Finding New Solutions for Inclusive Growth in the U.S.
by Sandy Fernandez
During the Center’s multi-city tour, Mastercard engaged with leaders from more than 100 organizations in seven U.S. cities to identify opportunities to advance inclusive growth.
Inequality and exclusion have become entrenched barriers to opportunity and success in the United States, particularly in cities and metropolitan areas. We saw and heard this in vivid detail during the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth’s recent multi-city tour, “On the Front Lines of Inclusive Growth.” During the tour, we met with more than 100 civic leaders, entrepreneurs, policymakers and independent citizens across seven cities—Atlanta, Chicago, Columbus, New York, Oakland, St. Louis and Washington, D.C. Our goal: to better understand what is limiting inclusive growth in the U.S. and identify opportunities to leverage Mastercard assets to make a difference.
Before we set out on our visits, we knew the United States had reached a unique moment. The nation was gearing up to vote for a new president and the economy was showing renewed vitality. Yet, we also recognized too many hardworking Americans were not benefiting from these economic gains. With this in mind, we wanted to hear from those on the front lines and learn how we can work with them to help reconnect people to opportunity.
Addressing disconnection and access disparities
In each of the seven cities on the tour, we heard a strong desire to engage with the private sector to tackle inequality and the growing wealth gap. The private sector, we believe, is in a unique position to leverage expertise, data, technology and philanthropic investment to lower barriers to opportunity.
At the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, we believe sustainable and equitable growth begins with connecting people to the vital networks that power the modern economy, from financial services to access to jobs to skills training to digital networks. But, the connections to these networks are fraying, and in some places, non-existent.
In Atlanta, for example, we heard how the lack of access to mass transit limits job options for low-income workers. The relationship between urban mobility and economic mobility is a growing issue in cities coast to coast. Local organizations, like Metropolitan Planning Council in Chicago, are starting to leverage data and analytics to better connect people to jobs. Their insights on travel patterns and other information illustrated how data can help shape future transit investment and economic development around existing transit infrastructure.
Data-driven insights to support equitable development and small business growth
Our conversations underscored the need for data driven insights, metrics, and methodologies to better answer key questions related to inclusive economic growth in U.S. metropolitan areas. With the Urban Institute, we are supporting a new project that will combine Mastercard data insights with public data to create new indicators and identify new evidence to support and monitor local inclusive growth efforts. By unlocking the potential of data for social impact, this work could also serve as a model for monitoring equitable development strategies elsewhere.
To truly have an impact, promising projects must expand beyond their start-up phases. The private sector is in a good position to help bring grassroots innovation to scale by using its expertise, networks, and ability to get products into the marketplace quickly.
Grameen America, a national microfinance organization, is working to bring its financial services to scale by standardizing and streamlining its back-end systems, with the support of Citi and Mastercard. Similarly, the Mastercard Center is partnering with Accion, an organization that supports entrepreneurs, to test how timely data on personal and business financial health can strengthen businesses and entrepreneurs.
Supporting the new American worker
Another theme we heard on the tour was how work support systems and infrastructure have not kept pace with the changing nature of work. The economic landscape facing the average American worker is rapidly evolving with the growth of the gig economy and new technologies impacting work. We’re supporting PolicyLink to conduct new research on the economic characteristics of the more than 100 million people in the U.S. living at 200 percent of the poverty line or below. The work will result in a detailed profile of the broader workforce trends shaping opportunities as well as barriers to economic mobility for nearly one-third of the U.S. population.
Inequality is a reality of our times and a problem that demands a solution. Only by helping people connect to the vital networks and resources they need to thrive can we build an economy that will grow sustainably and benefit all. The Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth is leveraging its assets to help advance inclusive growth solutions. Join us as we take this journey.