Millennials, Makers, and Manufacturers: This Month in Economic Development

Our monthly roundup of the latest news in economic development filtered through a city-focused lens. Reading something interesting? Share it with @robbins617.

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Cities that are able to create nimble environments for innovation and skills acquisition can build on their manufacturing assets and adapt to the new needs of advanced industries. (Getty Images)

Cities Drive the Maker Movement. Cities are recognizing the power and potential of the maker movement, both as a placemaking strategy and as an economic and workforce strategy. The growing public support for the maker movement was captured in NLC’s new report, How Cities Can Grow the Maker Movement. The report details how ten U.S. cities leveraged public resources and private partnerships to grow a successful local maker movement. A TechCrunch article from NLC’s Brooks Rainwater and Emily Robbins explores how cities are driving the maker movement by creating makerspaces in public libraries and supporting educational workshops for young tinkerers.

A New Era for Economic Development. The role of economic development in cities is changing. Amy Liu, Vice President and Director of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, recently released Remaking Economic Development about how traditional roles of economic development – like incentive deals to attract large businesses or tax increment financing to build stadiums or office parks – are not creating an inclusive economy. As Liu describes, “Top-line economic growth does not ensure bottom-line prosperity.” Cities all over the country are figuring out this new paradigm shift towards economic development that improves the quality of life for all segments of the population. Christiana McFarland from NLC shared how Austin is taking the lead on this with programs like the Einstein Project, which connects youth in poverty to free career development training from local tech industry leaders.

Closing the Digital Divide for Small Businesses. Kansas City, Missouri, well-known for its status as a “Gig City,” has the surprising challenge of a digital divide among small business owners. Local business and entrepreneurs have access to a high-speed broadband network that makes all aspects of e-commerce more accessible, such as online sales, advertising, and customer support. However, many mom-and-pops are not taking advantage of the internet to support their businesses. And they are not alone. Almost half of small businesses nationwide do not have a website. Kansas City took action with a plan to drive broadband utilization across all industries and business types. The program, called the Small Business Growth Plan, helps businesses understand how to better use the internet to boost marketing and sales.

Some Local Governments Appear to be on Hiring Sprees. NLC’s Trevor Langan analyzed the first quarter of monthly Bureau of Labor Statistics data on local government employment for NLC’s latest Local Jobs Report. A total of 41,900 jobs have been added in the first quarter of 2016. These data are a welcomed sign of a local recovery that is finally taking hold. However, national jobs numbers tend to smooth over complexities at the local level. Changes in the local government workforce are often the result of a complex set of factors including budget cycles, employee-related cost pressures, service needs and strength of the overall economy.

Is Manufacturing a Viable Path Forward for Cities? A key consideration facing policymakers right now is whether or not it’s worthwhile for cities to continue to focus on manufacturing as a path toward economic vitality. One question often asked is: Are these old manufacturing jobs just never coming back? The answer is that a new wave of advanced manufacturing is poised to create new job growth and economic opportunity. Cities that are able to create nimble environments for innovation and skills acquisition can build on their manufacturing assets and adapt to the new needs of advanced industries. For example, Waterbury, Connecticut, launched the Waterbury Career Academy High School to train the next generation of manufacturers, computer specialists and allied health workers. The very first class of students will graduate from the manufacturing program next spring with a leg up to hopefully gain employment within the city. This new vocational high school is just one prong of a multi-strategy effort to revive a modern manufacturing economy that lost 5,000 manufacturing jobs over the last two decades.

Innovation Districts: The Chattanooga Story. Just over a year after its official launch, NLC’s new report provides an inside look at the formation of the innovation district in Chattanooga and the city’s plans for its future.

For a Laugh. Inexplicably, the “musical PSA” became trendy for a week or two in late winter. These music videos inform residents about things like school shutdowns and freeway closings. Check out L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti’s slow jam about the 101 Freeway and a snow day announcement from a school in Clarkesville, Georgia.

