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August 3, 2017

Building Opportunity: A Toolkit for Virginia’s Future


We all want to believe that if we meet our obligations and if we work hard at the things we choose to do that we’ll be rewarded with opportunities to get ahead. We want to believe that everyone who works hard can raise their kids in a decent home, put nutritious food on the table, and set a little aside for their kids’ college educations and their own retirement.

Virginians hold these values in common, and through the years we’ve made a lot of progress by working together – starting innovative new businesses, investing in our own and our children’s skills, coming together to build and upgrade critical infrastructure, creating great schools and colleges, and fighting to make sure everyone has the chance to fully participate in those schools and workplace opportunities. As a result of this hard work and investment, the state’s economy is strong.

But it’s still not working for everyone.

  • Virginia workers have increased their skills and education in recent years. Still, real median wages have stagnated, and low-wage workers have actually seen losses. And in too many places, there are still fewer jobs than a decade ago.
  • In parts of the state, the loss of jobs and population leave the dream of a better future out of reach. And tools that will be needed for revitalization, such as modern telecommunications capacity in every community, have yet to be built.
  • For too many Virginians, affordable access to medical care is still out of reach. Almost 750,000 Virginians, including nearly 100,000 children, remain without health insurance. Access to Medicaid coverage remains difficult for many low-income individuals. Those with a mental health illness or substance use disorder have a crucial need for access to care but for too many, needed help remains out of reach.
  • Virginia’s preK-12 schools had dramatic reductions in state support during and after the recession, but only about 40 percent of the per student cuts in real dollars have been restored. Most alarming, the cuts hit areas of the state with the highest school-aged poverty rates particularly hard.

And while many groups still face these and other barriers to realizing the goals they may have set, there’s another critical challenge facing us all – there is a growing gap between our revenues and our needs, because our system for raising the resources required was designed for an economy that just doesn’t exist anymore. As a result, the state has faced budget shortfalls in periods of both economic expansion and recession over the last decade.

Building an economy that works for everyone, in every corner of the state, means tackling the tough issues and underlying problems. And it will require having the appropriate tools to address each issue – and knowing how and where to use them.

As elected officials and those running for public office engage with citizens during this election season, it’s important for everyone to understand the challenges and the opportunities facing Virginia families and businesses and to think about the choices we face to create and sustain an economy that works for all. It’s important to look at what we value, at what is and what isn’t working well, and at the tools that our lawmakers can use to build broad-based opportunity, across all of Virginia.

In our latest report, Building Opportunity: A Toolkit for Virginia’s Future, we offer that analysis and lay out policy solutions that invest in our people and spur lasting economic growth in the state.

It’s time to work together again, for the sake of our communities, families, and businesses.

Budget & Revenue, Decriminalizing Poverty, Economic Opportunity, Education, Health Care, Immigration

The Commonwealth Institute

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