Baker, Kinder institutes make recommendations for a more equitable Houston

Houston must launch a jobs program as well as an early childhood education program to confront inequality in the city, according to experts at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy and Kinder Institute for Urban Research. They participated in Mayor Sylvester Turner’s Mayoral Task Force on Equity, which was charged with developing actionable policy recommendations to make Houston a more equitable city.

Houston City Hall. Credit: University

Quianta Moore, a fellow in child health policy in the Baker Institute’s Center for Health and Biosciences, and Kyle Shelton, director of strategic partnerships at the Kinder Institute, along with fellow task force members have issued a report detailing their recommendations, “Rising Together: A Roadmap to Confront Inequality in Houston.”

While Houston ranks as the second-most prosperous city in the United States and is the No. 5 fastest- growing city, it only ranks 64th among the most economically inclusive cities, the report notes.

The report comes on the heels of the launch of Turner’s Complete Communities initiative, which is meant to coordinate and boost investment in five long-underserved neighborhoods.

The task force generated a list of recommendations that took into account the city’s financial constraints, including two specific aims: launching a jobs program with the goal of creating 20,000 new or improved jobs with family-sustaining wages by 2022 and piloting “a scalable early childhood education program that could reach up to 40,000 children by 2025,” according to the report. The task force also offers metrics and strategies to track and coordinate investment aimed at increasing equity as well as changes to how the city raises and distributes funds.

The report argues that the problem is particularly pressing in Houston, where roughly 23 percent of the population and 35 percent of all children live in poverty. Poverty contributes to a number of strains on individuals and the city, the report notes. The researchers estimate that evictions, unpaid taxes and utility bills cost the city $51 million to $117 million annually.

And though the city has touted its relatively low unemployment rate, the measure climbed above the national average in 2016. A more complete measure, the report argues, would also include underemployed workers.

These burdens fall unequally on Houston’s residents, the researchers said.

Compounding a lack of investment at the neighborhood level, African-American and Latino residents face additional challenges. African-American and Latino children, for example, are nearly five times more likely to live in poverty than white children in Houston, according to the report. And African-American and Latino workers are less likely than white workers to hold jobs that pay more than $45,000, according to the report. Women also earn 25 percent less than men’s median wages in Houston.

In the absence of well-funded state or federal efforts to expand early childhood education, the report argues the city should take up the task with a pilot program modeled on similar programs elsewhere. The proposed three-year program would provide scholarships to 1,500 economically disadvantaged children under the age of 4 in one of four Complete Communities pilot neighborhoods.

Those scholarships would not only offer quality education to young children, but would also allow parents to participate in the workforce by making child care affordable, the report argues.

The report also calls on the city to step up its investment in affordable housing and infrastructure and to change its own processes for addressing and tracking equity as well as raising and distributing city funds. For more recommendations and analysis, read the report here.

Kinder Institute researchers Alexius Marcano and Dian Nostikasari also contributed to the report, which was edited and designed by the Baker Institute.

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.