What We’re Reading. Boston’s citywide Small Business Plan. A white paper from Etsy on how to support the maker movement and creative entrepreneurship. An article from Ilana Preuss at Recast City on how to provide affordable commercial space for small-scale manufacturing. A piece on how Philadelphia is attracting millennials by NLC’s Trevor Langan.

About the Author: Emily Robbins is Principal Associate for Economic Development at NLC. Follow Emily on Twitter @robbins617.

Create a Better World for More People: A Futurist’s Call to Action

As part of our efforts to promote professional development among city leaders, each week we’ll be featuring a new TED Talk focused on cities, community issues or local government.

A keynote speaker at NLC’s next Leadership Summit, futurist and economist Rebecca Ryan asserts that America is seasonal. The bad news? We’re in winter (2001-2020). The good news? Spring is coming – but it’ll take some work.

Paul Konz headshotAbout the Author: Paul Konz is the Senior Editor at the National League of Cities.

What City Leaders Should Know About Curfews for Minors

Do curfew laws really protect city youth and increase public safety? This is the first of two blog posts on curfew within a broader series on opportunities for municipal leadership in juvenile justice reform.

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Curfew laws aimed at curbing youth crime and victimization often have unintended consequences – such as unintentionally criminalizing city youth and worsening outcomes for kids. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Sana Johnson.

In order to respond to requests for information from cities engaged in Juvenile Justice Reform, NLC sought to increase our knowledge about curfews for minors. Not only do curfew laws yield a number of serious unintended consequences, but their effectiveness as a tool for protecting general public safety – especially the safety of young people – remains unconfirmed by research.

Nighttime curfews aimed at curbing youth crime and victimization tend to last from midnight until early morning, while daytime curfews intended to reduce truancy operate in accordance with school hours. Authority over curfews usually lies at the local level, but state legislatures occasionally write laws that empower cities to enact curfews if they so choose. Due to the absence of information on curfews, juvenile justice experts cannot definitively describe the degree to which curfew arrests result from municipal ordinances versus state or county laws. However, leaders in the field can identify the harmful consequences of curfews laws, which include disproportionate minority contact, the criminalization of homeless and runaway youth, worsening outcomes for kids, and exposing cities to lawsuits.

Disproportionate Minority Contact

Cities concerned about racial and ethnic disparities in their arrest rates – a key measure of disproportionate minority contact – should review the demographic data in enforcement of their curfew law. Disproportionate minority contact refers to the overrepresentation of minority youth in the juvenile justice system. In 2011, the likelihood of police arresting black youth for violating curfew outweighed that of white youth by 269 percent. In 2014, black youth made up around 15 percent of the under 18 population, yet represented almost 50 percent of the curfew arrests in cities across the country. Crime and population data show that no other racial group experienced such a great disparity in curfew arrests that year.

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The Criminalization of Homeless and Runaway Youth

Rather than address the underlying circumstances that contribute to youth homelessness, the enforcement of curfew laws creates another opportunity for homeless and runaway youth to enter the juvenile court systems and detention facilities. Each year, around 1.6 million young people experience homelessness. With no place to go at night, homeless and runaway youth often encounter the juvenile justice system through curfew and loitering violations.

Worsening Outcomes for Kids

Police arrest more youth for curfew and loitering violations than all four categories of violent crimes combined, such as murder, manslaughter and robbery. By authorizing police officers to arrest young people, thus increasing youth involvement in the juvenile justice system, curfew laws may worsen outcomes for kids. Recent research finds that juvenile justice systems that respond punitively to youth delinquency actually produce worse results in terms of public safety and youth development. Also, youth placed in locked facilities for curfew violation and other offenses are more likely to engage in future delinquent behavior.

