About the Economic Mobility Catalog

The Economic Mobility Catalog was created to help local government leaders identify evidence-based approaches to their economic mobility-related challenges. It aims to provide cities and counties with a framework as they work to improve economic mobility outcomes, and to help them learn from the implementation experiences of other communities.

As of December 2020, it provides implementation-oriented case studies on how specific local governments have put evidence-based strategies into action. New case studies will be added through 2021.

Why the focus on economic mobility?

Deeply ingrained in the American imagination is the notion that if you work hard, you should be able to improve your quality of life.

The reality is that upward economic mobility for low-income Americans has become increasingly rare, particularly for communities of color. While children through much of the 20th century often grew up to earn more than their parents, in recent decades, inequality has become more frequently inherited.

Despite tremendous economic growth over the past several decades, for low-income Americans, life has become defined by a scarcity of economic opportunity and an ever-present financial precariousness. Even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, forty percent of Americans reported that they would struggle to pay an unexpected bill of $400 or more.

Why the focus on local government?

Fully reversing the tide on economic mobility can only be accomplished with major reform at the state and federal level. But local governments can make significant differences in improving lifetime outcomes for their residents, especially when they act in ways that leverage existing federal, state, and regional policies and funding. And as the civic uprisings in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd demonstrated, cities are on the frontlines of public demands for action. Local governments cannot wait for change in Washington D.C. and in their state capitals.

The question for many local governments is where to begin. What are the most potent ways for cities and counties to improve economic mobility outcomes? What sorts of programs have been proven to work? How have other communities implemented effective strategies?

Results for America has heard these questions frequently in our work with local governments across the country. We have found strong demand for a single, easy-to-use resource that provides information on the ways that local leaders can best improve opportunity for their residents. In response, Results for America has created the Economic Mobility Catalog—a tool to help local government leaders and their partners identify and implement evidence-based strategies to improve outcomes in their communities.

Three principles guide the framework of the Economic Mobility Catalog.

1) Improving economic mobility requires a holistic approach

Despite the often-siloed nature of government, no one area of policymaking can improve economic mobility on its own. Meaningful changes to the status quo will require investment and reform in every area of policy that touches the lives of low-income children and families.

The research on the importance for all-encompassing approaches is clear. Children are more likely to succeed when they have access to high quality education and youth development programs. Adults thrive when they earn a post-secondary degree or workforce credential and are connected to high-quality employment. And families experience better outcomes when they have access to healthcare, a safe, stable home, and a supportive neighborhood.

Recognizing that economic mobility can only be achieved with a holistic approach, the Catalog draws upon academic literature and well-respected clearinghouses to include evidence-based interventions in the following policy area:

  • Education and youth development
  • Health and well-being
  • Workforce development
  • Housing
  • Community development and financial security
  • Justice and public safety

2) Improving economic mobility requires support at every stage of an individual’s life

Children who experience positive outcomes at every stage of their development are most likely to experience upward economic mobility. Failing to achieve key milestones early in life dramatically decreases the likelihood of success in subsequent years, and even when children experience success early on, the path to upward mobility can be derailed by negative outcomes in adolescence or young adulthood.

As such, interventions that occur at only one or a few points in a person’s life are unlikely to make a trajectory-shifting difference in the long term. Research from the Brookings Institution, the Urban Institute, the Strive Together Network, the Forum for Youth Investment, and many others has supported the need for consistent, coordinated, “cradle-to-career” approaches to substantially improve mobility outcomes.

What outcomes are most critical in determining economic mobility? It is critical that individuals enter kindergarten ready to learn, develop strong academic and social-emotional skills through elementary and middle school, and graduate from high school. As they enter adulthood, upward mobility is significantly more likely if an individual earns a post-secondary degree or workforce credential, either of which open doors to high-quality, family-sustaining employment.

Underlying all of these milestones is the environment that an individual grows up in and returns home to every day. Extensive academic research demonstrates that housing and neighborhood stability are powerful drivers of economic outcomes and must be viewed as essential components of the larger economic mobility equation.

The Economic Mobility Catalog organizes strategies and programs using parts of two frameworks--one developed by the Urban Institute, and the other created by the Strive Together Network. The outcomes that guide the Catalog are as follows:

  • Strong and healthy families
  • Supportive communities
  • Kindergarten readiness
  • Strong academic and social outcomes by adolescence
  • High school graduation
  • Post-secondary access and completion
  • Stable, high-quality employment

3) Improving economic mobility requires a deep commitment to racial equity

People of color face particularly steep barriers to achieving upward economic mobility. For generations, public policy was purposefully designed to limit black and brown peoples’ opportunities for economic advancement. Even since the Civil Rights Movement, many government policies have exacerbated the disadvantages that communities of color face, whether consciously or unconsciously.

Today, many local policies continue to compound inequality, as school funding, neighborhood safety, policing, housing quality, access to healthcare, job opportunities, and other important determinants of mobility vary dramatically between predominantly white and predominantly non-white neighborhoods. The civic uprisings sparked by the killing of George Floyd have brought fresh urgency to these longstanding inequalities.

The impact of systemic discrimination in government policy bears out strongly in the data, with consistent gaps in outcomes by race and ethnicity. Perhaps the starkest illustration of the inequality that exists for communities of color is the family wealth gap. In 2016, the median net worth of White families was $171,000, nearly ten times greater than the median net worth of Black families ($17,150) and Hispanic families ($20,720). Importantly, the racial wealth gap in America cannot be explained by differences in educational attainment, family indebtedness or differences in income.

As local governments attempt to improve economic mobility for their residents, they must recognize that success requires an unwavering commitment to racial equity. In other words, improving economic mobility outcomes requires eliminating the racial and ethnic gaps in outcomes.

To make racial equity a reality, developing or adapting evidence-based strategies is only one step. It is the implementation of these strategies that will ultimately determine their potency in improving economic mobility. And no implementation effort can succeed unless it is developed in partnership with and tailored to the needs of the communities that it seeks to serve.

Recognizing this, the Catalog features implementation-focused case studies that demonstrate how evidence-based strategies were put into place in specific communities across the country. These case studies often highlight how strategies engaged with community members to inform program design, partnered with neighborhood-based organizations for program delivery, conducted communications, outreach, and recruitment, and designed program materials to suit unique local needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is economic mobility?
Why did Results for America create the Economic Mobility Catalog?
What can I learn from the Economic Mobility Catalog?
What does it mean for a strategy to be "evidence-based," and how did RFA decide which strategies would be included in the catalog?
How did RFA decide on the evidence rating for each strategy?
How did Results for America develop implementation-focused content for each program or strategy?
Are the strategies in this catalog guaranteed to work in my community?
What impact will these strategies have in my community compared to federal or state reforms?
Is the catalog a finished product?
Where can I submit a correction, suggestion, or other feedback for the catalog?
How did RFA assess eligibility for American Rescue Plan Act State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (ARPA SLFRF)?