Annual Leadership Summit and register to attend.

About the Author: Brian Egan is an intern at NLCU, the National League of Cities University.