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Lawsuits Challenging Constitutionality of Statutes

Curfew laws make cities vulnerable to lawsuits for unconstitutionality. Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) play an active role in suing cities for their curfews, typically arguing that curfews violate young people’s First, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. For example, in 2001 a superior court judge struck down the curfew ordinance of West Orange, New Jersey, for unconstitutional ambigity. Decisions in these cases do not provide clear guidance on what makes a curfew law constitutional, making it difficult for cities to draft responsible curfew laws.

Curfew violation belongs to the group of crimes referred to as status offenses – non-criminal behavior prohibited by law due to a young person’s age. Although federal law prohibits detention for youth charged with status offenses, each year thousands of kids end up in detention facilities by way of juvenile courts. The Vera Institute for Justice’s report, From Courts to Communities, urges that status offenses should never result in juvenile court involvement, especially since status offenses pose no immediate risk to public safety and often result from unmet needs of the youth and family. Leadership by local officials can build opportunities to hold youth accountable and avoid the consequences of detention.

The absence of a comprehensive study on curfew effectiveness makes it difficult for lawmakers to form definitive opinion on the value of curfews, but local leaders working to improve safety and outcomes for their young people can still take action against harmful curfew laws. The second and final blog post in this series outlines steps city leaders can take to improve their curfews for minors.

Cities interested in reconsidering their curfews can contact Laura Furr at

sana_headshotAbout the Author: Sana Johnson is the 2015-2016 National League of Cities Menino Fellow in the partnership between Boston University’s Initiative on Cities and NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. 

New SolSmart Program Helps Cities Go Solar, Create Jobs

SolSmart offers cities no-cost technical assistance to improve access and affordability of local solar projects. Launched on April 27 by the Sustainable Cities Institute at the National League of Cities and a team of organizations, the new designation program will recognize the efforts of cities, towns, and counties to implement best practices and promote solar energy.

Since 2010, the average price of solar panels dropped by more than 60 percent. (Getty Images)

The solar industry is one of the fastest growing markets in America, providing middle class jobs and clean, affordable energy. In 2015, the U.S. solar market set a record for system installations with 7.286 gigawatts of solar photovoltaics coming online. That’s a lot of solar panels producing a lot of energy. In fact, that represents 26 percent of all new electricity brought online in the U.S. in 2015—nearly equal to the boom in natural gas. It’s a record that is likely to be smashed in 2016.

Much of the expansion so far has been driven by rapidly falling prices. Since 2010, the average price of solar panels dropped by more than 60 percent. In fact, prices have fallen so much that permitting, inspection, interconnection fees, zoning approval, project delays, and other ‘soft costs’ now account for more than half of the price tag for an average residential solar system—a share that continues to grow. To make things worse, many of the local rules and regulations behind these soft costs vary from city to city, making it difficult for the industry to expand or scale up operations.

So how can your community improve access and spark a local solar market?

The new SolSmart program aims to help cities and counties remove regulatory barriers and capture the economic opportunities associated with solar energy. Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative and led by The Solar Foundation, ICMA, and others, the program will provide national recognition to leading solar cities and counties.

The SolSmart scorecard aligns best practices on topics such as permitting, financing, zoning, and public education. Earning a higher score will help your city lower the price of solar energy, cut unnecessary red tape, and streamline the process for residents and businesses.

Even more, the program will help communities become solar leaders by providing no-cost technical assistance to complete additional criteria and achieve designation.

To get more information about the program or to find out how your city can pursue designation, submit your name, city, and email address on the form here:

About the Author: Cooper Martin is the Program Director for the Sustainable Cities Institute at NLC. Follow the program on twitter @sustcitiesinst.

Our City Reintegrated Ex-Offenders and Reduced Jail Populations. This is How We Did It.

In celebration of National Reentry Week, Charlottesville, Virginia Councilmember Kristin Szakos shares her city’s success story about helping convicted felons reintegrate into society – and reducing the city’s jail population in the process.

