Editor’s note: Leading up to the May 3 grand opening of Harris’ new home at the Keller Center, our #PolicyForward series spotlights how the Harris School of Public Policy is driving impact for the next generation. In addition to stories from faculty, students, and alumni, we reached out to other experts in the field to share their perspective on strengthening democracy, fighting poverty and inequality, and confronting the global energy challenge.

Sol Anderson is a current CLA Fellow and the Executive Director of LIFT-Chicago.

Why are the problems of poverty and inequality so important to effectively address?

Because people's lives are at stake. I, as much as anyone, hate the narratives that paint Chicago – especially the South and West Sides of Chicago – as a violent and irredeemable place. I've been at this work too long to believe any of that to be true. Having said that, I think Chicago is one of the most powerful examples we have in the US of what happens in communities when the people in those communities are ignored. The economic, educational, and social infrastructure of many neighborhoods in Chicago, and across the country, have been neglected for far too long. For multiple generations now. And what we see in Chicago is that people in those communities are losing their lives. Some due to violence, but many more due to the impact that living in a community without the resources to nurture strong and healthy lives has on physical and mental health. If some communities don't have a job that pays a living wage, or a grocery store, or a health care provider, or a positive community anchor institution for blocks on end, how are the people in those communities expected to survive?

What advice would you give the “next generation” of young people eager to combat poverty and inequality?

Throughout my career, I have wrestled with the conflict between doing the micro- or macro-level work, so I would encourage the next generation to remember that the work is both "big" and "small." It's big in the sense that there are huge, seemingly intractable societal challenges that we need to face in fighting poverty and inequality. Racism, sexism, homophobia, under-resourced school systems (and the policies that create them), and many other factors create poverty. We need good, smart people working on those problems and trying to change things for the better. But the work can also be small. Individual people are caught up in the systems of inequality and poverty, and their livelihoods and lives hang in the balance. People need help finding jobs, finding housing, and getting the public benefits that they need to support themselves and their families. We need good, smart people working to help people in need on a daily basis.

There are millions of people across the country living in poverty, and even more people who are one bad break away from living in poverty. We need to be able to focus on breaking the systems that create that problem and work with the people who are impacted by that problem at the same time. Whatever level you're working on in that fight is important.

What policies would make the most impact to promote equality?

I could probably write several pages about what policies I think we need to establish to truly promote equality, but I'll try to keep it short. Poverty and inequality are passed down just like wealth is and impact people in ways that get bigger with each generation, so I think there needs to be a multi-layered policy approach to promoting equality. One that gets people what they need going forward and helps to heal the trauma of the the past. First we need to think about policies that get people more money and resources now. Some people talk about Universal Basic Income, or reparations, or universal healthcare, and I think all of those ideas have merit. I wrap those ideas up in a bundle and say we need to decide as a society that there is a "social floor" that we won't allow anyone to fall below. That means, among other things, putting money in the hands of people that need it, directing more resources to schools in low-income communities, providing healthcare to everyone, and ensuring that no job in any community pays less than what it costs to actually live in that community.

To do all that, we also need to fix our tax codes to shift the tax burden on to wealthy individuals and big companies, and closing the tax loopholes that allow the people and institutions with the most to pay the smallest portion of their earnings in taxes. Beyond that, we need to create policies that establish better mental and physical health resources in low-income communities. We need to get money into the hands of those who don't have it, and give free access to healthcare to all, but we also need to make sure the places where people access health services are equally distributed geographically.

Oh, and we can expand grant and low-interest loan programs for MWBEs (with a specific focus on low-income communities), and fund financial literacy and counseling resources in all public schools, and close down all Check Cashing/Payday Loan stores forever, and ensure that all children can go to a quality preschool, and...I'll stop.

About Sol Anderson

As the Executive Director of LIFT-Chicago, Sol leads a dedicated team, builds dynamic external relationships, and implements an innovative strategic plan with the regional board. Sol has worked with under-served communities for two decades. From directly serving community members, managing programs, building community-wide strategic initiatives, and directing funding where it’s most needed, he has impacted individuals and families, and guided communities to unlock their own power. Sol advocates for under-resourced communities so that his son may live in a just and peaceful world.

He is currently a Civic Leadership Academy (CLA) Fellow at Harris Public Policy.