Mayors across the United States are increasingly focused on poverty and economic inequality and less preoccupied with city finances, according to Boston University’s annual survey of more than 100 sitting mayors.
The findings of the survey suggest that although municipal budgets have stabilized since the financial crash of 2008, mayors fear that the rising cost of urban life threatens to make cities affordable to only the very rich and very poor.
Mayors are troubled by the lack of job opportunities for the middle class — particularly for their constituents without college degrees. They also expressed concern about economic challenges faced by constituents lacking access to public transportation and about persistent disparities in wealth that often break along racial lines.
The findings, which are scheduled to be released Tuesday at the Rockefeller Foundation in New York, are based on interviews with 102 mayors from 41 states. The Menino Survey of Mayors, named for the late Boston mayor Thomas M. Menino, is performed in partnership with the Boston University Initiative on Cities, which Menino cofounded after leaving office in 2014.
“This survey is a window providing insight into how our nation’s mayors think, act, and perceive their world,” wrote Mayor Mick Cornett of Oklahoma City and Mayor Nan Whaley of Dayton, Ohio, in a foreword. “Amidst the potholes, the schools, the public safety policies, and the traffic delays, we must remember who stands at the center of our work: people. Ultimately, a mayor’s job is about connecting with and supporting people.”
Mayors were divided about the best way to address income inequality. The survey found that 20 percent believed the best strategy to combat poverty is to make housing more affordable. Another 20 percent said education was the key to climbing out of poverty, while others looked to job training programs as the best hope.
The survey also found that mayors’ policy priorities differed by partisan affiliation. The chief concern for Democrats was socioeconomic issues. Republican mayors focused more on quality-of-life concerns.
Interviews were conducted over the summer, before Donald Trump was elected president. In their answers, mayors stressed that they rely on the federal government for funding, particularly to build and repair infrastructure. President-elect Trump has pledged to spend $1 trillion on roads, bridges, tunnels, and airports.
Mayors noted that the presidential election had inflamed local political rhetoric and highlighted mistrust of government. In the survey’s conclusion, researchers said despite the bitter climate in national politics, urban leaders offered hope.
“Republican and Democratic mayors share many of the same concerns and values,” authors of the survey wrote in the conclusion. “In a time of great political change, uncertainty, and a growing urban/rural divide, mayors’ steady leadership is more important now than ever.”