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Community members hoping to invigorate American middle class

To support the disappearing middle class, community members met Monday to discuss strategy with leaders from Ohio State Alliance for the American Dream. Credit: Zach Varda | Campus Editor

With an overall 9 percent drop, the size of the American middle class is shrinking steadily from 61 percent in 1971 to 52 percent in 2016, according to the Pew Research Center’s latest report.

To support the disappearing middle class, community members met Monday to discuss strategy with leaders from Ohio State Alliance for the American Dream, an initiative to gather ideas that help improve the lives of middle-class families and actualize a target of boosting incomes of 10,000 households by 10 percent by 2020.

The Alliance started to gather innovative ideas from community members nine months ago and prescreened all proposals. Six finalists stood out among the proposals and went on to the final presentation, W. Randy Smith, vice provost of academic programs, said.

“What we are trying to do is to ensure those who are trying to work and are trying to move upward and to see if we can help them as they move into the middle class and help those that are in the middle class stay there, not fall out of it,” Smith said.

Each of the six finalists gave a talk on their solutions to recover middle tiers. These strategies included building a rural transit system, increasing food output, providing educational support as well as utilizing technology platforms to actualize income growth.

Melissa Pearce, one of the finalists as well as the president and CEO of Community Action Wayne/Medina, brought her team’s project to the table, featuring a transportation system that “can save up to 50 to 75 percent of transportation costs.”

“I think that the rural transportation has always been a tough nut to crack, but more and more developments in technology as well as people recognizing the need, the more you have people accepting that,” she said.

Turning strategies into a reality is possible with the help of resources from companies such as Schmidt Futures — an organization that aims to advance society through investment and technologies — awarding Ohio State a $1.5 million grant to support possible pathways.

Smith said people contributed ideas on the condition that they see them through to the end and all finalists are seeking to either boost the income of the middle class or stop them from falling further behind financially.

Aside from Schmidt Futures’ funding, Pearce said her team in collaboration with experts at Ohio State will conduct some research to establish a model of how to alter people’s travel behavior and then adopt that model.

Pearce said support from Ohio State pushes their project forward and “they are hoping for the best.”

“Being a part of the project is so important to the community and it’s been a real bridge between community members and university faculty members,” Smith said.

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