Economic Mobility and Opportunity

Our goal
To dramatically increase economic mobility and opportunity for those living in poverty across the United States.
A neighborhood in the South Bronx, New York City.
A neighborhood in the South Bronx, New York City.

At a glance

  • We work to increase the number and diversity of community, government, private, philanthropic, and academic actors working together to dramatically increase economic mobility and opportunity and reduce poverty in the U.S.
  • Our conversations in communities across the country inform our understanding of the scope and scale of the challenge and the nature of the barriers involved, including systemic racism, neighborhood structures, the criminal justice system, and access to affordable housing and career pathways.
  • We support and work alongside community organizations and social-movement leaders that have spent years successfully fighting for more opportunity for all.
  • Projects we have supported include the Opportunity Atlas, a database that shows which neighborhoods offer children the best chance to rise out of poverty, and the Eviction Lab, the first publicly accessible national database on tenant evictions.
  • We work to replace stereotypes and false narratives about poverty with accurate data and the stories of people from diverse backgrounds who have navigated the experience of poverty.
Our strategy

Our strategy

Our team works to ensure that more people in the United States have pathways out of poverty and have access to the information and tools they need to succeed. Our efforts include funding research that can lead to better policies, empowering local leaders, supporting the development of new technologies and tools to help social service providers, creating partnerships to increase coordination across sectors, and improving understanding of poverty and its causes among policymakers and the public. The foundation’s work on U.S. economic mobility and opportunity began in 2018 with a commitment of more than $150 million over four years.
Equitable access to opportunity will not be possible until we address misconceptions, racial bias, racism, and stereotypes and move to action guided by shared values, history, systemic solutions, racial equity, and human dignity.
Ryan Rippel
Director, Economic Mobility and Opportunity
Areas of focus

Areas of focus

We work with partners to expand and extend their work in five key areas.

Community leaders and anti-poverty organizations have told us they need better data on the underlying factors contributing to poverty, barriers to economic mobility, and predictors of violence in communities in order to develop more effective interventions. Our efforts in this area include support for data collection on eviction rates in communities across the country so advocates can better allocate resources to help tenants and so policymakers can better balance the interests of tenants and landlords. We have also funded research that tracks how economic mobility varies by neighborhood, which has led to new interventions such as helping families who plan to relocate choose higher-mobility—but not dramatically more expensive—neighborhoods.

Community leaders and organizations that are working to respond to the daily realities of poverty often lack access to state-of-the-art tools, data-driven insights, and funding. We engage local leaders to find out what works and what gets in their way and connect them with experts to help them navigate the challenges.

Because poverty is linked to a range of factors—including health, housing, race, gender, family, and jobs—addressing it effectively requires better coordination among nonprofits, government agencies, philanthropic funders, and the private sector. We work to facilitate these connections so the best ideas, technologies, tools, and practices can be shared and funders can better target their support.

Working-class jobs in the industrial economy paid a living wage. Working-class jobs in today’s economy do not, and many also do not offer benefits, job security, full-time work, or career advancement opportunities. We focus on five key issues related to work and opportunity:

  • What career pathways and interventions lead to upward mobility

  • What attributes make a job “good” from the perspective of both workers and employers

  • How employers can be encouraged to make long-term investments in recruiting, training, and retaining economically insecure workers

  • How workers can gain access to benefits and services that offer them greater stability and ultimately economic mobility and security

  • What job training models best serve workers without a college degree

The dominant narratives about what poverty is, why it happens, who experiences it, and how to address it are not only confusing and conflicting, but often completely inaccurate. Structural and historic barriers based on race, gender, and geography often go unacknowledged, and discussions about how to close economic gaps and create equitable opportunity and mobility leave out many voices. This leads to ineffective, inadequate, and sometimes harmful interventions.

We fund research to identify the most accurate and salient information about poverty and economic mobility, and we support initiatives to elevate the stories of those who experience poverty. In doing so, we aim to change the national conversation around poverty and help policymakers and the public see the situation with more humanity and insight and better understand how to effect change in complex systems. Our efforts include the Voices for Economic Opportunity Grand Challenge, which funds work by a wide array of organizations to bring personal stories of poverty to life and highlight barriers to economic mobility.

Why focus on economic mobility and opportunity?

Why focus on economic mobility and opportunity?

The foundation’s early work to expand internet access through public libraries and improve U.S. education helped us understand how pervasive the barriers to opportunity are across our economy and society and how education alone does not guarantee economic mobility. For example, studies show that when job applicants have identical resumes, white applicants receive an average of 36 percent more callbacks than Black applicants and 24 percent more callbacks than Latino applicants. Data also show that in 99 percent of the country and in every income bracket, African American men fare worse economically than white men raised in the same neighborhood and in families with similar incomes.

The people and organizations working on economic mobility have deep experience and expertise, but they often lack the information, tools, and funding to be more effective and efficient. We believe that developing and expanding access to these resources and spurring greater collaboration and partnership among community organizations, funders, and policymakers can lead to faster progress in changing the systems that inhibit economic mobility. This will, in turn, give more people the ability to decide the direction of their own lives, live with dignity, and have a valued place within their communities.

Strategy leadership

Strategy leadership

Visit our U.S. Program website

The foundation’s U.S. Program works to advance educational opportunity and economic mobility and strengthen communities across the U.S. Areas of focus include improving access to quality K-12 and postsecondary education for low-income students and students of color and making community grants across Washington State, where the Gates family has lived for generations.