Majority of U.S. Mayors Say Poverty Is Their Top Concern

Majority of U.S. Mayors Say Poverty Is Their Top Concern

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, left, takes a selfie with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu at a U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

While the growing divide between “coastal elites” and Middle America has been a hot topic in recent months, many mayors from red and blue states have strikingly similar policy priorities, according to a survey released Tuesday by the Boston University Initiative on Cities.

The 2016 Menino Survey of Mayors, now in its third year (see the 2015 results here and the 2014 results here ), checks in with over 100 mayors in 41 states about everything from their own career ambitions to tackling poverty and federal agencies. While last year’s survey focused on topics like infrastructure, finance and housing, this year’s was more heavily skewed toward what the researchers called “people priorities” — things like poverty and immigration.

Some key findings: Compared to two years ago, mayors more often say socioeconomic issues like affordability and income disparities are top policy priorities. They also rank outright poverty — not income inequality or the “shrinking middle class” — as their most pressing economic concern.

The rise in socioeconomic issues as top policy concerns is notable in part because it’s substantial, but also because there isn’t a “clear pattern” as to the cities that drove the rise. “While mayors of cities with higher poverty rates were more likely to name priorities in this category, the increase from the 2014 survey was about the same (roughly 10 percentage points) for high and low poverty cities,” the report says.

When getting deeper into the weeds of policy priorities, however, results did differ somewhat based on political party. While economic development and quality of life were top goals for most mayors regardless of party identification, infrastructure still outranked socioeconomic issues for republicans, while those socioeconomic issues ranked higher for democrats.

The survey also found that mayors are worried about certain groups being left behind. Half of mayors believe the black community is “among the most marginalized groups in their city,” while a quarter said immigrants are. Mayors tended to believe that the best thing they could do to support their local immigrant communities was to create “a welcoming environment” through language services, recognition and access to government support.

As one mayor put it, “I think the single most important thing I can do as the mayor would be a convener, a convener for these really hard conversations that we need to be having about how our police interact with our minority communities, how our minority communities are impacted by education and housing and transportation and poverty.”

Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.

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Tags: economic developmentpovertymayors

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