Is the American Dream real?
We’ve all been taught that if you work hard and play by the rules, you will be successful. Our basic needs are simple: safe, decent and affordable housing; work that pays us enough to live on and support our families; and a good education for our children from birth to adulthood.
This is the American Dream, right?
Is it a reality for everyone?
Too many people are working two and three jobs and still struggling to make ends meet. Too many are living paycheck to paycheck, only a car accident or medical emergency away from going under.
At the same time, there’s not enough affordable housing, an unconscionable number of children in our community are homeless and unable to read on grade-level in third grade, and our schools, in general, are beset by high poverty and renewed segregation by income and by race.
I’m running for re-election to the County Commission to continue my leadership in developing and enacting solutions for these structural challenges. The key issues for our campaign are:
1. Economic Opportunity for All
2. Universal Access to Quality Early Childhood Education
3. Jobs and Economic Security
4. Affordable Housing
In 2014, when I served as Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners, I called for and originated the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Economic Opportunity Task Force because of a study conducted by Harvard University and the University of California at Berkeley which revealed that of the top 50 communities in the country, Charlotte ranked last – 50th out of 50 – in terms of access to economic mobility.
In other words, if you are born poor in Charlotte, the likelihood is that you will die poor. Further, we have some of the highest concentrations of poverty in Mecklenburg County than anywhere else in North Carolina.
The Task Force issued its report in 2017.
Many of us have known about these issues for a while, but never have we grappled with the inequities in such a substantive and intentional way. For the first time, we put a mirror up to ourselves. Although we don’t like all that we see, this is the perfect time to activate our community’s can-do spirit to do something about it.
Now, we need to take the recommendations from the Task Force and develop a plan of action specific to Mecklenburg County. It is time for bold action to make structural, rather than programmatic, changes. We need to invest in helping people become self-sufficient.
I’m committed to continuing to lead the way.
Economic opportunity means access to the American Dream.
Universal Pre-Kindergarten: a key to prosperity…
Education is the key to prosperity. Early education, starting from birth, is the foundation - long before formal schooling begins in kindergarten.
We know that on-grade educational proficiency can be a key predictor of future events in a child’s life.
Currently, only 39% of the third-graders in Mecklenburg County can read on grade level. Put another way, most of our kids do not read at grade level in third-grade.
This is intolerable.
Rather than simply talk about this issue, I've acted to solve the problem.
First, I helped establish Read Charlotte, a collective impact initiative whose goal is within 10 years to have 80% of our third graders reading on grade level.
I led the effort to commit the county to become a financial partner of this initiative because it is critical to our future.
More importantly, I am leading the effort to bring Universal Pre-K to Mecklenburg County. Every child, from birth to age five, should have access to a quality early childhood education, no matter their financial circumstances.
The evidence is clear that every dollar of investment in early childhood education reaps multiple returns. To further this effort, we conducted a feasibility study to determine how Universal Pre-K could be achieved. We determined that this initiative was feasible, and issued a report detailing these findings.
In recognition of my efforts on early childhood education, I was honored to be invited to join the Blue Ribbon Commission on Local Financing Options for Early Childhood Development at the N.C. State University Institute for Emerging Issues.
When a person has a job, earning a living wage, he or she can support a family and buy goods and services in the economy.
After all, businesses need customers who have money to purchase their products and services.
In addition, when people have jobs paying living wages, the need for government assistance declines, reducing the pressure on our tax revenue.
As it is, nearly 250,000 people receive some assistance from the Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services. This is not sustainable.
We need to focus our efforts on reducing this level of need in our community – not by giving a hand out, but by offering a hand up. We need to help create the conditions and the opportunities for people to earn living wages.
The county can play a key role in bridging this gap…
I have consistently focused attention on leveraging the county's construction projects to provide job opportunities for residents in need.
Also, I support job training programs available at institutions like Central Piedmont Community College.
Too often, we have people complete job training with no reasonable prospect of a job at the end. We must connect job training to real, available jobs.
A trained workforce is essential to business stability.
The affordable housing shortage is real. Homelessness is real.
We need to reduce homelessness through increased Housing First efforts, and, through public-private partnerships, incentivize private developers to produce more housing that is affordable for more people.
The county should increase its supportive housing services and implement programs that can lead to greater home ownership.
In almost all the new developments in which the county is a partner, I am insisting that some portion be reserved for affordable housing. This happened with the Brooklyn Village project, where we have a healthy affordable housing component.
We have to create public-private partnerships.
We should explore how we can deploy surplus property owned by CMS to create workforce housing for folks like our teachers and police officers and firefighters.
In short, we need to enhance the county’s role in addressing our challenge of affordable housing, and close the economic opportunity gap so that Mecklenburg County residents of every background can claim their part of the American Dream through self-sufficiency, self-realization, and economic security.