A rising tide actually drowns a lot of people:
When such cities as Atlanta and Charlotte enjoyed a job surge in the 20 years that began in 1990, for example, the job gains mostly bypassed residents — often African-American — who had been born into poverty. That is among the findings of a study led by Raj Chetty, a Harvard economist whose newly launched Opportunity Atlas found no association between job growth and economic mobility for poor residents of the affected areas.
“Job growth is not sufficient by itself to create upward mobility,” Chetty said. “It’s almost as though racial disparities have been amplified by job growth.” His finding challenges much of the conventional thinking, of government officials, business executives and economists, that job gains are the surest way to lift up people in impoverished communities.
I think one of the biggest mistakes many government officials make is placing high value on high average salaries, when it comes to recruiting businesses using incentives, anyway. Said company might "create" 300 good jobs, but when 85% of those jobs are taken by people moving to the area for just that reason, what has that accomplished in reducing local unemployment? Not a whole lot. And the more professional skills and certifications those jobs require, the less value to the community that new business represents. I realize many reading this may not agree, but take a quick look at your zip code before attempting to correct me:
In Baltimore, the “Old Town” neighborhood near Johns Hopkins Hospital is a mecca of entrepreneurship. The number of jobs there surged 21 percent between 2004 and 2013, compared with job growth of just 3.4 percent nationally. Nearly 15,000 people work in the area because of the hospital, and 60 percent of the companies are younger than 4 years old, according to government data compiled by the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance.
Yet the neighborhood is marked by abandoned storefronts, public housing and a 93 percent non-white population. More than half its residents live in poverty. Ninety percent of the children are raised by single parents. And the Opportunity Atlas shows that a low-income child from that neighborhood is likely to become even poorer as an adult.
Connecting its residents with employers has proved problematic, as it has in poor communities across the country. The disparity between residents and workers in the neighborhood suggests that the jobs have gone to people who either live in other, more prosperous neighborhoods or who commute from the surrounding suburbs.
Trust me when I say, you will never get a better example of the (desperate) need to improve education than when you interview potential employees. High school graduates who have some level of secondary education go into that hiring process with an edge, but it's not necessarily a deserved edge. Aptitude will only get you so far, and I have found myself in situations where I fired college grads while promoting people who couldn't read a paragraph without mispronouncing 2-3 words.
It's complicated, but ever since the late 1990's, upward mobility has been a crapshoot for many workers. And the inherent bias against those struggling to get out of poverty has only gotten worse, in my opinion. And with employment commute distances increasing, reliable transportation is emerging as one of the biggest challenges:
"I'm a single mom of three kids recently separated from my husband," Keyes told Business Insider. "It's tough. I haven't been working 40 hours. There's not enough money to go around, so just getting transportation is a big deal."
The challenge she faces represents a threat to viable employment that affects millions of Americans but is hardly on the radar screen of politicians or economic policymakers. A mix of urban-suburban sprawl and a well-documented lack of upkeep with US transportation infrastructure leaves many workers in precarious situations, despite a 17-year-low unemployment rate of 4.1%.
That's now attracting increasing attention from officials at the Federal Reserve as the central bank becomes more involved in community development, one of its key but often overlooked functions.
When unemployment was peaking at 10%, massive fiscal and monetary stimuli were the obvious solutions to the problem, and they are widely credited with having prevented a second Great Depression. Now, the low official unemployment rate makes the Fed's locally tailored interventions — which involve convening community groups, government actors, and the private sector — to find solutions to pressing social problems more important than ever.
I've been dealing with this on a micro-level for the past 2 1/2 years. Our small town took a leap a few years ago and signed on to a public transportation program, linking us via bus to the wider community. It costs (now) about $38,000 per year to participate, and for the last two budget cycles, I've had to advocate strongly to keep it in place. It's always the 1st or 2nd target of our local anti-tax zealots, who can't see past their own two-car garage.
But I've ridden the bus with those who are less fortunate, who are going to work, and community college, and grocery shopping, and to their doctor, and I know what is at stake. We may not be able to fix all of society's ills, but we can do this. We can provide a vibrant public transportation system, and give freedom and opportunity to those who struggle to grasp those things most of us take for granted.