Ex-offenders stand the best chance of successfully reintegrating into society when they are provided with the right tools and opportunities, such as the chance to build up their training and work history and earn the respect and recommendations of their employers. (photo:

Ex-offenders stand the best chance of successfully reintegrating into society when they are provided with the right tools and opportunities, such as the chance to build up their training and work history and earn the respect and recommendations of their employers. (photo:

This is a guest post by Councilmember Kristin Szakos.

This spring, the City of Charlottesville, Virginia, is sponsoring its first Reentry Resource Fair. Vendors, employers, service providers and city agencies will set up tables and displays, hoping to attract the attention of the members of the public who have come to the event. Their intended targets, men and women, young and not so young, all have one thing in common: they have, at some point in their lives, been convicted of a felony.

The Resource Fair marks another milestone in Charlottesville’s evolution as a “Second Chance City”. Over the past six years, Charlottesville has been working to make sure that folks returning from incarceration are welcomed to reintegrate and become contributing members of the community. What’s remarkable is that almost everyone – the Chamber of Commerce, judges and prosecutors, City Council – is on board.

A crisis was the catalyst for building the consensus around Charlottesville’s commitment. In 2010, the community was facing the need to spend several million dollars for a new wing for its overcrowded regional jail, as well as the skyrocketing per-diem costs of increasing numbers of inmates. Certified for 329 beds, the jail was regularly reporting daily populations approaching 600, and continued growth seemed inevitable.

Instead, the City and neighboring Albemarle County, who jointly run the local jail, applied to be part of the National Institute of Corrections effort to form an evidence-based decision making initiative to look at ways to reduce the community’s reliance on the jail and improve public safety. Originally targeted specifically at controlling recidivism, the effort has grown to include prevention, diversion, housing, jail programming, mental health care, reentry preparation, and reintegration into the community for returning citizens. It has become the model for a new statewide evidence-based decision making practice. Subsequent state and federal grants have helped the community share data, institute risk assessment practices and create innovative programs in the jail and in the community.

Programs in the jail itself where inmates can earn educational credits, get work certifications like small engine repair, and participate in therapeutic group work helps them return with skills and strengths they may not have had before. A six-month re-entry employment program with the City Parks and Rec Department gives returning residents a chance to earn money while learning job skills and earning a good reference to future employment. The removal of criminal record disclosure on City job applications, the coordination of services, and attention to the needs of families provide the supports that help returning citizens succeed.

And it’s working. This year, the average daily population at the Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail is 459, and it continues to drop.

Why Charlottesville is a second chance city

Saving money isn’t the only reason Charlottesville has committed to being a Second Chance City. Almost everyone our community incarcerates ends up coming home eventually. Of course, our hope is that they will reconnect with family, get a job, and never offend again. And that is the intention of the overwhelming number of people who are released from incarceration. But even in the best cases, there are lots of challenges. People leaving incarceration often are returning to families where they have done harm, and relationships have been damaged. Parents and children have been traumatized – not only by the crime that led to incarceration, but by the separation itself. Returning family members may be behind on child support and court cost payments, banned from the public housing neighborhood where their families live because of their criminal record, and unable to convince employers to take a chance on a former felon.

Frustration and self-doubt, while natural under these circumstances, don’t always lead to the best choices, and that is often when people violate their probation or re-offend and end up re-incarcerated – re-traumatizing their families, and making it even harder to be successful the next time.

Two key responsibilities of cities are providing for public safety and for the education and welfare of children. If we help former felons engage with their families, with employment, and with the community, they are less likely to re-offend and more likely to set a good example to their children and to other young people. What’s more, children with both fathers and mothers in their lives do better in school, are less likely to live in poverty, and are less likely to become involved in the justice system themselves.

So Charlottesville remains deeply committed to being a Second Chance City – one that recognizes the potential of its returning citizens to become contributing members of the local economy and assets to our community. Our belief in them helps to make their potential a reality.

