States Convening to Discuss Improving Economic Mobility

From coast to coast, Governors are committed to improving economic mobility outcomes for families in their states and are investing in innovative programs—including in fields traditionally underutilized for economic security—and are shifting their focus to other factors that impact capacity for upward economic mobility.

During the week of May 23-25, 2022, the National Governors Association (NGA) Center for Best Practices convened more than thirty advisors to Governors spanning economic development, human services, and labor portfolios from 17 states and territories at the NGA Economic Mobility Summit in Saint Louis, Missouri, to explore an array of bipartisan policy options to advance economic mobility for low-income individuals and families. The Summit showcased state innovation with presentations from public, private and academic leaders, and prioritized opportunities for attendees to connect with their peers engaged in the economic mobility space.

Summit Attending State/Territories

The Economic Mobility Summit was part of an NGA Economic Mobility project run by the NGA Workforce Development and Economic Policy and Children and Families programs with general support from the Rockefeller Foundation. Over the course of 2021, NGA hosted several roundtables with public and private sector experts to discuss policy barriers and opportunities around the themes of reducing barriers for working families, strengthening the safety net as a springboard, and improving access to wealth-building opportunities. The content generated by these roundtables became the foundation for a new NGA publication, Advancing Economic Mobility for Low-Income Families: Policy Options for Governors, as well as the sessions featured at the Economic Mobility Summit. The publication provides the details, context and relevant state examples for dozens of policy options that Governors may consider for improving state economic mobility outcomes, several of which were also highlighted at the 2022 Summit.

The event kicked off with a panel discussion on governors’ perspectives, comprising tenured Governors’ Advisors from Vermont, North Carolina, Missouri, and New Jersey, who reflected on Governors’ approaches to developing an economic mobility agenda. A common theme across the panel focused on the pivotal role of Governors’ leadership in establishing a culture and practice of cross-agency collaboration and carving out opportunities to leverage the bully pulpit and build partnerships with private-sector leaders to bridge gaps in government services. Governors are important drivers when working with the legislature. Missouri emphasized the importance of Governor Parson’s vocal support of creating higher minimum wage for state workers in direct care given that the new wage will give employees more financial stability while boosting interest in a high-need profession. Panelists also emphasized the importance of approaching family economic mobility through an equity lens to ensure all families have the tools they need to be upwardly mobile. In North Carolina, Governor Cooper is tackling the digital divide through the recent creation of the North Carolina Office of Digital Equity and Literacy and Vermont has instituted an Equity Impact Assessment Tool for any major policies instituted statewide or presented to the Governor’s office. Notably, the panel converged on the importance of promoting access to wraparound supports, like affordable child care, housing, and broadband access, which critically increase family economic stability and bolster participation in work and training. To that end, Governor Murphy is prioritizing child care, which can be a key component to a parent’s ability to obtain and retain employment, by splitting the issue into three important pillars: building the child care workforce, supporting the business needs of child care providers, and increasing access and affordability, where Governor Murphy had recently announced a goal of establishing a universal preschool program in the state.

As the Summit transitioned into plenary content, attendees heard from private-sector thought leaders from the Rockefeller Foundation, Aspen Institute, Georgetown University’s Beeck Center, and the National Governors Association Workforce Innovation Networkabout how states can use technology and human-centered design to strengthen the social safety net as a springboard for working families. Strategies discussed by the speakers included instituting a “one-stop” benefits system and incorporating principles of human-centered design to ensure seamless access to social safety net programs.

The idea of “one-stop” wraparound services was reiterated in the second plenary session of the Summit, where state policy leaders from Maine and Oklahoma highlighted their innovative programs that reduce barriers to economic mobility for working families. Panelists stressed the importance of prioritizing “meeting people where they are” by hiring dedicated community navigators to help people access necessary support or by co-locating benefits like child care and job training to reduce the burden that families face when accessing workforce support.

Lastly, speakers from Illinois, Colorado, and the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund considered what states could do to improve access to wealth-building opportunities that help low-income families invest in their future. Speakers emphasized the need to do more beyond just financial literacy education, and highlighted several tools that make it easier for traditionally underserved populations to obtain well-paying jobs, access affordable credit, and invest in a home. Policies to clamp down on predatory loans, prioritize holistic approaches to asset-building, and promote the cultivation of individual emergency funds and state-run retirement plans can both protect consumers as well as proactively increase wealth building opportunities for low-income individuals and families in the wake of the pandemic.

The final day of programming included a Federal Update from the NGA’s Tim Carlton and provided ample discussion time for attendees to identify actionable ideas to take home to their states.

Please visit the NGA web pages for Children and Families or for Workforce Development and Economic Policy to find the latest publications, news, and resources related to state economic mobility and other subjects in economic development, workforce development, individual and family support, and more. If your state or territory is interested in learning more about any of these programs and ways that NGA can support your work in these areas, please contact Rachael Stephens, Program Director for Workforce Development and Economic Policy, or Jordan Hynes Program Director for Children and Families.