Nationally, there’s a conventional wisdom that society is stratified, with the rich getting richer and everyone else being left behind. In terms of net value, in 2012 the top 1 percent of income earners were worth $8.4 million — 70 times the worth of the other 99 percent. That top 1 percent since the recession have seen a 31 percent increase in their earnings; the bottom 99 percent have been flat or declining. In this conventional wisdom, the dream of advancement, the American Dream, is becoming a fantasy.
In Portland, Mayor Hales is working to defy that conventional wisdom. The city already has taken significant steps: Through SummerWorks, nearly 3,000 at-risk youths have been placed in summer internships to help them gain work experience. The city “banned the box,” removing a significant barrier to employment for citizens returning to society from prison: the disclosure of criminal records on their initial job application. B Corps — businesses certified to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency — have steadily grown in number, from two in 2008, to 40 in 2013.
But there’s still work to be done. Mayor Hales has prioritized programs to support students, workers and business owners in populations that historically have been underrepresented. He is working to establish programs that help returning citizens be economically successful, and avoid returning to prison. He is collaborating with B Corps to grow their numbers in Portland.
Mayor Hales' Priorities, 2015-16
Increase employment: Under the mayor’s leadership, Portland Development Commission is working to measurably increase employment in living-wage jobs among Portlanders, with a goal of creating 25,000 traded manufacturing jobs in Multnomah County by 2020.
Felony hiring credit: Mayor Hales’ office is creating a $5,000 tax credit plan for any company in Portland that hires a former felon, helping give people returning to society from prison the opportunity to be successful. A similar program in Philadelphia saw recidivism rates drop dramatically, down to just 7 percent for participants.
Ban the Box: Following the city’s action, Mayor Hales is working with the AFL-CIO, Urban League and other partners to require Portland businesses to “Ban the Box,” expanding opportunity to earn a living wage.
City minimum wage: Just as Mayor Hales led the way for “Ban the Box,” adopting a City policy he’d like to see in private businesses, the mayor plans to adopt a $15 minimum wage for all city workers. That will improve quality of life for more than 1,840 city workers, and is intended to serve as an example for private businesses.
Citywide minimum wage: A $9.10 minimum wage is not sufficient for Oregonians, let alone Portlanders. The city’s Office of Government Relations is lobbying the Oregon Legislature to lift the ban that is prohibiting Council from adopting a citywide minimum wage, extending opportunity for even more Portlanders.
Mayor’s Work Group on Minority, Women, and Small Business: The Mayor’s Office will form a work group to review the city’s Minority, Women, and Small Business contract practices, in order to make them more effective and improve access to opportunity for all businesses.
Diversify success: The Portland Development Commission, aligning with Mayor Hales’ prioritization of equity, will focus resources on people of color and women to help foster success among historically disadvantaged populations. Resources include enhancing its small business support networks; promoting entrepreneurship; expanding investment options; and growing its mentorship program.
Black Male Achievement: Mayor Hales is funding summer internships for more than 25 black men and youths, and is investing in a project manager in the Office of Equity and Human Rights to oversee the ongoing Black Male Achievement work — a total of $200,000 for the initiative — to support BMA’s focus in 2015: disproportionate discipline and achievement gaps in schools, employment, and the criminal justice system.
I3PDX: The Portland Development Commission’s “Include. Innovate. Invest. PORTLAND” — known as I3PDX — campaign this year will scale up, in line with Mayor Hales’ priorities and budget directions.
Benefit Corporations: The number of Benefit Corporations, or B Corps — businesses certified to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency — in Portland has steadily grown, reaching 117 by January 2015. Mayor Hales is working to make Portland the hub of B Corps nationwide with a series of incentives for companies to become and remain B Corps.