By Lorie A. Slutsky
Amid the conflict and chaos of this election campaign, one thing is certain: The next president will be a New Yorker. His or her perspective will shape policies affecting the well-being of all Americans, while drawing on lessons learned in our city.
Here we are at the end of a seemingly endless campaign that mostly ignored the issues Americans care about.
The debates and media coverage have largely ignored pressing challenges ranging from hunger and homelessness to public education and climate change. As the leader of New York’s community foundation, the New York Community Trust, I urge the new president to pay attention to these key issues, and so many more: Job training; better medical services for the poor; antiquated mass transit; you get the picture.
Then there are scores of smaller, overlooked issues that can be made better relatively quickly, with the cooperation of government, nonprofit groups and foundations like ours. Consider three examples out of many:
Problem: We need to prepare young people with disabilities to graduate high school, figure out college or job options, and be independent.
Disabled New Yorkers are less likely to become and stay employed than their peers, in part due to a lack of adequate preparation. Only 17.5 percent of disabled people were employed last year, compared to 65 percent of people without disabilities. Under-employing people who could otherwise viably support themselves doesn’t just hurt them—it hurts our whole economy.
Solution: The next president must help improve special education and training to prepare students for the workforce. The New York City public school system is responsible for more than 175,000 students with disabilities. Many—especially low-income kids—are not getting the support they need to enter the workforce.
Plenty of successful organizations are trying to solve this issue, and the New Yorker in Chief can look to them for guidance. For example, IncludeNYC teaches disabled middle-schoolers not only how to identify services they need, but to speak up. A disabled student’s ability to self-advocate is a great predictor of finishing school, getting a job, and living independently.
Problem: In New York State, 6 out of 10 deaths are due to chronic and preventable conditions, such as heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes.
Solution: We will treat these diseases, of course. But, the next president can win over bipartisan support by emphasizing prevention. How we live matters. That means supporting better food, active lifestyles, and healthier environments. By helping people afford and eat local produce and helping them lead healthier lives, we can have tremendous impact on both public health and the economy. With an investment of just $10 per person per year, the nation can save $16 billion in medical costs within five years.
Hundreds of New York nonprofits are already leading the way to close the gap between citizens and real food; Green City Force and City Harvest support urban farms and set up mobile produce markets and nutrition workshops at schools. Their efforts can be replicated in cities across the nation.
Problem: Low-income communities need affordable, efficient energy designed for the future.
Solution: Bring more renewable energy and energy efficiency projects to lower-income neighborhoods, where the average family spends 17 percent of its income on home energy expenses, compared to the national average of 4 percent.
We can provide needed relief for working-class Americans and an aging energy grid that struggles to keep up with urban growth. Upfront costs of retrofitting our housing stock can be more than offset over several years by energy savings, while we reduce emissions in communities with high asthma rates. For example, “community net metering” allows multiple customers to get their power from local renewable energy installations, and save money on utility bills—leaving more money for food, medical bills, and rent. The Revitalize Coalition features groups from Buffalo to Brooklyn working together to help low-income residents make the most of New York’s clean energy investments.
To meet these challenges, we need to make bold investments and seek lessons from innovative groups. We all can push the next president—the first from New York since Franklin Roosevelt—to recognize that our city can be a model for solving America’s challenges.
Lorie A. Slutsky is president of the New York Community Trust, the community foundation for New York City, Long Island, and Westchester counties.