Click here to review more information on the elements of Charlottesville’s Second Chance Policy.

cover-dem-kristin-szakos-headAbout the Author: The Hon. Kristin Szakos, councilmember from Charlottesville, Va., serves on the Council on Youth, Education, and Families. Councilmember Szakos also contributed to the Advisory Committee for NLC’s new City Roles in Reducing the Overuse of Jails for Young Adults initiative part of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge. Kristin also serves on the Board of the Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail Authority. Follow Kristin on Twitter at @kszakos.

7 Tools to Fight the Opioid Epidemic

On April 27, a variety of experts in the public health field provided testimony to the National City-County Task Force on the Opioid Epidemic, which brought together city and county leaders on this issue. Here are the tools they presented to local leaders.

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According to the CDC, “more people died from drug overdoses in 2014 than in any year on record. The majority of drug overdose deaths (more than six out of ten) involve an opioid. And since 1999, the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioid pain relievers and heroin) nearly quadrupled.” (Getty Images)

In the U.S., we have reduced the number of smokers, the number of teen pregnancies, and the number of new HIV/AIDS infections over time. The lessons from these public health challenges can be applied to the present opioid drug epidemic.

Although a comprehensive and longer-term solution to the many issues tied together under the term “substance use disorder” will take holistic and systemic changes, some short-term solutions are having success in cities, towns, and counties all across America today.

Talk About the Disease

Substance use disorder is a disease that needs to be treated like a disease not like a crime. The chorus from health specialists and chiefs of police is that we cannot arrest and incarcerate our way out of this epidemic. While we will continue to disrupt the supply of opiates from drug cartels and pill-mills, more work is required on the demand side of this equation. This means focusing on treatment of a disease not on stigmatizing addiction.

President Obama has visited city after city listening to countless stories of opioid addiction. The grim realities of opioid overdose deaths have been given wide audiences thanks to major public broadcasting documentaries. Voices are bring heard. The practice of over prescribing opioids by doctors is already being reduced. Patients are asking about the addictive nature of pain medications. Parents are working to ensure that kids don’t get addicted to pain medications given for sports injuries. Every story told, every emergency proclamation made, and every community conversation held is one more step to draw attention to the issue and bring the nation closer to solutions.

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Use this interactive Tableau created by Socrata to select a year to see opioid deaths spread across the U.S.

Drug Take-back Programs

Large pharmacy chains like CVS and Walgreens as well as local independent pharmacies have programs to take back unused and unneeded medications such as opioid pain relievers. These programs cannot rely on a top down approach from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) nor can they be implemented one or two times each year. Take back boxes need to be in every pharmacy and available every day. There also may be ways to manage take back programs from public buildings owned and operated by local governments.


A true wonder drug, Naloxone has the ability to reverse an opioid drug overdose. A simple syringe device which requires only a modest amount of training to use properly, Naloxone should be in the hands of every first-responder in America. Cities can even purchase a supply of Naloxone at a discount as part of the U.S. Communities Government Purchasing Alliance, of which National League of Cities is a national sponsor. In addition, state governments such as Connecticut have empowered pharmacists to provide Naloxone to any customer with a prescription for opioids.

Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs

Nearly every state has a prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP). Some are better than others in terms of ease of use and timeliness of the data. Not all physicians use the PDMP’s which makes even the best data incomplete. A November 2015 report from The Network in Excellence for Health Innovation has suggested a number of ways that PDMP’s can be made more effective. Good data is essential and knowledge from improved PDMP’s can become the most potent tool available to doctors and policy makers in the fight against substance use disorder.

Education and Prevention

The success of campaigns to reduce smoking and alcohol-related traffic deaths or to increase screenings for certain cancers and to live more active lives is driven by education. Reducing substance abuse disorder is no different. Whether the targets are children or adults, there are resources available to help prevent addiction from starting. While it is true that the experience with programs such as DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) has not proven to be as successful has was forecast, that cannot deter communities from education efforts in schools, with families, and among work colleagues. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has developed a list of resources to support education and prevention.

