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Boosting Economic Mobility Could Take A Generation, Leaders Are Told

It's been two years since a task force of Charlotte leaders published the Leading on Opportunity report. It outlined 21 strategies to improve economic mobility after a national study ranked Charlotte last out of 50 cities. Hundreds of business and civic leaders gathered uptown Tuesday to review the effort so far.

The progress report was delivered by Foundation for the Carolinas chief Michael Marsicano, who compared Charlotte's challenge to the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after World War II. Except, in this case, he said, it's about rebuilding the systems that keep some Charlotteans in poverty. Marsicano said it could take a generation and lots of money.

[Related Content: Report Lays Out Approaches To Tackle Poverty]

"With the Marshall Plan, Americans sacrificed to send billions to our European allies. In Charlotte, one neighbor will need to make modest sacrifices for another. If raising taxes on my family enables another family to have a roof over its head and send its children to preschool or college, so be it, tax me," he said, drawing applause.

Marsicano made no specific proposals at the breakfast uptown with business and civic leaders but called on them to support the work of the Leading on Opportunity Council, which was formed to carry out recommendations in that 2017 report.  

"Now the cynics will say not much has happened since they published the report. On this, the second anniversary of our collective work, my response to these cynics is short and to the point: I beg to differ," Marsicano said.

Marsicano cited two areas where the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County are working with the private sector.

"Look at how much private and public money has come to the table in just two short years for early care and education as well as affordable housing," he said.

Last year, Mecklenburg County started a universal Pre-K program aimed at 4-year-old children of working parents. But the program has struggled to fill all its slots.

Meanwhile, city voters last fall approved $50 million in bonds for the city's affordable housing trust fund. The private sector has pledged to match that, and there's other money coming in to create and preserve affordable units.   

But Marsicano said there's lots more to do, and it will take patience. It will be 15 years, he said, before we see the effects on four-year-olds who started preschool this school year.   

Andrea Smith, a Bank of America executive who co-chairs the Leading on Opportunity Council, told the crowd they need to commit to the work and stick with it.

"It will take all of you in this room," she said. "Our work is to ensure Charlotte-Mecklenburg is a place that honors and ignites the spark in young people and to make sure they have the tools and opportunities to thrive."

The city is getting outside help, too: Charlotte is one of several cities picked for a foundation-funded national program called Opportunity Insights, led by Harvard University.

That, said Marsicano, means the nation is watching.


Find the Leading on Opportunity report and information about the Leading on Opportunity Council at https://www.leadingonopportunity.org/

David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.