In 2016, the US Partnership on Mobility from Poverty (the Partnership) convened with the task of answering one big, bold, and exciting question: What would it take to dramatically increase mobility from poverty? Specifically, the Partnership was asked to generate ideas for philanthropic and public sector investment that could make a difference.
Over two years, members of the Partnership listened to and learned from 300 residents from more than 30 urban, suburban, rural, and tribal communities, as well as from 400 content experts.
One of the Partnership's earliest observations was also one of the most fundamental: poverty is not just a lack of money. The definition of mobility the Partnership developed has three core principles: economic success, power and autonomy, and being valued in community.
These principles guided the development of a series of ideas that are part of five interconnected strategies.
Change the narrative. The narratives we use to make sense of the world shape our attitudes and ultimately the policies we devise and endorse. We must dispel myths about poverty that dehumanize people in poverty, expose structural forces that contribute to poverty, and partner with nontraditional allies who can help reshape the narrative.
Create access to good jobs. Everyone who is willing to work should have access to a path to a good job. Ideas within this strategy include a range of reforms to improve job access and job quality and leveraging community colleges to put more students and families on a path to upward mobility.
Ensure zip code is not destiny. Every child and adult should have the chance to thrive in a place of opportunity and safety within a caring community. Ideas within this strategy include policies to provide more families access to opportunity-rich neighborhoods; new rental vouchers for families with young children; closing the financial services gap; and participatory justice, a new model of community empowerment to increase safety and justice.
Provide support that empowers. Our service delivery systems should take "whole person" and "whole family" approaches, recognizing people's strengths and needs during different phases of human development by investing in solutions for young children, adolescents, and adults. Ideas within this strategy include expansions of the child tax credit, evidence-based home visiting programs, and coach-navigator models that help families set and achieve goals; combining positive youth development with access to better birth control to give young people the reason and tools to avoid unintended pregnancy; and transforming child support into a family-building system.
Transform data use. Increasing access and usability of government, nonprofit, and private sector data could help individuals make more informed choices; it could also help researchers and policymakers better understand which programs are most effective and why.
"A key insight from our deliberations and from discussions with urban, suburban, rural, and tribal communities is the need to rethink how we define mobility from poverty, and therefore, how we measure success," says Nisha Patel, executive director of the US Partnership on Mobility from Poverty. "Economic success is, of course, fundamental. But power and autonomy, having a sense of agency and a say over the trajectory of your life, and being valued in community—or belonging—are as important. If governments and philanthropies demand outcomes across these principles, in addition to traditional economic measures like income and assets, it could create a seismic, positive shift in policies and programs to create access to the American dream."
"Many people have given up hope that their children can have a better life than they've had," says David Ellwood, chair of the Partnership, Scott M. Black Professor of Political Economy at the Harvard Kennedy School, and co-author with Nisha Patel of Restoring the American Dream. "As we met with people in communities across the country, the Partnership saw how much real progress is possible. Coordinated action across five strategies—narrative, jobs, place, people, and data—can lead to a far brighter future."
Restoring the American Dream describes the US Partnership on Mobility from Poverty's definition of mobility and framework of five mutually reinforcing strategies. Each week over the next few months, the Partnership will release idea papers detailing specific proposals under each of the five strategies.
The Urban Institute staffs and supports the US Partnership on Mobility from Poverty with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The members of the US Partnership on Mobility from Poverty are
David T. Ellwood (Chair), Scott M. Black Professor of Political Economy, Harvard Kennedy School
Elisabeth Babcock, President and CEO, Economic Mobility Pathways
Joshua Bolten, President and CEO, Business Roundtable
Arthur C. Brooks, President, American Enterprise Institute
William J. Bynum, Chief Executive Officer, Hope Enterprise Corporation
Raj Chetty, Professor, Stanford University
The Reverend Luis Cortés, Jr, Founder, President, and CEO of Esperanza
Jennifer L. Eberhardt, Associate Professor, Stanford University
Kathryn Edin, Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs, Princeton University
Robert Greenstein, President, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
Cheryl L. Hyman, former Chancellor, City Colleges of Chicago
Anthony B. Iton, Senior Vice President for Healthy Communities, The California Endowment
Lawrence Katz, Elisabeth Allison Professor of Economics, Harvard University
N. Gregory Mankiw, Robert M. Beren Professor of Economics, Harvard University
Ai-jen Poo, Director, National Domestic Workers Alliance; Co-director, Caring Across Generations
john a. powell, Director, Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at the University of California, Berkeley
Cecilia Rouse, Dean, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University
Juan Salgado, Chancellor, City Colleges of Chicago
Eldar Shafir, William Stewart Tod Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs, Princeton University
Srinija Srinivasan, Cofounder, Loove
Marta Tienda, Maurice P. During '22 Professor of Demographic Studies and Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs, Princeton University
Jeremy Travis, Senior Vice President of Criminal Justice, Laura and John Arnold Foundation
Roxane White, Morgridge Family Economic Security Innovator in Residence, Ascend at the Aspen Institute
Hirokazu Yoshikawa, University Professor, New York University