Watch the PBS Frontline documentary Chasing Heroin that originally aired on February 23, 2016 to learn more about the heroin epidemic.

Watch the PBS Frontline documentary “Chasing Heroin” that originally aired on February 23, 2016 to learn more about the heroin epidemic.

Clean Syringe/Needle Exchange Programs

Implement a clean syringe program. Even in cases where individuals have a concern about an action which may empower addiction, realize that needle and syringe exchange programs protect the wider community from other diseases such as Hepatitis C. There is no better example of the usefulness of a harm-reduction strategy than the case of Austin, Indiana in Scott County. This community of less than 5,000 people witnessed not only a significant number of opioid overdose deaths from 2013-16 but also the added incidence of more than 150 new cases of HIV/AIDS infection due to shared needles. A needle and syringe exchange program had been prohibited in Indiana until that decision was reversed in March 2015 after considerable damage already was done.

Drug Courts

The first Drug Court was in Miami-Dade County, Florida in 1989. It was created by a group of forward thinking justice professionals determined to find alternatives to endless criminal justice interventions that did not address the underlying problem of substance use disorder. The Drug Court solution combines drug treatment with the criminal case discretion of a judge. Working as a team, law enforcement and medical professionals are able to reduce crime and costs to the justice system and change the behavior of Drug Court participants. Today there are nearly 3,000 drug courts operating nationwide.

To stay informed about National City-County Task Force on the Opioid Epidemic, visit the webpage. If you’d like us to send you the latest resources and tools for cities to tackle the opioid epidemic, please provide your email below:

Brooks, J.A. 2010About the Author: James Brooks is NLC’s Director for City Solutions. He specializes in local practice areas related to housing, neighborhoods, infrastructure, and community development and engagement. Follow Jim on Twitter @JamesABrooks.

Planet Forward Summit Highlights Sustainable Future for Cities

The summit featured mayors, public and private sector leaders, journalists, academics, students and entrepreneurs discussing the stories, innovations and people who will transform our cities in the coming decades.

"Whether you're building or rebuilding a city, sustainability is everyone's responsibility." - NLC President Melodee Colbert-Kean (Joplin City Council) addresses the Planet Forward Summit at George Washington University on Thursday, April 22, 2016.

“Whether you’re building or rebuilding a city, sustainability is everyone’s responsibility.” – NLC President Melodee Colbert-Kean (Joplin City Council) addresses the Planet Forward Summit at George Washington University on Thursday, April 22, 2016.

In celebration and recognition of Earth Day 2016, National League of Cities President Melodee Colbert-Kean joined municipal officials, private sector leaders and students from around the country at the Planet Forward Summit hosted at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

The event celebrated the power of storytelling to transform cities, making them more sustainable and livable for the next generation. President Colbert-Kean’s opening keynote for the conference focused on the hundreds of stories that she hears as an NLC leader from city officials throughout the country. “In today’s world — where climate change and extreme weather are happening right now — city services need to be provided in ways that are more sustainable for the future of our planet,” said President Colbert-Kean.

She also related her own story about the determination and dedication shown by the citizens of Joplin after the F-5 tornado that destroyed nearly one-third of the town. As the city prepares to commemorate the 5-year anniversary of the disaster, she emphasized the eagerness from many in the community to recover and rebuild in a more responsible and sustainable manner. “No one is blaming climate change for causing this tornado,” she explained, “but we know these tragedies are becoming more common.”

Other city leaders who spoke at the event included West Palm Beach, Florida, Mayor Jeri Muoio and Huntsville, Alabama, mayor Tommy Battle. They joined EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and speakers from Boeing, Uber, Land O’ Lakes, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and others to discuss how issues such as water, transportation, economic inequality, and public health play an important role in building more sustainable communities.

