What Do We Do About Economic Mobility? From Thoughts to Actions

Published mar. 29, 2016

There are startling statistics that we can no longer ignore. A child born into a family in the lowest income quintile has a 4% chance of moving into the top quintile. Half of black Americans are born poor and stay poor. Most black, middle-class children are downwardly mobile.

These data points reflect the growing inequality, lack of economic mobility, and increasing numbers of Americans living in poverty and insecurity. Like many of you, Jobs for the Future is doubling our efforts to change this deeply troubling and painful reality in the land of opportunity. 

At JFF we are committed to equity and social justice and to our mission to improve the education and career outcomes of young people and adults who are being left behind in the emerging economy. We are sensitive to injustices based on race and ethnicity that compound challenges of poverty, poor education, and lack of access to good jobs. Our work speaks to these issues, as does the work of many of our partners, and together we need to raise our voices for a more equal and just society.

While we know that there is power in gaining a postsecondary credential, we also know that more and better education or job training alone will not solve the problem of poverty. Without high-quality health care, adequate housing, accessible public transportation, a fair justice system, a higher minimum wage and employee protections, attention to racial discrimination, and basic family supports such as day care and parental leave, individuals and groups cannot thrive. 

JFF cannot address all of these challenges, so we are focusing our work under the umbrella of economic mobility to look more carefully at the extent to which there are positive improvements in the economic position of the youth and adults in the career pathways we are working with states and communities to develop. One challenge in this framing is the limited data that the federal government, states, community college systems, school districts, and data organizations have on labor market outcomes for postsecondary credential completers. Without good data we do not have good or complete answers to burning questions about strategies that promote economic mobility for low-income, underserved, and underprepared populations. 

JFF also knows that the effective and sustained engagement of employers in this work is critically important. We are committed to working with our nation’s business community to bolster efforts to increase work-based experiences for learners and career advancement opportunities for workers with the ultimate goal of increasing opportunity for all while ensuring the United States remains a leading economic force in the global economy.

At our national summit June 28-29 on Voices for Opportunity, we will tackle many questions related to economic mobility such as: 

  • What must public and private systems do to fundamentally support economic mobility for everyone?
  • What kinds of partnerships are necessary to address the multifaceted issue of facilitating economic mobility?
  • What types of policy and financing are needed to increase the scale and broaden the spread of evidence-based interventions?
  • How can efforts to address economic mobility in the fields of housing, health care, and transportation be most effectively joined with education and workforce strategies?
  • How can we further apply research and evaluation and best practice findings to inform practice and policy?

JFF provides services within an increasingly vocal national conversation about income inequality and the gap between the promise of opportunity for all and the reality of low economic mobility for many. Join us in New Orleans to add your voice, expertise, and passion to this conversation.