Municipalities are Advancing Economic Mobility through Workforce Development

Residents getting and keeping a job is a critical step in advancing economic mobility. Economic mobility is a person’s movement up or down the economic ladder over a lifetime. For many achieving economic mobility requires additional education after high school. However, in normal economic times gaining industry-recognized credentials or formal degrees requires navigating multiple systems and supports that do not talk to each other. COVID-19 pushed the systems even more limiting opportunities and increased confusion about navigating them.

The COVID-19 pandemic’s economic consequences have pushed many to rethink their line of work and for municipalities which industries are more resilient to future pandemics. When municipalities start engaging employers, Workforce Investment Boards (WIB), and connect these efforts with education and skill development targeted at high-growth, high-potential sectors stronger outcomes for residents are possible.

Several cities that are part of NLC’s Equitable Economic Mobility Initiative (EEMI) are expanding the economic mobility of their residents by doubling down on workforce development. They are doing this by acting on data revealing the limitations of COVID-19-created programs, investing to ensure economic development projects are equitably increasing the economic mobility of more residents, and ensuring that the programs created to provide families a leg up reach those who would benefit.

The City of Akron, OH, is a city of action that uses data and tough conversations to address challenges in its community. In 2017, Akron established Full Term First Birthday Greater Akron (Full Term First Birthday) collaborative to address the unacceptably high rate of infant mortality in Summit County, and the significant disparity in birth outcomes between white and African American infants.

During the height of the pandemic, Akron was able to provide financial support via rent payments for mothers who participated in Full Term First Birthday. The city recognized that long-term housing assistance wouldn’t be available and stronger workforce development training and support were needed to ensure that these women could gain employment that would allow them to provide stable and healthy housing for themselves and their children.

Through a contract with Akron, the Well Community Development Corporation (Well CDC) is providing personal and professional development training to pregnant and recently postpartum mothers aimed at increasing employment for participants. Additionally, participants receive childcare, transportation to and from training, and mental and emotional health services throughout the program. Furthermore, participants who graduate from the program will receive a small monetary completion gift and funds for work clothing.

The City of Roanoke, VA recognized the opportunity that it had when an Innovation Corridor came together in their community. Roanoke Innovation Corridor is a key to the City’s economic recovery from COVID-19. The Corridor is a collaborative effort among a community of entrepreneurs, businesses, government agencies, healthcare, and higher education professionals working to create opportunities that impact bio-medical research, healthcare, and technology.

Roanoke with support from the United Way of Roanoke Valley realized that the Innovation Corridor had the potential to employ the city’s ALICE — Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed – population. Working in partnership with their local WIB the Greater Roanoke Workforce Development Board the city is augmenting its American Rescue Plan Act investment with funds received through EEMI to provide additional support services that will allow individuals who complete their training and are placed in a job to have access to continued support and services for an extended period. These efforts are aimed at preventing families from losing needed benefits because of the additional income they receive.

Often creating a new program is an important first step in boosting economic mobility for residents, however, work is needed to ensure it is successful and reaches the residents that most need the support. The City of Sacramento, CA understood that to maximize their investments in workforce development, small business development, and financial coaching they had to get outside of their normal communications channels to reach those who could benefit the most. Through their EEMI work, they have contracted with local community influencers that the city will train on the different programs. These individuals will then share information about each of the three programs with their communities through tailored outreach that matches the best way to reach each community.

Sacramento is tracking the success of the project and if the outreach efforts are fruitful will be expanding it to other areas of its community that have development projects underway where these same services could be leveraged for greater community economic mobility.

Municipalities that are interested in expanding economic mobility through workforce development need to first understand their diverse populations (i.e., family composition, level of education, household income, etc.), the workforce data for their region, and the needs and wants of their important actors from community colleges to employers in growth sectors. Additionally, municipalities have an opportunity to partner with their WIB, employers, and education partners to ensure that the resources of the city from neighborhood engagement to transportation and public benefits are being brought to bear to increase participation and completion by residents. These collective efforts can increase the number of residents that are moving forward into careers and not just jobs, increase taxes paid, decrease benefits provided and make communities more interesting to employers who are looking for future workforces with defined skills and experience.

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Sign up for the Economic Mobility Peer Network to connect with other cities and hear from leading experts on topics designed to help cities boost residents’ economic mobility using strategies grounded in equity.

In the coming months, NLC will deliver several blogs from NLC’s Equitable Economic Mobility Initiative (EEMI) cohort. These cities are working to improve residents’ economic mobility by leveraging ARPA funding, aligning community partners, and sustainably changing the trajectory for many vulnerable families. 

About the Author

Patrick Hain

About the Author

Patrick is a Program Manager with the Economic Opportunity and Financial Empowerment team at the National League of Cities’ Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.