Economic Mobility

We consider America a place of opportunity, but increasingly, the city where we live determines the level of those opportunities. A map of the country shows a spiky and uneven terrain. Innovation hubs with educated population have gained spectacular wealth. Other cities have not weathered deindustrialization, automation, or the recent financial crisis. Cities with large populations of historically disadvantaged racial and ethnic groups, low educational attainment, and heavy reliance on nearly obsolete industries have not adapted to changes in the global economy.

A majority of Americans live in cities. Cities provide the economic engine of America and are a depository of its culture. But the country cannot prosper if some of its cities are decaying. Stabilizing cities’ futures depends on expanding opportunity for individual urban residents.

Even the resurgent popularity of a handful of cities across the country has not helped areas of cities afflicted with concentrated poverty. Residents in those neighborhoods often lack the skills to participate in an economy evolving in new ways. They have needed more help transitioning to the new economy that is leaving them behind.

Meaningful economic progress for urban residents would translate into cities’ progress. Homeownership, for example, strengthens the fabric of neighborhoods, stabilizing property values and contributing to the tax base. Education and training attract employers, increase civic participation, and reduce crime. Entrepreneurship creates jobs, expands needed services, and generates tax revenues. 

Relationships between where a child grows up, his race, and his financial prospects should not be immutable. Urban policies can improve outcomes. Moving the needle on expanding individual opportunities demands grounding in the lived experiences of local, urban communities. The Economic Mobility program is committed to gathering first-person evidence from underrepresented, and too-often voiceless populations, in order to inform and craft policies that benefit urban populations and address individual needs. 

Equalizing individual opportunities in areas including housing, education, and access to education matters for the future of cities.

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Initiative Lead: Jodie Adams Kirshner

Jodie Adams Kirshner
Research Professor / Marron Institute

Jodie Adams Kirshner is a Research Professor at the New York University Marron Institute of Urban Management. Broke: Hardship and Resilience in a City of Broken Promises, her narrative nonfiction book on the Detroit bankruptcy, funded by the Kresge Foundation, will be published by St. Martin's Press in November 2019. Her academic book International Bankruptcy Law: the Challenge of Insolvency in a Global Economy was published by the University of Chicago Press in May 2018.

Until 2014, Kirshner was a law professor at Cambridge University, where she also served as the deputy director of the Cambridge LL.M. program, the deputy director of the Cambridge Centre for Corporate and Commercial Law, and as a fellow of Peterhouse College, Cambridge. She has also served as a technical advisor to the Bank for International Settlements and as an independent consultant for financial funds investing in distressed debt.

Kirshner is an elected member of the American Law Institute and a senior research associate of the Cambridge Centre for Business Research. She is a fellow of the American Bar Foundation, the Salzburg Global Seminar, the Columbia Law School Center for Law and Economics, and the Center for Law Economics & Finance in Washington, and a former term member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Since returning to the U.S., she has taught international bankruptcy law at Columbia Law School.

Kirshner received her undergraduate degree from Harvard University and graduate degrees in law and in journalism from Columbia University. She studied as a Fulbright Scholar at Oxford University and completed funded postdocs at the London Business School and Max Planck Institute for Comparative and International Law in Hamburg, Germany.

She is currently writing a book on higher education debt and college finance, funded by the ECMC Foundation.