Best Practices for Creating a Sustainable and Equitable Food System in the United States

Ashley Blackwell

 This issue brief outlines a road map to create a more sustainable and equitable food system. It first provides an overview of the existing state of food insecurity in the United States; it then gives an overview of national best practices, highlighted through specific case studies, and discusses tools to fund such initiatives and to build cross-sector partnerships that take a holistic approach to addressing food deserts and food insecurity. 

Strengthening VITA to Boost Financial Security at Tax Time & Beyond

Shervan Sebastian, Ezra Levin and David Newville

In 2015, Congress increased funding for VITAfor the first time in six yearsby $3 million. However, in order for the program to meet the growing demand for its services, VITA must be authorized, expanded and modernized. This paper explores how the VITA program has developed over time and how local VITA programs serve their communities. It then highlights the VITA program’s present challenges and opportunities for valuable reforms that would enable VITA sites to serve more people. 

The Potential for Summer Youth Employment Programs to Reduce Inequality: What Do We Know?

Alicia Sasser Modestino and Trinh Nguyen
Federal Reserve Bank of Boston

Summer Youth Employment Programs (SYEP) are believed to improve the economic, academic, and behavioral outcomes of the population they serve, particularly for inner-city, low-income, and non-white youth. As part of a larger evaluation, we collected survey data on participants in the Boston 2015 SYEP. These participants reported additional job readiness skills, higher academic aspirations, and more positive attitudes towards their communities compared to the control group. Overall, these trends are encouraging, particularly because the largest gains were observed for minority youth. It remains unclear whether these short-term improvements will result in sustained advantages down the road. In the second phase of our evaluation, we hope to tackle this question by linking the survey responses reported in this brief to administrative data from employment, academic, and behavioral records, to better articulate the long-term effects of SYEP. 

US Worker Cooperatives: A State of the Sector

Democracy at Work Institute

The Democracy at Work Institute conducted a national survey of worker cooperative firms to start to answer some basic questions and lay the groundwork for future longitudinal studies. To our knowledge, this is the first nationwide survey to solely target worker cooperatives. We used publicly available data to identify basic information about 256 worker cooperatives operating in the US in 2013 (due to lack of a central registry and recent rapid growth, this is likely an undercount). 109 of these cooperatives then submitted substantial responses to our survey questions. The data set represents a combination of these two sources. For each survey question the exact number of cooperatives with available data varies, as the response rate for each question differed. Included are some key questions addressed by their responses. 

If it Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It: Potential Impacts of Privatizing the Tennessee Valley Authority

Joel Yudken

This report presents an overview of the debate over privatizing the Tennessee Valley Authority. It evaluates the pros and cons; summarizes the agency’s organizational, financial, and economic situation; and examines the potential implications of privatization for ratepayers, communities, and the regional economy. 

Sector Workforce Intermediaries: Next Generation Employer-Engagement Strategies

Fred O'Regan

The Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Aspen Institute invited a number of leading practitioners to a one-day meeting centered on the question: “How can we expand the definition of employer engagement to include influencing businesses’ human resource and training practices in addition to responding to pipeline needs?” The question was meant to be provocative and to elicit lively discussion, not necessarily neat conclusions. 

Moving Toward a Policy Agenda for Improving Children’s Savings Account Delivery Systems

William Elliott III, Melinda K. Lewis, Anthony Poore and Brian Clarke

This paper, jointly produced by the Center on Assets, Education, and Inclusion (AEDI) at the University of Kansas and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, was informed by a roundtable on CSA delivery systems, held at the Boston Fed in December 2014. It describes the design, key features, and respective challenges of each principal delivery system. Assessed in light of the CSA field’s guiding principles for delivery system design (universal and automatic enrollment, national footprint, cultivation of a saver identity, asset-building, administrative efficiency, and adequate consumer protection), these models have distinct advantages and limitations. This paper attempts to contribute to the critical task of building the knowledge base needed to help children’s savings programs begin to weigh the pros and cons of each of these existing delivery systems. 

Social Impact Bonds: A promising tool for bringing private dollars to programs that create opportunity for low-income families

John Griffith and Victoria Shire

This issue brief takes a close look at two SIB initiatives currently in the development phase, each with Enterprise’s support. One initiative aims to reduce chronic homelessness in Denver, while the other aims to reduce the number of days homeless children stay in foster care in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. The brief also looks at federal policy initiatives underway to promote SIBs and similar “pay-for-success” initiatives, including bipartisan legislation that would create a new fund at the Department of the Treasury to support SIB contracts. 

Small Cities Blues: Looking for Growth Factors in Small and Medium-Sized Cities

George A. Erickcek and Hannah J. McKinney

The purpose of this exploratory study is to attempt to identify particular public policies which have the potential to increase the economic viability of smaller metropolitan areas and cities. We identify characteristics associated with smaller metro areas that performed better-than-expected (winners) and worse-than-expected (losers) during the 1990s, given their resources, industrial mix, and location as of 1990. Once these characteristics have been identified, we look for evidence that public policy choices may have promoted and enhanced a metro area’s ability to succeed and to regain control of its own economic destiny. Methodologically, we construct a regression model which identifies the small metro areas that achieved higher-than-expected economic prosperity (winners) and the areas that saw lower-than-expected economic prosperity (losers) according to the model. Next, we explore whether indications exist that winners and losers are qualitatively different from other areas in ways that may indicate consequences of policy choices. A cluster analysis is completed to group the metro areas based on changes in a host of social, economic, and demographic variables between 1990 and 2000. We then use contingency table analysis and ANOVA to see if “winning” or “losing,” as measured by the error term from the regression, is related to the grouping of metro areas in a way that may indicate the presence of deliberate and replicable government policy. 

