Pursuing equitable recovery in turbulent times
Dear friends and colleagues,
When COVID-19 first hit, we discussed with our Partners that the human and economic toll of the pandemic would not be short lived. As an immediate step, in April 2020 Blue Meridian invested in ensuring emergency relief reached the hardest-hit individuals and communities. Facing this stark, new, and indefinite reality, we also moved to align our entire strategy and most of our resources toward a multiyear effort to propel an equitable recovery.
“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your reality, whatever they might be.”
– Admiral James Stockdale
This reset predated the unprecedented disruption of the U.S. health and education systems, America’s racial reckoning, and the attacks on and loss of confidence in our democracy. It was before we felt the extent of the resulting trauma and stress, loss of learning, and strain of rising inflation on the financial and emotional recovery of millions of children and families.
These compounding crises elevate and exacerbate issues that were already challenging the nation – they did not create them anew. The rate of upward mobility – the ability for children to grow up and outearn their parents – had already fallen from over 90% for those born in the 1940s to just over 50% for those born in the ‘80s. Racial disparities already existed and persisted in most aspects of American life. Gaps in access and affordability to the environments, experiences, and relationships young people need in schools and throughout their lives in order to fully learn and develop remained unavailable for too many. In short, despite good intentions and years of public and private investment, who a child’s parents are and the neighborhood in which they grow up still determine their life chances; and this unfortunate truth was already baked into our strategy.
Investing in leaders’ visions to forge a more equitable reality
The hard facts that confront us today – and that will still challenge us when COVID recedes – are driving us and our investees to consider how we seize this moment to more effectively deliver on our mission. Examples of these troubling realities and our initial responses include:
- Available public resources do not guarantee access or equity. Starting last year, tens of billions of dollars in government aid brought child poverty to a historic low and sustained many families even as the economy collapsed. However, millions of eligible Americans struggle to access the more than $60 billon in benefits left unclaimed each year. These critical resources, if fully deployed, could provide a safety net, a bridge to opportunity, or the incremental income that often means the difference between struggling and advancing.Effective early COVID-response efforts by Code for America as well as by Benefits Data Trust, a participant in The Studio @ Blue Meridian, paved the way to a substantial new investment in modernizing the social safety net to offer dignified relief and streamlined support to more Americans – increasing the reach and impact of billions of dollars of public funds. We see this as a key first step to expand equitable access to critical benefits that can help millions of individuals and families move up the economic ladder.
- The country’s economic comeback will magnify socioeconomic and racial inequities if we do not intentionally pursue an inclusive recovery. Equitable recovery requires purposeful planning to ensure that investment in infrastructure and supports reaches and benefits communities and populations that historically have suffered from chronic underinvestment. After the 2008-2010 recession, 50% of new jobs created went to just 2% of counties. And, even in those counties with the greatest employment growth, many neighborhoods saw little, if any, gain. Large swaths of low-wage workers displaced by the slow return of many service jobs and more widespread automation will continue to be left behind without new strategies and systems to connect them to an otherwise growing economy.To address this challenge, we invested in supports to help cities and counties better allocate their American Rescue Plan Act, Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, and infrastructure funds to address the needs of vulnerable people and communities and fuel growth that is equitable by design. We also directly supported a dozen communities to pursue comprehensive and inclusive recoveries as they build plans to propel economic and social mobility for all residents. Complementary investments enable national and local supporting organizations to assist these local partnerships in achieving their goals. Our hope is that these communities – and others to come – will demonstrate what it takes to create and sustain inclusive economies.
- High-performing and high-potential social sector institutions with leaders of color at their helm must be prioritized for support to overcome the constraints imposed by historic under-investment. Lack of access to capital has hampered the ability of these organizations to stabilize, innovate, and extend the reach of effective and culturally responsive solutions designed by and for communities of color.We are increasingly investing in leaders of color who direct organizations that have long worked to boost economic mobility among Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people. What they need is the resources to do more – a challenge to which we’ll continue to rise.
- Restoring school systems to their prior state will be insufficient to recover from this pandemic or navigate any future one. School systems continue to face overwhelming challenges as they seek to address the holistic needs of students whose learning has been disrupted, close recent and long-term gaps for those students most in need, overcome mental and physical health challenges for students and teachers, and realize the potential of all young people. Addressing these priorities in this moment and in the years to come requires strategic intervention and substantial redesign.In our latest round of COVID response investments, we are supporting effective organizations to help states and districts align and maximize their federal funds with these goals. Ultimately, they’ll share their innovation and recovery “playbooks” with school leaders across the country. We also are investing in scaling specific solutions to some of the most serious challenges facing students, teachers, families, and systems in key states and districts, ranging from reenrolling students who disengaged from school to tailoring school-based mental health supports and helping high school students hold tight to their post-secondary goals and successfully enroll in college.
Realities such as these will continue to drive our evolving focus in the year to come and beyond. We do not pretend that they are simple or easily addressed, but we do have faith that we, together with our investees and Partners and many others who are working with the same resolve, will prevail in the end.