WASHINGTON – Hours before President Obama used his State of the Union speech to lay plans to narrow income inequality, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges took to a smaller stage in the nation's capital to say how she hopes to level the socioeconomic playing field in the city.
Speaking at the City Makers Summit, Hodges touted her nascent efforts to address the yawning gap between minorities and whites.
Minneapolis can't have growth without equity, the mayor stressed to a small group representing a variety of businesses, nonprofits and government agencies.
"Minneapolis and St. Paul will be majority minority by 2040 or 2050," Hodges said. "If we don't address income equality, we will leave $25 billion to $30 billion [in good-paying jobs] on the table. There's something in this for everyone."
Hodges said Minnesota has "always punched above its weight" in business, pointing to the 19 Fortune 500 corporations headquartered in the state.
But she warned that not giving sufficient job training to the growing minority population threatens to "dry up our pipeline of talent," which attracted big companies to base operations in Minnesota.
In an interview with the Star Tribune after her presentation, Hodges cited the Itasca Project, a group of Twin Cities CEOs who meet with politicians to discuss ways to keep the region's economic and financial health on an even keel.
"They know what's coming down the pike, and they want to continue having the success they've been having," Hodges said.
Appearing with Richard Buery, New York City's deputy mayor for policy initiatives, Hodges explained her new cradle-to-kindergarten initiative, which aims to ensure that poor minority children are as ready for school as their wealthier white peers.
To the extent that people and institutions are willing to give money, they enjoy funding programs for young kids, Hodges and Buery explained. Philanthropists are less comfortable funding programs for teens and adults, the pair said. Yet giving parents of poor youngsters an opportunity to work is crucial to building the middle class. Also critical, Hodges said, are efforts to give high school students employable skills as they reach young adulthood, because 18 to 24 is when young people are most prone to become victims of violence or gang activity.
Hodges also pointed to a pilot program in Minneapolis that offers a high school curriculum designed to lead students to careers as firefighters.
"I'm going to be very interested in how that works," Hodges said, "and to see if that helps the city get some folks who are ready for those jobs."