O-Pinion

Upward mobility task force named, pledges action

Ophelia Garmon-Brown and Dee O'Dell co-chair a Mecklenburg County task force that will work to find ways to help the county's poor overcome poverty.
Ophelia Garmon-Brown and Dee O'Dell co-chair a Mecklenburg County task force that will work to find ways to help the county's poor overcome poverty. dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

Can Charlotte’s newly unveiled task force on upward mobility really find a fix for the problems that led a 2014 study to rank Charlotte last in upward mobility among America’s 50 largest cities?

That’s the question we’re all wondering as local officials, after months of planning, finally on Tuesday unveiled the 21-member task force charged with looking into the reasons why researchers from Harvard and other institutions said children born in Charlotte have the worst odds of any big city in America of moving from a family in the bottom fifth of incomes to one in the top fifth.

Task force co-chairs Dr. Ophelia Garmon-Brown and banker Dee O’Dell acknowledged Tuesday that the committee has a daunting task ahead. But they said the panel is committed to studying the issue thoroughly and emerging sometime in 2016 with findings that can lead to concrete action, not just more hand-wringing.

We hope so. But the barriers to social mobility are so complex and fluid that it will no doubt be difficult to pinpoint exactly what part of Charlotte’s pipeline to the American Dream is breaking down.

Is it family dysfunction? Is our job market too skewed toward high-skill jobs for which our students aren’t prepared? Both of those and five other factors?

The committee includes some well-known, high-profile Charlotte figures, ranging from retired Springs Global CEO Crandall Bowles to construction company owner Ron Leeper to westside ministers Ricky Woods and Clifford Matthews.

We urge them to begin their inquiry by getting up close and personal with families in the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Who better to offer insight on the barriers to social mobility than the very people struggling to pull themselves up toward better lives?

And if you wonder what all the fuss is about or why all of this is even necessary, I’d advise you to watch this video by Brookings Institution researcher Richard Reeves, who has shared some of these insights with folks here in Charlotte who are trying to understand the problem:

Eric Frazier

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