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Working Cities Challenge: Where We’re Headed

Working Cities Challenge: Where We’re Headed

Initiatives to restore the US economy to health have benefited some areas more than others. According to a Financial Times article, “A mere 75 out of 3,000 US counties represent over 50 percent of the US job growth. In this superstar economy, places that don’t have … decent schools, digital connectivity and so on don’t thrive.”

Connecticut cities are feeling that pinch for a number of reasons. In Hartford, for instance, job growth is on par with the rest of the nation (as reported in a study of 274 like-sized cities by the Urban Institute, a non-partisan think tank), but Hartford lags behind other cities when you look at stats like rent-burdened households, median family income and the unemployment rate.

The Boston Fed has stepped forward to exercise one of the little-known functions within its purview: community development. For the past five years it has run the Working Cities Challenge to help smaller cities in the Northeast address nagging problems that impede economic recovery for cities and economic health for its citizens.

Late last year, the Boston Fed agreed to fund cross-sector coalitions in five Connecticut cities that each had developed its own economic improvement strategy: Danbury, East Hartford, Hartford, Middletown, and Waterbury. Here is what they are each setting out to achieve in 10 years:

  • Danbury: reduce by 30 percent (1,009 lives) the number of immigrant households or households of color living below the poverty level in the city.
  • East Hartford: raise the median income of Silver Lane neighborhood residents by over $15,000.
  • Hartford: increase the education, skills and employment levels of 700 young adults (ages 16-29) in three Hartford neighborhoods (Barry Square, Frog Hollow, and South Green).
  • Middletown: reduce the percentage of single-parent families in the city living at or below the Federal Poverty Level from 35 percent to 20 percent.
  • Waterbury: reduce the unemployment rate of the South End/River Baldwin (RIBA) neighborhood from the current 23 percent, which is significantly higher than the rest of the city, to 12 percent by increasing the number of residents earning a livable wage by 150.

Each of these groups is focusing on improving conditions for low-income families – those that (at worst) rarely reap the benefits of a strong economy or (at best) are not consulted about their needs, concerns or ideas.

Among the 274 cities in the Urban Institute’s study one correlation proved significant – inclusion and equal access to affordable housing and education play a big part in economic health. “There’s no question these can be counterintuitive decisions to make when resources are constrained,” Poethig of the Urban Institute says. “But one of your biggest assets is the human capital that lives in your city—investing in your diverse communities can really drive economic growth.”

Wonder how this can play out in 10 years? Consider the Working Cities initiative in Lowell, Massachusetts. The Lowell Development and Financial Corporation provided low-interest loans to local business owners, many of them drawn from the local immigrant and refugee communities. City leaders also worked hard to invest in and leverage the assets of Lowell’s sizable population of Cambodian refugees, offering ESL classes, providing technical assistance to non-profits serving the community, and encouraging the development of multicultural events.

We can get there, too. Liberty Bank and Liberty Bank Foundation are proud to be supporters of the Working Cities Challenge in Connecticut.  For more information, visit the Boston Fed.