As the leading voice of America’s cities, The United States Conference of Mayors is uniquely qualified to recommend a strategic vision for America. Since its founding in 1932, the Conference remains the place where America’s mayors – Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike – come together in a collegial, cooperative, bipartisan manner to get things done.
Our Nation’s cities are platforms for human potential to flourish:
Cities are the Nation’s Population Centers. They represent 86 percent of the Nation’s population and 91 percent of real gross domestic product (GDP).
Cities are Home to Most Jobs and Job Creation. The U.S. Metro/City share of total employment increased to 88 percent in 2018, as metros added 2.1 million jobs, accounting for 94 percent of all U.S. job gains.
Cities are Home to the Highest Share of Personal Income. The metro share of U.S. total personal income stands at 89 percent and wage income at 92 percent, although deep inequities in income and wealth present significant challenges and opportunities.
Cities are the Nation’s Incubators of Talent. Talent flocks to cities because of the accessibility, diversity, infrastructure, vibrancy, and innovation that cities provide. Regenerating neighborhoods while keeping its current residents makes our cities even more interesting.
On issues such as civil rights and voting rights, environmental protection, marriage equity, economic recovery from depressions and recessions, and so much more, The United States Conference of Mayors has always leaned forward, helping our great Nation address the most pressing issues of the day – and those of the future.
It is in that spirit that we offer The Mayors’ 2020 Vision: An American Breakthrough – a platform of 10 priorities inspired by the Conference’s bipartisan focus on creating a safe, sustainable, and equitable future through investing in America’s communities. Each of these priorities – ranging across economic empowerment, police reform and racial justice, environmental stewardship, green infrastructure investments, housing affordability and homelessness, and all the others – are essential to the American Breakthrough needed to create a better, fairer, and more equitable America in which every person is helped to realize their full potential. During these unprecedented times, America’s mayors are called upon to be guardians of public health, energized allies, and empathetic community members. Our cities are catalysts for change and it is up to us, as mayors, to seize this moment with both passion and compassion, refuse to settle for incremental improvement, and pursue a true American Breakthrough – a radically constructive breakthrough that begins in our cities, cultivates economic growth, and operates as the heartbeat of the American economy.
The original framework for this bipartisan agenda – built around priorities that included infrastructure investment, innovation, and equity – was released in the Fall of 2019 when the Presidential election season was in its earlier stages. Since that time, a tidal wave of public health, economic and social forces have hit our Nation, striking at the fabric of the cities responsible for lifting our country out of the Great Recession of 2008.
In late June – in the face of the COVID-19 public health pandemic, the resulting economic shutdown, and the national movement calling for police reform and racial justice – the incoming Conference of Mayors President, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, established five Working Groups of mayors, each charged with providing new perspectives on the potential of America at this critical point in her history. The groups cover: 1) Police Reform and Racial Justice; 2) COVID-19 Response and Health Equity; 3) Eliminating Poverty; 4) Dismantling Systemic Racism; and 5) Economic Recovery. (The Police Reform group had been meeting prior to the Fischer Presidency.) The work of each group is helping to contextualize recommendations for federal action to address some of the most pressing issues of our time. Each of these issues requires an array of curative policy initiatives and collective action. The energy in our Nation has never been better aligned to solve these deeply entrenched problems.
The most glaring and persistent of our entrenched problems is racism, a complex, self-defeating system of beliefs and behaviors grounded in the presumed superiority of the white race. These beliefs and practices are conscious and unconscious, personal and institutional, and result in the oppression of people of color. The United States Conference of Mayors finds that institutional and structural racism must be addressed at base levels. To do this, we must engage both the government and the private sector in efforts to dismantle the accumulation and incorporation of long-standing racialized practices.
Not long after the at-times uncontrollable coronavirus began its deadly sweep across the Nation, it became apparent that not all people were equally victimized. Persons of color were experiencing significantly higher rates of hospitalization and death from the virus than whites – Blacks and Latinos three times as likely as whites to contract the virus and nearly twice as likely to die as a result. In low-income neighborhoods, underfunded and understaffed hospitals and other
local public health infrastructure may not be equipped to provide the care required to survive an infection.
Beyond the threat to lives posed by the virus was the threat to livelihoods. Throughout the months of the pandemic, the Black and Latino/Hispanic unemployment rates have been consistently and significantly higher than the white rate. Ironically, a significant number of those who have continued to work are disproportionately found in front-line jobs requiring close contact with coworkers and the public – jobs putting them at higher risk for the virus. Clearly, the inequities exposed by the coronavirus have their roots in institutional racism. And clearly, we’re not “all in this together.”
With the deadly virus still spreading across the country, the deaths of several Black men and women at the hands of police officers triggered public protests in cities across the country that drew police into sometimes violent confrontations with protesters. These protests called attention to evidence of systemic racism in policing and criminal justice, with Black Americans more likely than white Americans to be arrested, convicted, and sentenced to lengthy prison sentences.
Continuing into the summer, the protests evolved into a nationwide, multi-racial movement focused on broader, underlying race-based and systemic inequities long crippling our society and economy – inequities in health care, educational opportunities, housing, and income and wealth, among others.
Each of these reflections of the systemic racism we are now confronting is described in greater detail in the section on dismantling systemic racism and advancing civil and human rights that follows in this document, as well as in many of the other priorities of the American Breakthrough also described.
Today, many city residents – regardless of their race, creed, color, sexual orientation, or differing political affiliations –are uncertain about the future of the virus, their economic security, and our promise of fairness and justice for all.
We are at a point today where key questions must be answered if all Americans are to move forward and build a better country for themselves and future generations:
“How can we make our economic, educational, health care and other systems work for everyone?”
“How do we transition to a society that protects our most marginalized community members?”
“How do we leverage our resources to dismantle systemic racism and create a more equitable society?”
“How do we help workers transition to a new job market in the face of the pandemic, globalization and digitization?”
“How do we improve the quality of life of our most disadvantaged communities?”
“And how do we do all of this while safeguarding our planet?”
Without genuine change and compassionate leadership, all of these struggles will grow even more burdensome to our citizens, our communities, and our country. The challenges are serious, but through collective action emanating from our neighborhoods and city halls, through bold leadership, and through a true local-federal partnership, they are solvable. America has shown its ability to produce greatness time and time again. It is time to draw upon this spirit once again, and to act.
The 2020 Election must be about solidifying the partnership between the federal government and America’s communities to change policy and systems to better serve ALL of the American people. The federal government must be an engaged, active, and collaborative partner. From Maine to Alaska, OUR people need to hear from all candidates how they are going to address the future, embrace change, and work to address our common challenges.
The United States Conference of Mayors was founded on a strong partnership and common agenda with the federal government. Tragically, in this time of both great challenges and great opportunities, the partnership with the federal government that is so desperately needed is threatened by dysfunction in Washington. THIS MUST END. America needs a federal government that will work with its cities and metro areas on an agenda for ALL the people of America.
We’re starting the conversation by offering our strategic platform, The Mayors’ 2020 Vision: An American Breakthrough, and by welcoming all presidential and congressional candidates to outline their vision for strengthening our Nation’s cities and metro areas through a platform that allows all residents to thrive. We look forward to a positive and productive partnership with those elected in 2020 as we work together to guide our great Nation through a challenging period in pursuit of an American Breakthrough that strengthens our cities and our Nation for generations to come.
Sources for Economic and Demographic Data: U.S. Metro Economies, GMP and Employment 2019-2020; HIS 88 Markit; USCM