Wells Dunbar’s tumblr post of demographic data from the City’s African-American Quality of Life Initiative reminded me that there’s a local democracy deficit concerning municipal policies that might help boost median income. I visualize the family median income data below. As you can see, overall family median income growth is sluggish, and perhaps most troubling is the fact that Hispanic/Latino family median income actually declined since 2000.
So, why aren’t our local discourse and policies more aggressive on this front?
One part of the problem is the fragmentation of municipal-level public institutions that might be able to do something about it (AISD, ACC, City, County). A second issue is that the current election design (at-large districts for City, lack of publicly-funded elections for all entities) makes it hard for more progressive political economy coalitions to form. Third, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of civic density/community organizing around boosting median incomes. Therefore, it’s not surprising that Austin doesn’t seem to create a lot of value with its human capital.
As a result of the current recession, I think there is greater recognition that we need to refocus on the growth of middle class median income. Many of the effective policies for boosting median wages such as quality K-12, affordable higher ed, effective workforce development, and community support for private sector union organizing campaigns are all local efforts. Add these to transit, corporate subsidization, and land use…and all of a sudden local policymakers possess a pretty extensive toolkit to contribute to median income growth in their region. The question is whether proponents of such activism can get organized to empower local policymakers that want to deploy such tools.