Through StoryFest, the summit also provided a forum for students from dozens of universities throughout the world to share their stories, perspectives, and aspirations related to cities. The competition solicited nearly 100 student-made stories in audio, video, text, or a combination of media in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Winners from George Washington University and the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia will be provided with a $500 prize and an all-expenses paid trip to New York to display their submissions and stories to development experts from around the world.

Listening to the students and several of the professors who joined, it is clear that the generation entering the workforce and deciding where to live has high expectations for both their employers and their cities. They are actively seeking transportation options beyond cars, connections to their food supply, and ways to reduce waste – and they are willing to work to find it.

About the Author: Cooper Martin is the Program Director for the Sustainable Cities Institute at NLC. Follow the program on twitter @sustcitiesinst.

Al Gore: The Case for Optimism on Climate Change

As part of our efforts to promote professional development among city leaders, each week we’ll be featuring a new TED Talk focused on cities, community issues or local government.

In honor of Earth Day on April 22, this week’s featured talk focuses on climate change. Why is Al Gore optimistic about climate change? In this spirited talk, the Nobel laureate and former vice president asks three powerful questions about the man-made forces threatening to destroy our planet — and the solutions we’re designing to combat them. (Featuring a Q&A with TED Curator Chris Anderson)

Paul Konz headshotAbout the Author: Paul Konz is the Senior Editor at the National League of Cities.

April is Financial Capability Month – Here Are Some Great Tools City Leaders Can Share

With Financial Capability Month coming to a close, now is the perfect time for city leaders to strengthen the financial capability of their residents by informing them about the non-predatory financial products and services currently available.

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Financial Tools for Youth

As we previously noted, the first time youth earn their own income is the perfect time to educate them on savings, credit, and their options when it comes to financial services. Check out our most recent Municipal Action Guide for more information on improving the financial capability of youth.

Local financial institutions like community banks or credit unions can not only open up savings and checking accounts for youth, they can provide financial education services as well. The District of Columbia’s Bank On DC program provides examples of how cities can coordinate these efforts with success.

Free Tax Preparation Services

Even though the tax deadline was April 18th this year, that doesn’t mean the end of the line for your low- and moderate-income residents when it comes to the Earned Income Tax Credit, or EITC. Residents in some communities who may not have filed by the deadline can still file a tax return. The EITC is a refundable tax-credit that can be claimed going back as much as three years. Cities should consider the rewards of encouraging residents to seek help and to take advantage of FREE Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) locations; many of these VITA sites also provide other valuable services that can further improve outcomes for your residents.

Click here to read about how the city of Gaithersburg, Maryland, is helping to get the word out and connect their residents to additional services.

A New Retirement Savings Option

Most people know how important it is to save for retirement, but many haven’t found an easy way to get started. In fact, millions of Americans are unprepared for retirement. Lack of access to a workplace savings plan isn’t the only barrier to saving: high fees, complicated investment options, and fear of losing money can also stall the process of developing financial literacy.

To help address the retirement savings crisis in America and make it easy for people to start saving, the U.S. Department of the Treasury developed myRA®. This new retirement savings account has no opening or maintenance fees, and carries no risk of losing money. It was designed for people who don’t have access to retirement savings plans through work and are looking for a simple, safe, and affordable way to start saving for the future. Small businesses that do not offer retirement benefits to their employees can promote myRA as an alternative method of saving for retirement.

Opening a myRA account online is simple, and contributions can be made to myRA accounts from paychecks via direct deposit or from individual bank accounts. People can continue saving through myRA even when they change jobs, so they never skip a beat in their saving plans.

Individuals can even contribute to myRA accounts from their federal tax refunds, and may also qualify for the Saver’s Tax Credit, which can lower their tax bill or increase their refund. Because myRA contributions are after-tax, if an emergency arises, they can also withdraw their contributions (minus interest) without penalty. Visit for more information and to download free materials.

City Financial Empowerment Programs

From Garden City, Michigan, to Dubuque, Iowa, cities are taking varying approaches to empowering their residents through collaborations & partnerships. Want more examples? Check out a recent report we issued that provides a national overview of city financial inclusion efforts.

