Task force reports are usually sleepy affairs. But the room was buzzing with excitement back in March when the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force released its long-awaited report on economic mobility. Hundreds of people, including most of this city’s leaders, jammed the Government Center. The crowd cheered as speaker after speaker trumpeted the report’s promise to help struggling residents.
“The work begins today,” the report said.
We are now in the sixth month since that inspiring start.
The board that was to be created to implement the task force’s recommendations is not complete.
There is no executive director or other staff, which was to be among the first orders of business.
There is no dedicated funding mechanism.
There has been no agreement on what indicators will be used to measure success.
There has been no communication with the public about where things stand.
“I recognize there’s been a vacuum of information. We haven’t done the best job of messaging,” James Ford, who is co-chairing the effort, told the Observer editorial board.
Indeed. Ford didn’t return repeated calls and emails from the editorial board for two weeks. His co-chair, Bank of America’s Andrea Smith, was similarly unavailable. When Ford did call, he struggled to give an update on where things stand.
The report, released March 27, promised that a Leading On Opportunity Council and a hired staff would be in place within a few months. It’s surprising and disappointing that organizers did not better capitalize on the momentum generated by the task force’s good work.
This is the danger with any such effort, of course. Making recommendations for how to solve entrenched problems like low economic mobility is relatively easy compared with putting those recommendations into practice. In March, we applauded the task force’s good work and the energy toward acting on it, but worried that it could become “just more good intentions that wither into paralysis, overtaken by distractions or indifference.”
This is a slow start, not paralysis, and we are still optimistic that Charlotte will tackle its ranking as dead last out of 50 large cities for economic mobility. Groups like the United Way have made good progress. Organizers say the new, full Leading On Opportunity Council will meet for the first time on Wednesday, though they say there are still a few members to be tapped. “Work sessions have been convened,” they say, and the council will quickly announce its next steps.
We hope so. Researchers from Harvard and Cal found that Charlotte ranks poorly on all five factors that most correlate with economic mobility: segregation, income inequality, school quality, social capital and family structure. That is unacceptable.
Charlotte residents recognize, no doubt, that this is generational work. No one is expecting quick fixes. They should, though, expect urgency around getting started on that work. Every month that passes is another one that the odds mount against those Charlotte children who happen to be born in the wrong ZIP code.