WSSU introduces center with new economic study

What can be said about Winston-Salem? Many know that it is the home to several respected colleges and universities, world class hospitals and a strong tax base. But its skyline doesn’t reveal that Winston-Salem is strongly divided by race and income level.

This harsh realization was punctuated last week by Dr. Craig Richardson, WSSU economics professor, at the open house for Center of the Study of Economic Mobility (CSEM). Richardson is CSEM’s founding director.

Winston-Salem State University introduced CSEM in September of this year but had its first public event – an open house – at The Enterprise Conference and Banquet Center on Nov. 16.

The numbers told the story. Forsyth County is third from the bottom of communities in the U.S. that have the poorest economic mobility. The bottom two U.S. counties are Indian reservations in South Dakota. That says a lot about the economic issues that the residents of Forsyth County, in particular, East Winston, face. Studies have shown that children from low-income families in Forsyth County are less likely to move up the economic ladder as adults compared to kids almost anywhere else in the country.

To explain the impact of the economic mobility crisis in Forsyth County, Richardson used an analogy of a ladder. He said that each rung of the ladder was vital to upward mobility for youth. Citing the drop in housing values and lack of personal transportation as a few of many contributing factors for economic immobility, he stated that fixing the rungs is the priority of CSEM.

“We are looking at those broken rungs and we want to find out why,” said Richardson.

The open house also presented speakers attesting to the importance of the study. One of the speakers was Rasheeda Shankle, a young woman who lived in the poverty-stricken areas of Winston-Salem. She recanted how she transcended poverty with the help of her family.

Shankle has since started a nonprofit organization named Honorable Youth. It is designed to bring financial awareness and education to youth in Forsyth County with the hopes of giving them a head start to their economic situation as they become adults.

“The main goal of Honorable Youth is to rebuild communities and inspire youth to reach their full potential,’ said Shankle. Honorable Youth recently received a $15,000 grant from The Women’s Fund of Winston-Salem.

CSEM will also present a documentary as part of the overall picture of the study. It will feature a single mother who relies on bus transportation to get around Winston-Salem.

“The documentary will be like a ‘day in the life of’ with the information Dr. Richardson has, implementing the data into it, so that there’s a human being showing the reality of it,” said Diana Greene, a local filmmaker, who was announced as the documentary’s creator.

CSEM received a $3 million grant from the Thurgood Marshall Fund, which made the program possible.

It is the hope of all involved that CSEM will produce groundbreaking answers that can be used to change the economic picture of Forsyth County and become a model for other communities in similar positions. It will be based in R.J. Reynolds Center on WSSU’s campus and will bean operationally part of the College of Arts, Sciences, Business and Education.

“The ladder has to be in solid foundation. The Center of the Study of Economic Mobility is going to get at that foundation. The university [WSSU] is ready to be that change agent,” said Alvin Atkinson, CSEM’s associate director.

To share your thoughts, ideas and questions about CSEM, visit WSSU.edu/CSEM.

Source: WSSU Chronicle