Finally, we have a number of additional resources on our website on how to improve financial literacy in your city. Click here for more information.

headshot_anthony santiagoAbout the Author: Anthony Santiago is a Senior Fellow focusing on Partnership & Program Development in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. He can be reached at

Mass Incarceration Begins in Local Jails. Here’s How Cities Can Prevent Their Overuse.

Local jails detain 19 times the number of individuals of state and federal prisons combined – but cities have the power to reduce those numbers.

"The time is right for Philadelphia to take major action to keep people out of jail who do not belong there." Mayor Jim Kenny, Philadelphia, Penn.

“The time is right for Philadelphia to take major action to keep people out of jail who do not belong there.” – Philadephia Mayor Jim Kenny (Getty Images)

In its most recent step supporting city leaders to reform the justice system, the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education, and Families will launch a new initiative to reduce the number of young adults in jail through two Leadership Academies taking place in Fall 2016. Interested cities can apply to participate in a Leadership Academy, the information for which appears below.

Why Jail Reform Matters for Cities

Local jails detain 19 times the number of individuals of state and federal prisons combined. Young people, people of color, those with behavioral health needs, and people with low incomes are over-represented in this crushing number of detained people – many of whom pose no threat to public safety.

The research confirms the common sense notion that adolescents are especially prone to risky behaviors including breaking local laws, even though adults commit more crimes overall. Further, most youthful offenders do not commit crimes as adults.

Evaluations of efforts to reduce youth crime indicate that 1) the certainty of being held accountable, rather than severity of punishment, most effectively prevents youth misbehavior, and 2) well-targeted interventions most effectively reduce re-offending.

Each arrest decision by a local law enforcement officer potentially leads to another person in jail. In addition, racial and ethnic disparities remain high in arrests across the country. Arrests of people with mental health issues is also putting large numbers of mentally ill people in jails that are not designed to provide them with treatment.

For low-income residents, jail is a particularly frequent and severe peril. Significant portions of low-risk pretrial jail detainees are there solely because they cannot afford even small financial bails. Also, city ordinances that allow jail time for failing to pay fines and fees may contribute to unnecessary jail stays.

How Cities Can Take Action

NLC’s City Leadership to Reduce the Overuse of Jails for Young Adults initiative will:

  • aid cities in reducing the number of young adults (aged 18-24) in local jails;
  • provide ways to decrease racial and ethnic disparities in the arrest and jailing of young adults; and
  • support improved outcomes for individuals through strong community-based services.

The academies will feature sessions led by national experts as well as peer learning opportunities. The YEF Institute will also provide assistance with collecting, analyzing, and acting on local data trends.

The initiative will highlight several reforms cities may take to improve long-term public safety and outcomes, including opportunities such as those described below.

  1. By providing services to people who do not pose a public safety risk instead of jailing them, cities can save money and reduce crime. Working in conjunction with county colleagues, city leaders can ensure their citizens access to the right help.
  1. Training and protocols to help officers arrest only those who pose a risk to public safety can drastically increase early diversion to needed services.
  1. Training and decision-making tools to make arrest decisions based on risk can help alleviate racial and ethnic disparities.

Leadership Academy Invitation

The YEF Institute invites three-member teams of city and community leaders to apply to attend one of two upcoming Leadership Academies in order to find better solutions for young people who come into contact with the law:

  • August 3-5, 2016 in Denver
  • October 19-21, 2016 in Chicago

Applications to participate are due May 26, 2016.

To learn more about the jail reform initiative and the Leadership Academies, join an introductory webinar on Thursday, April 28, 1-2 p.m. EST or Tuesday, May 3, 3-4 p.m. EST.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge provides support for the initiative.

Heidi CooperAbout the Author: Heidi Cooper is the Justice Reform Associate in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Contact Heidi at