A community-university partnership will advance the search for innovative ideas to solve Dane County’s racial inequalities and income disparities.
Chancellor Rebecca Blank and Renee Moe, the President and CEO of the United Way of Dane County, discussed the future of the community-wide venture called The Alliance for the American Dream in a press conference Wednesday.
"Bringing University knowledge and community voices together to improve people's lives is what the Wisconsin Idea is all about," Blank said in the press conference. "It's the idea that our campus boundaries do not stop at our gates, but extend across all of Wisconsin."
The program, locally recognized as DreamUp Wisconsin, is tasked with the challenge of introducing at least 10 viable proposals to grow and strengthen the middle class. This will likely be completed either through increasing household income or decreasing the costs of housing, child and health care and transportation.
The new collaboration between the community and UW-Madison aims to promote prosperity and combat poverty throughout Dane County. Across the county, the idea is to increase the net income by 10 percent to 10,000 families by 2020.
On average, the median income for Dane County households is around $65,000. Over 50 percent of local renters spend around 30 percent of their total income on rent. This, combined with a low unemployment rate, contrasts the ongoing ethnic and racial discrepancies throughout the county.
The Institute for Research on Poverty, the university’s research institution geared towards fighting poverty and inequality, as well as their consequences, will lead the way in creating proposals for the county.
Lawrence Berger, Director of IRP, spoke at the press conference about the efforts of IRP to collaborate with ongoing work throughout Dane County.
“Our intent is not to create a new, separate community process, but rather to support the terrific ongoing community work and networks in Dane County and to work together to create feasible proposals for expanding and stabilizing the middle class,” Berger said. “The process is intended to produce a set of fleshed-out, shovel ready plans that can then be implemented in the county.”
UW-Madison is one of the four universities taking part in the program. The other inaugurated universities include Arizona State University, Ohio State University and the University of Utah.
“In my opinion, it is crucial that universities engage in such real-world initiatives and I would be delighted to see more partnerships and challenges of this kind,” Berger said.
The program is funded by Schmidt Futures, an endeavor lead by former Google chairman Eric Schmidt. Ohio State received $1.5 million in grant funds for middle-class families at the end of April.
“We wish to increase America’s capacity to adjust to these tectonic shifts — in labor markets, in policy development, and in investment pathways,” the Schmidt website reads. “Prosperity, and competitiveness, will depend on our ability to both stabilize and expand the middle class.”
Update: May 20, 3:00 pm A previous version of this did not include comments from Prof. Lawrence Berger and did not discuss the DreamUp Wisconsin program. Additionally, it now includes more background information on Dane County households.