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Targeted Universalism and the Jobs Bill: Helping Communities in Crisis Through Targeted Investments

Targeted Universalism and the Jobs Bill: Helping Communities in Crisis Through Targeted Investments
2010Opportunity Communities

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Unfortunately, recognition of the uneven nature of the economic crisis is not reflected in much of our federal response and is not addressed in the recent jobs bill. One measure stripped from the jobs bill in recent weeks was a stipulation to target some funds to communities with high unemployment. This type of need‐based targeting is critical, or we risk spreading our resources too thin, providing little relief to those communities and populations which have been devastated by the economic crisis. More diligent targeting of federal job and infrastructure investments to hard‐hit communities would also provide an efficient use of our public investments. This would not be an unprecedented move – the first phase of the Neighborhood Stabilization program targeted communities with high rates of foreclosure, and the U.S. Department of Transportation runs a program which encourages investment in economically distressed counties.

The next federal economic jobs program must be sensitive to community needs while having universal goals. But these universal goals should not preclude using unique strategies and targeting resources to communities based on their varying needs and economic condition. In fact, in order to actually reach universal goals, policy responses which are sensitive to the needs of varying communities and populations are more likely to be successful. We term this model of universal goals and strategically targeted means or approaches as “targeted universalism.” Utilizing universal means to achieve universal goals assumes a universal norm for all communities across the nation. But so‐called universal policy implementation impacts different segments of society according to their location and vulnerability. In fact, programs that assume a one‐size‐fits‐all mentality tend to disadvantage certain populations relative to others.