NLC President Matt Zone’s Task Force Releases Recommendations for Cities to Expand Economic Mobility and Keep the American Dream Alive

November 15, 2017 - (5 min read)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – In a report released today, 22 esteemed leaders from cities big and small lay out a road map to help mayors, councilmembers and other municipal officials expand economic mobility and opportunity in their communities and enable more of their residents to share in the American Dream.

With the recognition many Americans have not been part of the recent economic recovery and economic disparities by region, race and ethnicity are growing, NLC President and Cleveland Councilmember Matt Zone launched the Task Force on Economic Mobility and Opportunity in November 2016. After a year of work, the task force, chaired by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, releases its report, Keeping the American Dream Alive: Expanding Economic Mobility and Opportunity in America’s Cities, which includes 33 recommendations for local action in four areas identified as top priorities for cities:  jobs, wages, and workforce development; equitable economic development; housing affordability; and financial inclusion. From the basics to innovative examples, each recommendation is designed to help city leaders bridge today’s expanding economic divides.

“Now more than ever, the American Dream is at risk, and we, as local officials, can be key drivers of innovation in expanding economic mobility,” President Zone said. “This task force report offers something for every city, whether large, medium or small. The task force’s work is done, but the work of city leaders is not. We all have a role to play in helping families pursue the American Dream; get a job that pays a living wage; live in an affordable and safe home; manage their finances while avoiding financial traps; and benefit from the growth and development taking place in our cities.”

City leaders throughout the nation are already pursuing some of these strategies. Many of the recommendations are starting points to get the ball rolling, while others are more advanced and require deeper strategic planning and partnerships to be successful. In addition to the recommendations, the report includes examples from task force members’ cities to illustrate how these policy approaches are being implemented in local communities.

“We believe that the strategies we have highlighted will help leaders from cities large and small move the needle on economic mobility and improve the lives of their residents,” Mayor Reed said. “I have long said that cities are where hope meets the streets, but without economic mobility and opportunity the hopes of many become wishful thinking and the streets turn into dead ends. As elected leaders it is our responsibility to build and maintain the bustling thoroughfares that all our residents can travel to turn their hopes into reality.”

City examples include:

  • In East Point, Georgia, task force member and Councilwoman Deanna Holiday Ingraham championed raising the lowest wage for city employees to $13.50 an hour as of July 1, with plans to incrementally increase it to $15 per hour. Positioning itself as a model employer, the city is also exploring requiring city contractors and vendors to honor these wage provisions.
  • In response to a building boom that left many low-income families struggling to afford housing, the City of Boston enacted an Inclusionary Development Policy that requires certain developers to set aside a percentage of their units for moderate- to middle-middle income households. In 2015, task force member and Mayor Martin Walsh expanded the policy and increased transparency in the development process.
  • The City of St. Petersburg worked with customers who had outstanding bills with the city water utility to create incentivized repayment plans and offer them financial counseling services as part of NLC’s Local Interventions for Financial Empowerment Through Utility Payments, or LIFT-UP, pilot program. An evaluation of the pilot showed St. Petersburg residents in the program were 53 percent less likely to have their water shut off. Task force member and City Councilman Karl Nurse is featured in an NLC video about the project.

In President Zone’s hometown of Cleveland – with Councilwoman Phyllis Cleveland representing the city on the task force – the city has put in place community benefit agreements to make sure developers with city contracts are providing jobs to Cleveland residents with fair wages and that training opportunities are available for those jobs.

As the frontline defenders of the American Dream, city leaders actively pursuing these efforts locally are building stronger communities, stronger cities and a stronger country that benefits everyone.

To read the report, Keeping the American Dream Alive: Expanding Economic Mobility and Opportunity in America’s Cities, click here.

Task Force on Economic Mobility and Opportunity Members: 

  • Mayor Kasim Reed of Atlanta (Chair)
  • Mayor Megan Barry of Nashville, Tennessee
  • Mayor William V. Bell of Durham, North Carolina
  • Councilmember Rick Callahan of Dallas
  • Treasurer José Cisneros of San Francisco
  • Councilmember Phyllis Cleveland of Cleveland
  • Mayor Pro Tem Tameika Isaac Devine of Columbia, South Carolina
  • Mayor Johnny L. DuPree of Hattiesburg, Mississippi
  • Mayor Jorge Elorza of Providence, Rhode Island
  • Councilmember Deana Holiday Ingraham of East Point, Georgia
  • Councilmember Karl Nurse of St. Petersburg, Florida
  • Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell of Los Angeles
  • Mayor William Peduto of Pittsburgh
  • Mayor Jennifer Roberts of Charlotte, North Carolina
  • Mayor Libby Schaaf of Oakland, California
  • Councilmember Matt Schellenberg of Jacksonville, Florida
  • Mayor Paul Soglin of Madison, Wisconsin
  • Councilmember Kristin Szakos of Charlottesville, Virginia
  • Mayor T. Oscar Trevino of North Richland Hills, Texas
  • Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Boston
  • Mayor Lovely Warren of Rochester, New York
  • Councilmember P.C. Wu of Pensacola, Florida


The research and writing of Keeping the American Dream Alive were made possible in part by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. We thank them for their support but acknowledge that the findings and conclusions presented in this report are those of NLC and the Task Force alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Foundation.


The National League of Cities (NLC) is the voice of America’s cities, towns and villages, representing more than 200 million people across the country. NLC works to strengthen local leadership, influence federal policy and drive innovative solutions. Stay connected with NLC on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.