Answers We Need in 2017

Great research starts with great questions. As the Bell Policy Center heads into 2017, we will remain committed to a strong and vibrant cycle of opportunity for all Coloradans. We’re adapting that commitment to new realities that require us to reframe the questions that drive our work.

How do we strengthen and grow Colorado’s middle class?  

Unemployment continues to drop, and incomes are slowly rising, but buying power for many remains flat or down. Too many Coloradans never truly recovered from the Great Recession. In Colorado, real median income is up a mere .01 percent since 2000. In places like Pueblo, real median income is down nearly 16 percent since 2007. In spite of the progress we know we’ve made since the Great Recession, cost pressures on working families are going up.

What data and analysis do policy makers need as they consider policies to ease the middle class family budget pinch?

How do we set all Coloradans up for success?  

Whether we find ourselves in poverty, emerging from its ranks, or struggling to stay in the middle class, we should expect a common baseline from which to succeed. Too many Coloradans see government expenditures as benefiting either the poor or the rich, but not those in the middle.

How do we strengthen and make more tangible the opportunity investments that are available to everyone in our state? How do we ensure that essential opportunity benefits like education, health, and retirement are as universal and portable as possible?  

With 46 percent of Coloradans employed by the private sector lacking retirement savings, we’ll continue to advocate for a Secure Savings retirement plan in Colorado that gives every working Coloradan easy access to a low-fee, well-managed retirement savings account.  What are similar policy approaches that would have a similar effect in other important areas?

How do we promote high-road business practices?  

When we voted to raise the minimum wage, we voted to lift up working standards for our fellow Coloradans. And while campaigns and organizing will continue to be essential tools, we need to promote more collaborative approaches to lifting up standards.

We should have an economy in which companies and communities choose to lift each other up. We should strive for living wages, paid leave, and opportunities for education and training. Similarly, companies and organizations have the right to expect government to be lean and effective.

How can we inform the conversation between employers, communities, and employees? What are effective incentives that will increase the number of high road employers in Colorado?

How do we close off more chutes and build more ladders?  

We know that there are chutes and ladders in our economy. Predatory lending and other unfair consumer practices are a significant problem for Coloradans. That’s why the Bell will continue to advocate to keep lending rates low and start to shed more light on the link between debt and the for-profit college industry.

On the flip side of those chutes are powerful ladders. When nurses visit newborn babies and their families, or parents get child care at community colleges, opportunity programs are that much more effective. These two-generation policy approaches were highlighted in our Bound to Succeed report.

There is no more powerful ladder than education. In this arena, Colorado is launching initiatives that offer students of all ages new and innovative paths into the workforce. As we plant these trees, what does the forest look like? What kind of system are we building and what are the supports that are needed to make it thrive?

How do we restore confidence in our community institutions?  

Ultimately, Coloradans need to feel like citizens, not subjects. We need to own our community institutions and take pride in the investments that we make together. When we work together to build roads, develop communities, and protect our resources, we build an inclusive prosperity that’s firing on all cylinders.

Our Ideas that Work initiative is designed to recognize the thousands of initiatives like these that are sprouting up around our state. These are all community initiatives, big and small, that are making our lives better. We should recognize the ones that work and seek out ways to scale them.

To truly succeed at this work, we’ll need to bring new capacities and perspectives into our orbit. The Bell will be aggressively reaching out to elected officials, community leaders, business owners, and grassroots activists to understand where our work can make the greatest impact. We’ll be reaching into communities around the state and initiating dialogue with “odd bedfellows” who share our interest in improving the welfare of Colorado’s middle class families.

By the end of 2017, we anticipate a rich conversation in Colorado about how we build an inclusive prosperity in our state. Our hope is to make an undeniable contribution to that conversation by producing the ideas, analysis, and action our community leaders need to have it.

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