Opinion: Region needs economic mobility strategy

My parents were immigrants who came to this country in the early 1950s. My mom is from Mexico and my dad arrived here from Serbia.

They embraced the American dream and, like so many other middle-class families, demonstrated that by working hard, they could prosper.

But since my childhood, the middle class has shrunk, from 62 percent of families in 1970 to 43 percent in 2015. Could the stagnation of the middle class be driving many of the inequities we see today in income, employment and housing?

To reverse this trend, we need to implement a regional economic growth strategy focused on equitable economic mobility. There are many factors that impact this, from education to health care to technology. But for today, let’s focus on training, mobility, and housing as factors that can drive an equitable economic mobility strategy.

Training: First, we need to upskill our workforce so individuals can make a higher wage and shrink the income disparity gap.

Data show that a 10 percent reduction in neighborhood poverty correlates to a $7,000 increase in family income. With roughly 140,000 families living in poverty in our region, this reduction would translate into an economic stimulus of $850 million for Atlanta’s economy.

Empowering our workforce to gain new skills would not only have a positive social impact, a well-trained labor pool would also help to ensure that current and future businesses are competitive in the global marketplace.

Mobility: Transportation must be undertaken as a region, as economies do not have defined areas. We must find a way to get people from where they live to where they work efficiently.

In fact, 70 percent of our region’s workers commute to a different county for work, while our businesses have clients and supply chains that crisscross borders.

The economic case for transportation investment is clear: a one-hour decrease in the average worker’s commute time translates into a $1,000 annual effective salary increase. Reducing commute times by this much for just 20 percent of our workforce could inject an additional $460 million into our regional economy. Atlanta companies would also see real productivity gains through greater access to skilled workers.

Housing: The final factor that can drive increased regional economic mobility is affordable workforce housing. Currently, less than a quarter of metro Atlanta’s households can afford to live in a regional job center, hence the need for affordable workforce housing.

In the region, a moderate-income household spends, on average, a combined 63 percent of their total income on housing and transportation. This spend for all families living in our regional job center would represent about $11 billion.

If we could provide our families more affordable options to live closer to their workplace—and decrease their total spend by only 5 percent — we can put an aggregate amount of $550 million back into these families’ household budgets and stimulate the region’s economy.

Addressing these three issues — training, mobility and housing – as a region will make us more competitive as we attract and retain our workforce, support the success of our businesses, and improve the lives of every person who calls this region home.

Our region should be a place where families like mine can realize their dreams, where everyone has opportunity, and where all ships rise together.

I look forward to collaborating with other regional leaders on a regional economic growth strategy focused on equitable economic mobility. By doing so, we will not only create opportunity for our residents, we will also increase Atlanta’s long-term economic vitality and vibrancy.