Mayor-elect Woodfin has campaigned on an Opportunity Agenda that creates “opportunities for our residents, our students and our small businesses.” In order to successfully execute this agenda, a key metric for every decision made by the administration should be: the creation of quality jobs for all of Birmingham’s residents. Other communities, such as St. Louis, Detroit and Memphis, are pursuing broad-based goals for economic prosperity, but under Mayor Woodfin’s leadership, Birmingham could lead by integrating inclusive growth into every policy decision.
Over the last decade, Birmingham’s economic and population growth has been anemic, and even where growth has occurred, it has not necessarily led to shared prosperity throughout the community. A forthcoming study from Burning Glass and the Center for Adult Education and Learning reveals that Birmingham’s occupational growth is concentrated in non-tradable sectors and that there is a sizeable skill shortage for high-demand careers, despite one of the lowest labor force participation rates for young people in the country. Wages have been stagnant, and consumption is often limited to affluent households and neighborhoods. Adding to these challenges, 58% of jobs in Birmingham are currently at risk due to automation within 10 years.
Birmingham’s sub-optimal economic performance is at least partially due to the targets we have set for ourselves. Historically, our community has defined successful economic development with two metrics: capital expenditure and number of jobs created. These goals — typical of a bygone era — allow us to confuse thriving downtown developments with flourishing communities. They allow ribbon-cutting ceremonies to mask high poverty rates and deteriorating labor force participation rates.
1 In parallel to Vice President Biden’s “Quality Jobs Initiative,” and in alignment with the Surdna Foundation which has considered this question with CDFIs nationally, we define quality jobs with five metrics: 1) a living wage; 2) basic benefits; 3) career-building opportunities; 4) wealth-building opportunities; 5) a safe and engaging workplace. 2 For more on how to do this, please see Amy Liu (2017) “Remaking Economic Development.” Brookings Institute. 3 Of the top 100 metros, Birmingham is in the bottom five for job creation: http://news.gallup.com/poll/203996/houston-falls-no-tie-last-job-creation.aspx 4 “Zeroing In on Place and Race: Youth Disconnection in America’s Cities.” Kristen Lewis and Sarah Burd-Sharps. June 2015. Measure of America Series sponsored by the Social Science Research Council. 5 “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerisation?” Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne. September 2013. Oxford Martin. https://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/academic/The_Future_of_Employment.pdf