Cities and metro regions offer a wealth of opportunity for regenerating our country’s social, economic and environmental infrastructure.
The 100 largest metro areas account for 65% of the U.S. population, almost two-thirds of U.S. jobs, and three-quarters of GDP. Decades of disinvestment and failed federal policy have left many of these regions in decline, with unprecedented levels of economic inequality, and an economy in which the fastest growing sectors produce the lowest quality jobs.
A strong urban policy will be crucial to key initiatives already prioritized by the Obama Administration: large-scale public infrastructure investments, an economic stimulus package and efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To truly succeed, these initiatives must grow the supply of high quality jobs and ensure that low-income women and men can obtain those jobs.
The past decade of local successes in reshaping urban economic development point the way to a new American Urban Agenda that can strengthen and rebuild the middle class. These local models should inspire and inform a new federal policy toward cities.
This agenda incorporates an array of proven public policies aimed to rebuild the urban middle-class, using government procurement, regulation, incentives, employment, contracting and construction as leverage points for improving
the quality of existing jobs and attracting better quality new jobs and sustainable industries to metropolitan regions. The standard menu of progressive urban policy initiatives focuses on addressing identified needs of poor families by reestablishing the social safety net and improving job training and education programs. The new urban agenda adds an important and often missing component by addressing one of the main causes of urban poverty: the prevalence of low- paying, low-quality employment and the dearth of middle-class job opportunities.
In the face of federal policy hostile to urban areas, urban community-labor coalitions have a proven track record of helping local governments use their power to leverage economic activities in a way that rebuilds the middle class in our cities. Their successes include raising job quality in low-wage sectors like retail, service, hospitality and logistics; rewarding high-road construction approaches that pay better wages, provide better training and open doors to construction careers for non-traditional trades workers; and creating stronger environmental and worker provisions in ports and airports and major urban redevelopment projects.