Mayors Celebrate Diversity, Need to Address Inequities

NLC’s 2016 State of the Cities analysis found that mayors care about the need to create environments that promote equity, especially in diverse neighborhoods, and that multiple mayors set benchmark goals for diversity within their own workforces.

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Mayors often reflect on the visible changes in American demographics that they see in their communities, and they like the strength diverse communities provide to their cities. (Getty Images)

Beginning September 15, Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the history of the Latino community in the United States. Latinos contribute to strong economies, cultural vibrancy, and workforce revitalization in almost every community in America. A growing demographic group, Latinos are expected to make up almost thirty percent of the U.S. population by 2060.

For many years, Latinos have added to the essential diversity of cities. According to Pew Research Center, the Latino population is growing fastest in communities with the fewest Latinos while over half of Latinos lived in just 15 metropolitan areas in 2014.

Diversity isn’t just a buzzword, it’s an important ingredient for thriving, prosperous cities. In its State of the Cities 2016 report, the National League of Cities (NLC) found that 17 percent of mayors mentioned the importance of diversity to their cities. In his State of the City address, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “We draw our strength from diversity. We are a city where everyone is respected.” Diversity is what makes urban places work and thrive. Cities and their leaders are definitely taking notice, but there is more to be done.

Mayors often reflect on the visible changes in American demographics that they see in their communities, and they like the strength diverse communities provide to their cities. In fact, mayors were twice as likely this year to devote significant portions of their speeches to issues of demographics, like immigration and population growth, compared to last.

But just because a city is diverse doesn’t mean it will necessarily be more successful than less diverse cities. The promise of diversity rests on the ability of all communities – ethnic, racial, economic, or otherwise – to have an equal shot at success. In their State of the Cities analysis, NLC found that mayors spoke about the need to create environments that promote equity, especially in diverse neighborhoods. Multiple mayors set benchmark goals for diversity within their own workforces, particularly in police departments.

Diversity isn’t just important in cities, it’s important to American society as a whole. For this reason, the Aspen Institute Latinos and Society Program has facilitated conversations on developing pathways to equity and opportunity through events like our America’s Future Summit: Reimagining Opportunity in a Changing Nation. We’ve learned that opportunity comes in many forms and that achieving equity requires a cross-sector approach. Moreover, the story of Latinos is often similar to many other underrepresented communities in America – strategies for empowering Latino communities can be useful for empowering other groups.

Supporting diverse communities, including Latinos, matters for the communities themselves and for the cities in which they reside. Latino communities in particular create jobs for their communities and benefit their local economies. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of Latino owned businesses grew 46.9 percent nationally from 2007 to 2012, totaling 3.3 million firms. Over the same period, the number of non-Latino owned businesses grew just 0.7 percent. Despite these impressive numbers, Latino entrepreneurs face difficulties finding necessary capital and support in the business community, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

But equity is still lacking in cities, and “we also know, however, that the single greatest way to expand opportunity is by expanding and nurturing our local and small businesses,” said Charleston, South Carolina, Mayor John Tecklenburg. NLC reported that 17 percent of mayors discussed strategies to support minority-owned businesses this year.

Cities may be diverse, but mayors must find ways to expand equity to include Latino and other communities that have immeasurable contributions to make. Today, more than ever, we must recognize the value of diversity in cities across the country and support policies that encourage equity for all.

This post is part of a series expanding on NLC’s 2016 State of the Cities report. Check back next week as we delve deeper into what mayors had to say about data and technology.

About the Author: Haili Lewis is the Program Assistant for the Aspen Institute Latinos and Society Program. Follow the program at @AspenLatinos.