Economic Distress and Resurgence in U.S. Central Cities: Concepts, Causes, and Policy Levers

Yolanda K. Kodrzycki and Ana Patricia Muñoz

This paper provides a review of the literature on U.S. central city growth and distress during the second half of the twentieth century.It finds that city growth tended to be higher in metropolitan areas with favorable weather, higher growth, and greater human capital, while distress was strongly correlated with city-level manufacturing legacy. The article affirms that distress has been highly persistent, but that some cities have achieved resurgence through a combination of strong leadership, collaboration across sectors and institutions, clear and broad-based strategies, and significant infrastructure investments. Finally, the article explores measurement issues by comparing two methodologies used to identify poorly performing central cities: comparisons across a comprehensive national cross-section of cities and comparisons within smaller samples of similar cities. It finds that these approaches have produced similar assessments of a city’s status, except in some cases where the city’s progress has been uneven across time or with respect to alternative criteria. 

Social Entrepreneurship in Action: A White Paper Examining Prospects for Program Development

llinois Community Action Development Corporation

 The project scope focused on identifying opportunities, needs and gaps in ICADC’s and to some extent IACAA, IVCA’s programs and services to support earned income and social enterprise development within the network of 40 Community Action Agencies. 

Philanthropy and the Social Economy: Blueprint 2016

Lucy Bernholz

Philanthropy and the Social Economy: Blueprint 2016 is an annual industry forecast about the ways we use private resources for public benefit. Each year, the Blueprint provides an overview of the current landscape, points to major trends, and directs your attention to horizons where you can expect some important breakthroughs in the coming year. 

The Economics of Local Food Systems: A Literature Review of the Production, Distribution, and Consumption of Local Food

Ariel Pinchot
University of Minnesota

With the recent and continued growth in the demand for locally grown food, questions emerge about market characteristics, the capacity of local food systems to support regional economic development, and the economic aspects of the production and consumption of local foods. What do we know about the economics of local and regional food systems? What is the status of research in this arena? The authors and contributors to this report found no comprehensive literature review concentrating solely on the economics of local or regional food system development. We seek to address this literature gap by providing a review and annotation of key publications on the economics of local food system development. Within this subject, we specifically focus on the characteristics of local food markets, local food consumers and motivations for purchases, local food producers and food hubs, and the role of food systems in community and economic development. Potential beneficiaries of this literature review include educators and other academic staff, students, local food advocates, and a range of professionals who participate in local food system development. Structured to highlight key findings from many sources up front, and followed by an annotated bibliography of selected publications, the review is designed to serve as a helpful introduction to recent research on the economics of local foods in the United States. Food system research in the state of Minnesota receives a special focus in this review. 

Financial Coaching: Review of Existing Research

Center for Financial Security
University of Wisconsin-Madison

This brief summarizes research into the theories underlying financial coaching and the effects of financial coaching on participant behaviors and outcomes. In practice, financial coaching remains an unregulated field, and individuals and organizations use the term “financial coaching” to refer to an array of interventions. This brief concentrates on coaching interventions that explicitly focus on working with clients to identify behavioral outcomes, set goals, brainstorm strategies, set concrete action plans, identify strengths and build motivation, and provide monitoring and accountability, all of which are features of a more theoretically-grounded coaching approach (Grant, Cavanagh, and Parker 2010). This brief includes literature gathered through searches encompassing briefs, reports, book chapters, academic articles, and other sources. 

2014 Data Indicate That Four in Ten Children Live in Low-Income Families

Jessica A. Carson, Andrew Schaefer and Marybeth J. Mattingly
University of New Hampshire

In September 2015, the Census Bureau released 2014 poverty data from the American Community Survey (ACS), the only regular source for reliably estimating child poverty in geographic areas below the state level using the official poverty measure. In this brief, we use ACS data to explore child poverty rates across the United States by region, state, and place type (rural, suburban, and city). We also examine data on children who are deeply poor (those in families with incomes below half of the poverty line), as well as low-income children (those in families with incomes less than twice the poverty line). We find that while child poverty declined nationwide between 2013 and 2014, that drop was not felt uniformly across the country: several states saw declines, a few states saw increases, and others saw no change at all. We also found substantial differences in the magnitude of change across rural places, suburbs, and cities. 

Less Debt, More Equity: Lowering Student Debt While Closing the Black-White Wealth Gap

Laura Sullivan, Tatjana Meschede, Lars Dietrich and Thomas Shapiro

 This analysis uses the Racial Wealth Audit, a framework developed by the Institute on Assets and Social Policy (IASP) to assess the impact of public policy on the wealth gap between white and Black households. We use the framework to model the impact of various student debt relief policies to identify the approaches most likely to reduce inequities in wealth by race, as opposed to exacerbating existing inequities. We focus specifically on the Black- white wealth gap both because of the historic roots of inequality described above, and because student debt (in the form of borrowing rates and levels) seems to be contributing to wealth disparities between Black and white young adults, in particular. 

When Big Co-ops Fail

Peter Couchman and Murray Fulton

The international co-operative movement has seen a series of catastrophic failures of large scale co-operatives in recent decades, such as the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, retail co-ops in Germany, France and Atlantic Canada, banking in Austria and the near meltdown of the Co-operative Group in the UK. Yet our co-operative culture has not been one of seeking to understand the factors which are common in these events and which, if understood, could be used to prevent such collapses in the future.