On August 22, as part of the Chicago Centered series, the Harris School of Public Policy hosted a discussion about Inequality and Development and the ways it impacts the city of Chicago and beyond.

photo of panelists and moderator
Kathleen St. Louis Caliento, Mark Hussey, Natalie Moore, and Professor Steven Durlauf

Panelists included Kathleen St. Louis Caliento, CLA'17, President and CEO of Cara Collective; Steven Durlauf, Steans Professor in Educational Policy and the Director of the Stone Center for Research on Wealth Inequality and Mobility; and Mark Hussey, President and CEO of Huron Consulting Group. The panel was moderated by Natalie Moore, reporter for WBEZ, contributor for the Chicago Sun-Times, and a former Senior Practitioner Fellow with the Center for Effective Government.

Moore kicked off the panel by asking Professor Durlauf about his new role as director of the Stone Center.  “One of the objectives of The Stone Center is finding ways to measure discrimination,” said Durlauf.

“Social science needs to have a much less individualistic perspective and take into account that individuals are members of families, members of the community, members of school, members of an ethnic group—we need to focus on these memberships as the determinants of inequality,” he continued.

“A default ethical value in the United States is the idea of meritocracy. It’s a noble goal, but where it gets distorted is that a test score is conditional on what high school you went to or what place you grew up in. I think the idea of merit must be changed. We want to reformulate meritocracy to be prospective—forward-looking.”

When asked who he hoped would read the research coming out of the Stone Center, Durlauf said, “Academics are hoping that policymakers will read them. That’s why things that sound boring like measurement matter: these are the systems to measure ethically salient public policy, and I would hope to tell that to policymakers.”

Professor Steven Durlauf describes the work of the Stone Center.

Moore asked St. Louis Caliento about her work with Cara Collective, which works on eradicating relational and financial poverty through developing pathways to employment.

“We are a 32-year-old workforce development organization that helps people find themselves and find jobs,” she said. “People find us by the way of misstep, misfortune, but also injustice—there are systemic structures in place that cause some of the people that we serve to face the situations that they are facing.

“We work with folks who have the toughest barriers to employment. They are often unhoused, struggling with financial issues, often medical issues, maybe recovery, childcare. That’s why those additional wrap-around support services are important.  It's more than just helping someone find a job—it's helping them think about what it means to be stable as they embark on their professional pursuits.

“We have housing partners, childcare partners, and have a relationship with the City Colleges of Chicago to help people advance, as well as professional and personal training and development programs. We also partner with social service agencies, shelters, and professional career services in different ways. Today we’ve served over 8,000 folks… and we’re seeing them stick and stay,” said St. Louis Caliento.

St. Louis Caliento said Cara Collective has also expanded mental health services. “We’re recognizing that mental health is a big barrier. It’s often not discussed or taboo or not resourced enough to provide support. So how do we provide resources in-house? We like to say ‘it’s our job to be in your business.’ We work to build relationships, so we focus on eradicating not just financial poverty, but relational poverty.”

St. Louis Caliento
"It's more than just helping someone find a job—it's helping them think about what it means to be stable as they embark on their professional pursuits," said St. Louis Caliento about the work that Cara Collective does.

St. Louis Caliento also shared her personal connection with this work. “I’ve been in Chicago for 20 years. I’m a daughter of Haitian immigrants and I watched firsthand my parents’ struggle to be valued for what they had to offer. I have seen inequality from that personal experience, and I have also seen the inequality our participants face.” 

She later shared the sobering statistics that the unemployment rate is four times higher in Englewood, and the lifespan for residents is 30 years lower on average than for other Chicagoans. “One of the biggest myths is that ‘these folks don't want to work,’ and we know through research that they often are the ones who will stay the longest, work the hardest, and if given the opportunity will advance in their careers. And so the part of the work that we do is trying to help debunk that myth,” she said.

 Moore also asked Hussey about the ways in which a consulting firm like Huron addresses inequality. “Huron is a publicly traded consulting firm with about $1.3 billion in revenue,” said Hussey. “About 80% of our revenue comes from healthcare and education, which are two very mission-based sectors of the economy. So inequality today is very much the top line issue for many of our clients, and various parts of our programs work to address it directly.”

Hussey discussed how Huron is partnering with the public sector to eliminate barriers to access financial aid. “Just 27% of adults believe that education beyond high school is affordable. $2.3 billion of financial aid was left unclaimed in 2017–18. One thing that would be helpful to remove barriers is simplification of FAFSA. The education system was designed around nuclear families, which is not as relevant today. That’s one of the things that will be foundational: with the new FAFSA process, there’s thousands of people that will be newly eligible, and it will make it an accessible process. It’s a systematic way of thinking of how to bring the right populations to your school and examine the barriers.”

audience at river roast

Hussey also shared the ways in which Huron has grown when it comes to diversity and inclusion efforts. “In the past 13 years we’ve built ‘I matter’ teams to drive a sense of belonging and community with people of color. We’ve found new ways to attract and retain them. Sometimes they will say, ’You don’t look like us.’ That’s a problem… That’s why we have been working on expanding diversity on our team. We started a series called Dinner and Dialogues. It was to talk about underrepresented team members’ experiences in reality… The hiring is not the hard part—it’s the retention and building of that community. I think we’re moving in the right direction, but we have a tremendous amount of work left to do.”

Moore asked what skills he looks for in applicants, and Hussey replied, “In consulting, it really is important to have communication skills… What you need to do is talk to people, understand them, engage and have empathy about what they are up against and what they need to solve. In my opinion, leaders are made, they are not born… Be passionate about what you do: care deeply. That is the difference between a journey and a job.”

The audience was highly engaged in this thoughtful discussion around systemic inequality and hearing first-hand how thought leaders in academia, the non-profit and private sectors are piloting and identifying promising interventions and working to create a more equitable society in Chicago and beyond. 

Some quotes have been slightly edited for clarity.