Charlotte City Council explores city’s lack of economic mobility

A single parent with two children in the Charlotte area needs to make $23 an hour to make ends meet, the city of Charlotte said Monday.

The wage estimate was part of a city report on Charlotte’s lack of economic mobility, which was recently ranked last out of 50 metro areas in the nation in a study released earlier this year by researchers from Harvard University, the University of California-Berkeley and the Treasury Department.

City staff made a presentation to the City Council on the economic mobility study, which used 2012 data to measure how likely it is for children whose parents are in the bottom 20 percent of the national income distribution to reach the top 20 percent of the income distribution themselves.

The city told council members that many cities faring poorly are in the Southeast, where there are large African-American populations.

City researcher Rebecca Hefner said there are other factors that contribute to greater social mobility. They include having a large middle class, a short commute and large numbers of teenagers in the workforce.

Having a large percentage of high school dropouts, single mothers and segregated communities correlated with a lack of social mobility.

City Manager Ron Carlee said the city is working with partners such as the Foundation for the Carolinas to create solutions.

“We are taking this seriously,” Carlee said.

Mayor Dan Clodfelter has also said he wants to focus on economic mobility over the next year.

Council members did not discuss the report in great detail Monday night, and they didn’t talk about the estimate of $23 an hour needed for a single parent with two children. That estimate comes from the National Center for Children in Poverty.

Across the nation, some cities have adopted a so-called living wage, which seeks to set a higher minimum wage than the federal minimum wage of $7.25. The municipality of SeaTac, near the Seattle airport in Washington, recently approved a $15 an hour living wage.

Council member John Autry has lobbied city staff to increase the pay of low-wage employees, but there has been little talk of raising pay across the board, either for city workers or through a higher minimum wage.

City sanitation workers have been vocal over the past year in asking for better working conditions, including higher pay.

San Jose, Calif., was ranked as the city where economic mobility was the highest. The odds of moving to the top 20th percentile from the bottom 20th percentile were just under 13 percent.

In Charlotte, those odds were 4.4 percent.