Like-minded groups pool their efforts to advance economic mobility
By Isaac Peterson
The anti-poverty group A Minnesota Without Poverty joined with the Pew Charitable Trust to conduct a day-long workshop in early June that brought together like-minded organizations to devise solutions to end poverty in this state.
The workshop, called “Economic Mobility: Moving Toward Enough For All,” featured speakers Nancy Maeker of A Minnesota Without Poverty and Erin Currier of the Pew Charitable Trusts. The workshop also included a panel consisting of Jessica Toft, associate professor at the University of St. Thomas; Ernesto Velez Bustos, executive director of Centro Campesino; Christianne Lind, program officer at the Northwest Area Foundation; Kevin Lindsey, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights; Carolyn Roby, Wells Fargo community relations senior vice president; and Erin Currier.
Nancy Maeker explained the purpose of the workshop: “We have pulled together other organizations that are also working on some facet of the bi-partisan Legislative Commission to End Poverty recommendations. About a year ago, we decided that we had three priorities for this year:
“First, raising the minimum wage — and that got done. Second, MFIP [Minnesota Family Investment Program, intended to help families out of poverty] housing allowance — that one did not get implemented this year, but will come back next year. Third, to host an educational process on economic inequality, so that we can do something about it.
“There are others working on these issues, so we decided to have this conference. In addition to making the overall presentation of what the state of economic mobility is here, in the United States, we wanted to bring it home to Minnesota. A Minnesota Without Poverty’s whole theme is ‘We believe there is enough for all to have enough if we all do our part.’ What we’re working on now is to do our part. We know that we can’t end poverty if we don’t end economic inequality.”
After presentations of facts concerning poverty, the panel featured statements by each panel member and took questions from workshop participants. Following the panel, participants formed groups to propose solutions to ending the poverty problem in Minnesota.
Proposed solutions came under these broad areas of concern, with most also containing subtopics. Among them are living wage, jobs, housing, voting, research on the contributions of the working poor, restorative justice, children and childcare, reforming predatory Payday Lending, access to higher education/secondary education, asset building, improve transportation, conversations about race, change welfare policy, access to social services, small business development, and access to transportation.
When asked what the next step in the process would be, Maekert said, “What comes next is, after this process here today, hopefully by the end of today, we will have identified, both from the learning that we get from Erin Currier, from the panelists, and then from the discussions at the tables, we will have ideas for solutions that we will put into action after today.”
Maekert said that lobbying the legislature would be very important moving forward, “…because public policy is very much a part of why we have disparities in the first place. You’ve probably heard of the book The Color of Wealth that outlines how five different ethnic racial groups have come to America — or already were here — and how the public policies set in place have affected their lives — our lives — for the past 150 years. Public policy is powerful, and what we
do today in public policy will affect people’s lives for the next 150 years.”
Regarding voter education and “get out the vote” efforts, Maekert told us, “Yes, there will be that. We also want to work closely with the Senate Select Committee on Racial Disparities and Opportunities. We know some of the people on that; we know the co-chairs of that committee.”
In answer to the same questions, Currier replied, “As for Pew’s intention for moving toward implementing the workshop’s recommendations, we have been…thinking about the drivers that influence mobility and where policy can most effectively intervene. We’re going to be focusing on financial capital, so we’re looking very deeply at family finances — not just income, but also wealth, consumption — and we’re thinking about how families’ short-term economic security matters for their long-term economic mobility.”
The Pew Charitable Trust became involved because, according to Currier, “Pew has been working on studying economic mobility for several years now. Our interest is in studying the health and status of the American Dream.
“What we’re looking at is how likely it is for people to be economically mobile over time, and what economic factors drive that movement, either up, or propelling Americans back down.
“We’ve seen some surprising data: On the one hand, Americans are doing great. They’re making more money than their parents did; the economy’s gotten better over the last generation in absolute dollar terms, a pretty rosy picture,” Currier continued.
“But on the other hand, it’s a little bit more disturbing, to see that people who are raised at the bottom or at the top of the income distribution are highly likely to stay there as adults. That’s a phenomenon we call ‘stickiness at the ends.’ This is particularly problematic when you think of the differences in race: African Americans are much more likely to be stuck at the bottom, and much more likely to fall out of the middle. So, even families who have achieved middle-income status have a hard time passing on that achievement to their children.
“One of the surprising data points from our research is that the United States has less mobility than Canada and many western European nations. So this idea that we have of ourselves as the land of opportunity is not always borne out by the data.
“We have a lot of room to grow in terms of our mobility potential.”
A Minnesota Without Poverty’s website may be viewed at http://mnwithoutpoverty.org/about-us.ht ml. Pew Charitable Trust’s Economic Mobility Project’s website address is www.pewstates.org/projects/econom ic-mobility-project-328061.
Isaac Peterson welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.