Keeping the American Dream Alive

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This is a guest post by NLC President Matt Zone, councilmember, Cleveland.

The promise of economic mobility and opportunity lies at the heart of America’s culture and democratic society. At its core, this promise hinges on two basic concepts: first, that everyone has a chance to improve their economic status and wellbeing through personal initiative and hard work; and second, that the benefits of economic growth reach all population groups.

The American Dream, as it is so often called, has never been fully realized in every era and for every segment of society but it has been kept alive by dramatic economic gains across multiple generations. Children have grown up and attained a standard of living that was higher than what their parents enjoyed, and the hope of a better life for each successive generation has endured.

Today, to equip city leaders to face that reality head-on, the National League of Cities (NLC) is introducing Keeping the American Dream Alive: Expanding Economic Mobility and Opportunity in America’s Cities.

Now, it seems that something fundamental has changed. Even as our nation overall has emerged from the depths of the Great Recession, many groups of Americans find themselves unable to participate in this economic recovery. Some are being left behind despite a willingness to work hard because they live in regions, cities or towns that are still not experiencing economic growth.

Others have been unable to keep up with the rapid changes wrought by technological advances and global competition, lacking the education and skills necessary to compete for jobs that pay family-supporting wages. As a result, in cities and towns across America, economic disparities by region, race and ethnicity are growing to the point that they threaten to divide our nation.

Nowhere are these changes more evident and felt more strongly than in America’s cities. As engines of regional growth and national prosperity, cities frequently have opportunities to lead the way in economic development, innovation and inclusion. At the same time, many city leaders are grappling with how to prepare for and respond to the demands of the new economy while ensuring that all residents benefit from future growth.

Mayors, city councilmembers and other municipal officials understand that the social fabric of their communities depends upon their ability to bridge today’s expanding economic gaps. In November 2016, National League of Cities (NLC) President and Cleveland Councilmember Matt Zone launched NLC’s Task Force on Economic Mobility and Opportunity to develop recommendations that will guide city leaders as they address these critical challenges.

The Task Force, a group of 22 local elected leaders led by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, spent the past year examining promising city strategies in four key areas: jobs, wages and workforce development; equitable economic development; housing affordability; and financial inclusion. This report summarizes the Task Force’s major recommendations and offers examples from their cities that illustrate how municipal leaders can take action to increase economic mobility and opportunity.

About the author: Matt Zone is the 2017 president of the National League of Cities (NLC). He serves as a city councilmember in Cleveland, Ohio, representing Ward 15, which includes the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood where he and generations of his family grew up.

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