NEW YORK—Three dozen democratic mayors of American cities, including four of the five most populous, met in Gracie Mansion Monday to share ideas on income inequality, pre-school education, and access to fast internet. They hope local success stories on handling such issues will give them arguments to get their efforts funded federally.
The mayors signed up on the Cities of Opportunity Task Force formed two months ago under the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM), a 1,400-strong membership organization for cities with populations over 30,000. Mayor Bill de Blasio is a chair of the task force.
They agreed to, within a year, “advance” on reducing income inequality by either increasing minimum wage, pushing a change of local laws to allow the city to increase minimum wage, mandating more job benefits like paid sick leave and paid family leave, or combination of the above.
USCM released a report Monday showing 20 percent of the highest-earners get 51 percent of all income across the nation, while 20 percent of the lowest-earners get 3.2 percent. In 1975 the difference was some 44 percent to 4.3 percent. In 1995 it was about 49 to 3.7 percent.
A last week’s report by rating agency Standard & Poor concluded the gap between rich and poor slows down U.S. economy.
Another pledge of the task force is to improve access to pre-school education for all, especially the low-income children, or “close the early childhood education achievement gaps” in some other way.
“We start at three and four because children today drop out of college in third grade,” said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, hinting on research that suggest third grade reading ability corresponds with probability of getting a college education later in life. Low-income students generally do worse in school, even in early grades.
The mayors also agreed to either improve access to broadband internet, focusing on low-income residents and start-ups, or create laws to prevent internet providers from filtering lawful content, or both.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter elevated internet access to a social issue, saying 80 percent of job offers are only available online.
“Cities have to work and we’ve got to get the federal government back in the business of helping cities work,” de Blasio said. “The changing economy is our calling card, because the economy now requires the education system to be so much stronger. And our cities are obviously the gathering places for talent from all over our areas that are creating the kind of companies, and sustaining the companies that will make us truly competitive going forward.”
He’d like to see cities show results with their local efforts first and then use them as evidence to push for federal funding. “Then we’ve kind of already made the case – it’s not an abstract discussion in Washington,” he said.
In the coming moths the task force will formulate goals on housing and transportation too. De Blasio said federal funding for affordable housing will be a focus. “If you want our cities to be the economic engines, you have to be part of the solution on affordable housing,” he called on Washington.