America's drift away from equal opportunity to be discussed

contact: Jeanne Baron
| WMU News
Photo of Dr. Richard V. Reeves.

Reeves

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—A senior fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution will be in Kalamazoo later this month to present a talk that focuses on how America is drifting further away from the ideal of equal opportunity and what local communities can do to reverse this trend.

Dr. Richard V. Reeves, who focuses his research on social mobility and inequality, particularly as they relate to children and families, will speak on "The Opportunity Ecosystem" at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 30, in the Fetzer Center on Western Michigan University's main campus.

The free, public talk is sponsored by WMU's Lewis Walker Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnic Relations in collaboration with the City of Kalamazoo's new Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo Initiative.

Reeves will discuss what local communities can do to close the gap so children who are poor, especially children of color, will have a more equal chance of climbing the economic ladder to prosperity and economic security when they reach adulthood. In addition, he will explore questions about what makes some communities more successful than others at promoting social mobility.

Shared prosperity initiative

The Reeves talk marks the launch of Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo, a new initiative that evolved from a February 2014 Kalamazoo City Commission resolution to make the reduction of poverty, especially among children, one of its top priorities.

The initiative seeks to bring the Kalamazoo community together in a coordinated effort to produce a measurable impact in three areas: the healthy growth and development of all of the city's youth; broader access to well-paying jobs; and strong, economically secure families.

Tim Ready, director of the Walker Institute and a member of the planning team for the ambitious initiative, says considerable good work is currently being done to address each of those issues. But he says Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo organizers believe that substantial progress on any one of them requires focused, coordinated efforts to make progress on the others, as well.

Along with Ready, those collaborating on the initiative include Kalamazoo city Commissioner Don Cooney, WMU associate professor of social work and associate director of the Walker Institute; Bobby Hopewell; Kalamazoo mayor; and Laura Lam, Kalamazoo director of community planning and development. Other individuals involved in planning activities are WMU student interns Zachary Henderson, Maurice Washington and Kevin Ford.

Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo will begin hosting a series of planning meetings in May with leaders from the business, nonprofit and public sectors. The first meeting will be focused on strategies to increase access to well-paying jobs. Information on upcoming events open to the public will be made available at kalamazoocity.org/sharedprosperity.

Kalamazoo's opportunity gap

The impact of poverty and race on chances for upward mobility is well documented in Kalamazoo, is consistent with national patterns, and can be seen in areas such as health disparities, risk of involvement in the criminal justice system and educational outcome disparities, Ready says.

The latter area includes sharp differences in rates of success in using the Kalamazoo Promise free college tuition scholarship program, he continues, adding that earning postsecondary degrees is essential for economic advancement.

"Improving kids' chances to get ahead when they reach adulthood greatly depend on growing up in secure families with parents whose jobs can keep them out of poverty," Ready says.

"Almost one-third of the city's families with children are poor, despite the fact that about two-thirds of those families are headed by someone who works. Kalamazoo's child poverty rate is higher than that of all but about 10 percent of U.S. cities. We believe that Kalamazoo can and must do better."

Richard V. Reeves

In addition to being senior fellow in economic studies, Reeves' other responsibilities at the Brookings Institution include being editor-in-chief of the Social Mobility Memos blog and policy director for the Center on Children and Families. Prior to joining Brookings in 2013, he held several important research and public policy positions in Great Britain, most recently as director of strategy for the deputy prime minister of the United Kingdom.

To learn more about Reeves, visit brookings.edu/experts/reevesr.

For Fetzer Center directions and parking details, visit wmich.edu/fetzer/directions. Direct questions about Reeves' visit and the upcoming community meetings to Tim Ready at timothy.ready@wmich.edu or (269) 387-2141.