Poverty remains a persistent problem throughout the nation and has only worsened with the recent economic downturn. In response, New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg appointed a Commission for Economic Opportunity in 2006 comprised of leaders from the nonprofit, business, philanthropic, and academic sectors. The commission was charged with conducting a comprehensive examination of poverty in the city, which included analyzing its causes, scope and consequences. As a result of the commission’s recommendations, the mayor created the Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO) with a mission to reduce the number of people living in poverty in New York City through the implementation of innovative, results-driven initiatives and to identify a more accurate way of measuring poverty in New York than the federal poverty measure allows.
As of 2010, CEO has created, supported, and funded over 40 anti-poverty programs. CEO works with nationally recognized, independent evaluation firms, as well as a small in-house evaluation team, to measure program impacts rigorously and provide objective evidence to improve programs and inform decisions of whether to continue, replicate, or eliminate programs. Accountability and proven efficacy are required of all programs to remain in operation.
The initiatives are designed to fill service gaps to meet the needs of underserved populations and improve the education, skills, and job opportunities for low-income New Yorkers. CEO has been able to use the solid evidence of programs' successes to maintain them even in the face of budget cuts tied to the economic downturn of 2008. In 2009, CEO was able to leverage nearly $50 million in federal and philanthropic resources to serve approximately 65,000 additional New Yorkers.
Many successful pilot programs that were launched with support of CEO have already been incorporated throughout general city departments after proving their efficacy. Based on the success of the CEO-funded Transportation Career Center, the Department of Small Business Services directed funding to open two additional Sector-Focused Career Centers and incorporated the sector-focused approach into its Advance at Work initiative. Participants in the Advance at Work program are 3.5 times more likely to be placed in jobs, earn about $0.50 more per hour on average in those jobs, and work a greater number of hours than comparison group counterparts. The Department of Youth and Community Development is replicating aspects of CEO’s Young Adult Internship Program in a variety of ways using over $14 million of federal stimulus funds to serve new populations and provide paid internships in new settings. The City University of New York’s (CUNY) new community college, scheduled to open in 2012, will be largely modeled on lessons learned from CEO’s CUNY Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) and CUNY Prep programs. After 2.5 years, nearly half of students in the CUNY ASAP program earned their associate’s degrees, compared with only 17 percent of the comparison group.
CEO is working with approximately 30 localities that are interested in replicating its work, and a number have already begun doing so. The alternative poverty measure developed by CEO was a key driver behind the Obama Administration’s recent decision to create a supplemental poverty measure for federal use. CEO has also formed networks to share its accumulation of knowledge with others, including the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) Learning Network, which allows cities and countries to share CCT design, implementation strategies, and research findings. Additionally, CEO’s Office of Financial Empowerment co-leads the Cities for Financial Empowerment coalition, a 10-city network that shares best practices for helping low-income residents build savings and advocates for improved bank products for low-income individuals.