Economic Mobility – the plan for Marion County

“Essentially if you’re born poor in Indianapolis the chances of you remaining poor are highly likely. We’ve got to do better about how we intervene in that and provide more intentional opportunities, to skill these very specific populations up.
—Andrew Black, director of community leadership at CICF

In this special episode of For Good, Andrew Black talks about economic mobility—one of five of CICF’s leadership initiatives for Marion County—and how it is impacting our community. This episode is part of a special series introducing CICF’s strategic plan for Marion County. Listen to the other four episodes to learn more about how CICF is working to help create a more equitable Central Indiana.

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Transcription of episode available below.


  • Andrew Black – director of community leadership at CICF


You’re listening to For Good, Central Indiana Community Foundation’s podcast highlighting stories about passion, purpose, and progress in Central Indiana.

At CICF, we believe in creating a community where everyone can reach their full potential, no matter place, race, or identity.

In this episode, you’ll learn about one of the initiatives included in CICF’s five year strategic plan for Marion County from experts on our staff.

This is our community. And these are your stories.

ANDREW: Hi. I’m Drew Black, director of community leadership at the Central Indiana Community Foundation. CICF has a mission to mobilize people, ideas, and investment to make this a community where everyone has equitable opportunity to reach their full potential, no matter their place, race, or identity. And we have five initiatives in Marion County that will help us execute that mission.

One initiative is economic mobility. For CICF, economic mobility is really what we’re referring to when we think about a person’s ability to attain the necessary educational credentials or employment training opportunities to advance their economic situation and overall quality of life.

What’s most alarming to me I think is that, based on Raj Chetty’s Equality of Opportunity Project, Indianapolis ranked 47th out of our 50 largest cities in the country for a child that was born into the bottom fifth of the population in terms of their economics to essentially earn out of the bottom fifth up to the top fifth. For children born poor in Indianapolis, the percentage of that happening was just 4.8%. For children of color, it’s half of that. Essentially if you’re born poor in Indianapolis the chances of you remaining poor are highly likely. We’ve got to do better about how we intervene in that and provide more intentional opportunities, to skill these very specific populations up.

Recent data suggests that more than a third of our residents are financially unstable and while our city is at almost full employment, 30% of our unemployment is located in just 15% of our land mass. And so, much of that 15% includes the same neighborhoods that have, have been identified by the Department of Public Safety for the high rates of violent crime, low levels of safety. These same neighborhoods suffer from high rates of poverty, poor public health outcomes, low educational attainment levels, and poor infrastructure. It seems like these issues compound upon themselves because we have very dense pockets of neighborhoods and of people that have very limited access to the tools that they need to earn their way out of poverty.

What is most concerning is that we’re learning that a person’s race and place have an outsized impact on their ability to succeed in life when it comes educational attainment, economic success and so, when we look at data from the last census, we know that the city really just grew based on a burgeoning minority population. When we look at the systems serving these populations, they are going willfully underserved. These things need to be addressed are the very populations that the city is growing because of are just going to continue to be left behind.

Education is certainly a tool. I think traditionally we’ve been focused on the pre-K through 12 population and on strategies and tactics that increase college-going rates, persistence to completion. What we’re looking at doing now is really opening, broadening our stance on that and focusing on what opportunities are available and most readily available for residents that will either accelerate educational outcomes or positive economic outcomes.

Scholarships are a lever that we have in-house that we could be using more thoughtfully as a tool to empower people to finish their education and promote economic success in families. We’re finding that, while we won’t argue that the bachelor’s degree is still the quickest pathway to the middle class, it’s not the only option available to people and it’s also not the most appropriate option for a lot of people and so we need to be more thoughtful around how we’re promoting different opportunities to ensure that people have reasonable, affordable pathways to achieving a high quality post-secondary credential that will lead to prosperity later in life.

Another thing we’re going to do is focus on specific populations that have traditionally gone without service or we have not specifically focused on. These will be more inclusive of adult learners and disengaged youth. They’re what are called ‘opportunity youth’, essentially young people in between the ages of 16 and 24 that are not enrolled in school, employed, or enlisted. We want to focus our limited resources and energy on places on that continuum of service that have not received the attention that they deserve, and we’ve really landed on the achievement gap as being that piece.

The achievement gap essentially is the difference or the disparity between academic proficiency and outcomes for students of color versus their white peers. There was data that was released at the beginning of October by the state Department of Education that indicated that, of every major school district in Indianapolis, every single one demonstrated a sizable achievement gap between their students of color and their caucasian peers. Some of our most well-known school districts in Indianapolis that are known for a positive academic reputation actually are showing disparities that are near 50% in terms of proficiency among those types of students and so we feel like, based on the new mission statement, this is the best place for us to focus our energy, limited resources, and influence to try and, you know, elevate that to a broader civic narrative and start to address interventions that are going to be more helpful to our families of color.

In 242 years as a country, have we ever really been intentional about how we are meeting the needs of our populations of color, skilling them up, to participate in tomorrow’s economy, being really intentional about the disparities that exist? While I don’t suggest that CICF will be able to address that fully, I do think that our new focus and the intention behind that is the right thing to do at the right time. I think we’re starting to see critical mass around people that are seeking to address this in a constructive way, and I’m just happy that CICF is going to be part of that conversation and a leading part of the conversation. Now is the right time.

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