Officials: Upward mobility panel won’t deal in quick fixes

The co-chair of a new economic mobility task force said Monday that the group won’t start its work in January with any “preconceived notions” about what it will take to break down barriers for the poor.

At the group’s official launch, Charlotte physician and ordained minister Ophelia Garmon-Brown said the task force will enter a discovery period when it convenes in early 2015.

The group will spend most of next year studying why Charlotte and Mecklenburg County rank dead last among the country’s 50 largest cities when it comes to providing opportunities for the poor to lift themselves out of poverty.

“We are coming to work with every aspect of this community to try to discover the whys. Why is Charlotte 50th out of 50? What are the barriers? What are the opportunities?” said Garmon-Brown, a senior vice president at Novant Health who is co-chairing the task force with U.S. Bank executive Dee O’Dell.

The first duty for Garmon-Brown and O’Dell will be to pick 16 to 20 “very diverse” task force members in December.

The panel is the idea of Mecklenburg County commissioners Chair Trevor Fuller, who last January bemoaned the county’s “intractable poverty” and promised a “deep-dive” study to find concrete solutions. It was a reaction to a study by Harvard and the University of California-Berkeley showing that upward mobility for children in poverty is more difficult in Charlotte than any of the country’s 50 largest cities.

“In other words, if you’re born poor in Charlotte, you’re mostly likely to remain poor – more so here than anywhere else in the country,” Fuller said at a news conference. “We don’t like to be last in anything – especially this.”

Fuller said Monday that he hadn’t meant for the task force’s formation to take 11 months, but felt that partnering with the city of Charlotte and the Foundation for the Carolinas gives the work instant impact.

Charlotte Mayor Dan Clodfelter said Charlotte is known around the country as a “welcoming place” for newcomers looking for a fresh start. “I don’t believe we can continue as a land of opportunity for newcomers unless we are also a land of opportunity for those who started their lives here.

“We cannot be two different cities,” Clodfelter said.

Michael Marsicano, CEO and President of the Foundation For the Carolinas, cautioned that there will be no quick fixes.

“Our success will not be measured in days, weeks or months,” he said. “Hopefully we will be able to change the economic opportunity for many in the near future, but for most it will take an entire generation. We need to be prepared to stick with it.”

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