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TAFT: Address opportunity gap for urban poor

August 15, 2015

viewpoint-taft-billIndianapolis employers are beginning to experience a shortage of skilled workers for key manufacturing and technical jobs that will only grow with the rapid retirement of baby boomers. These high-paying jobs will not be easy to fill, since Indiana has failed to produce enough high school graduates with the basic skills for such technical jobs.

Meanwhile, a growing number of young people, particularly those of color, are growing into adulthood without access to jobs that offer any hope of earning a living wage. This kind of widespread lack of opportunity is costly to these citizens, their families and our city as a whole. Since Indianapolis has the fastest-growing minority population of any Midwestern city, this gap in opportunity must be addressed if we have any hope of offering a fulfilling life to these citizens and remaining a healthy city.

By 2043, the majority of U.S. citizens will be people of color. Since the average minority household currently owns only 10 percent of the wealth of a typical white family, we are facing a huge challenge of broadening economic inclusion. A recent International Monetary Fund study found that growing inequality is damaging our economic growth, with an estimated $1 trillion in annual gross domestic product lost due to this gap.

Unfortunately, a growing body of research has proven that this economic gap between the majority population and people of color does not shrink in times of economic prosperity without specific efforts in place to increase equity in our society. Equity can be defined as just and fair inclusion in a society in which all can participate, prosper and reach their full potential.

To achieve this outcome, we need to ask the question of who pays, who benefits and who decides about how we educate, employ and invest in our citizens. Indianapolis citizens are increasingly asking these questions of our education, economic development and justice systems, and ignoring them will imperil the amazing progress our city has achieved on many fronts over the past generation.

I am grateful to work for a local organization that is preparing our community to take on this challenge. Local Initiatives Support Corp. of Indianapolis recently adopted a strategy for community development that seeks to “connect the people and places of urban Indianapolis to the growing economic opportunities of our region.”

While our overall regional economy is doing well, many of our urban neighborhoods continue to suffer from growing unemployment, loss of businesses, and housing vacancy. We have proven that these problems can be overcome through dramatic transformation in a few neighborhoods, but we clearly need to adopt new and bigger approaches to education, employment and business development if we are to connect more urban citizens to opportunity.

To help us shape this agenda, LISC will host national demographic expert Victor Rubin, vice president of research at Policy Link, to discuss changing demographics in Indiana, and talk about how these are affecting issues of equity in our community. Rubin and a panel of local experts will be featured at the Development on Tap event at 3:30 p.m. Aug. 19 at the Platform, 202 E. Market St.

All are invited to attend this event, which also will feature Sun King beer and pretzels free to all attendees who RSVP to droberts@lisc.org.•

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Taft is executive director of LISC in Indianapolis.

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