Place-Conscious Approach

How does “place” fit into integrated strategies for improving economic mobility for low-income workers and their families?

What is a place-conscious approach?

A place-conscious approach to improving well-being and economic mobility is one that addresses the interconnections between family resources and challenges, the conditions in the places they live, and the access to opportunities in the surrounding region (Turner, 2015).


Place matters.

Place has an important role in shaping people’s opportunities to work and provide for their families. The physical environments, populations, resources, industries, and economic conditions across and between interstate regions varies. Although economic activity and employment across the U.S. have surpassed its pre-recession peak, almost half of the biggest metropolitan areas have not recouped all of the lost jobs from the recession, and almost a third have failed to return to previous levels of output (Fleming & Sevastopulo, 2015). The Center for Employment & Economic Well-Being (CEEWB) is interested in exploring and advancing workforce engagement models that embrace interstate collaboration and the potential of regional economies.


At the metropolitan level, economic development and changes in the disbursement of low-wage workers and jobs are posing significant challenges to low wage earners’ access to opportunities. Having jobs nearby increases individuals’ likelihood of employment, and proximity to employment is especially important for low-income people, who often have fewer affordable housing and transportation options. According to an analysis of data from over 300 transit providers in the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas, only about one-quarter of jobs in low- and middle-skill industries are accessible via public transit within 90 minutes for typical metropolitan commuter (Tomer, Kneebone, Puentes, & Berube, 2011).


According to Holmes and Berube (2015), “connecting the residents of low-income neighborhoods to job opportunities in the broader region, as well as attracting better options locally… can ameliorate problems like segregation, concentrated poverty, and low-density sprawl that pose real barriers for economic progress for low-income kids and families.” The CEEWB seeks to identify and explore service models and systems that consciously and purposefully address “place” in workforce engagement efforts.



Fleming, S., and Sevastopulo, D. (2015 May 26). US economic recovery masks tale of many cities. Financial Times. Retrieved from


Harlan, C. (2015 December 28). A lonely road. The Washington Post. Retrieved from


Holmes, N., and Berube, A. (2015 June 9). Close to home: Social mobility and the growing distance between people and jobs. The Brookings Institute Social Mobility Memos blog. Retrieved from


Institute for Research on Poverty. (2011). Creating effective education and workforce policies for metropolitan labor markets in the United States. Washington, DC: Holzer, H. J. Retrieved from


The Brookings Institute. (2011). Missed opportunity: Transit and Jobs in Metropolitan America. Washington, DC: Tomer, A., Kneebone, E., Puentes, R., and Berube, A. Retrieved from


The Brookings Institute. (2015). A place-conscious approach can strengthen integrated strategies in poor neighborhoods. Washington, DC: Turner, M. A. Retrieved from

Spotlight on...

Maritime Transportation and Logistics Training Program, a public-private partnership in Baltimore, Maryland


The Maritime Transportation and Logistics Training Program is a public-private partnership that is providing specialized training to men and women for entry into the Baltimore region’s maritime and logistics industry. The program is administered by Maryland New Directions, a non-profit that serves low-income job-seekers in Baltimore. The organization serves as a liaison for the Port of Baltimore and the Maritime Transportation Industry, and it works in partnership with a local college to provide program participants with the specific training necessary to meet the needs of employers. The program is funded by the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation’s Empowerment Advancement Right NOW (EARN) grant as well as a grant from Jobs for the Future, via the Walmart Foundation.


The program exhibits a place-conscious approach through its investment in developing the skills and knowledge of local, low-income job-seekers and connecting them to local jobs so that they can contribute to the growth of the maritime and logistics industry which is deeply imbedded in the city’s history and the identity of many Baltimoreans. So far, the program has successfully completed two cohorts with a total of 51 graduates. 39 (75%) of graduates are now employed with an average wage of nearly $15/hour, 21 of whom are in industry related positions.



The U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) selected The Aspen Institute’s Workforce Strategies Initiative (AspenWSI) as its national partner to help coordinate the Communities That Work Partnership – a new learning exchange that aims to accelerate and document more effective, employer-led regional workforce initiatives across the country.


The Brookings Institute’s Metropolitan Opportunity Series documents the changing geography of poverty and opportunity in metropolitan America, analyzes its drivers and implications and offers policy recommendations to enhance the well-being of lower-income families and communities in both cities and suburbs.


One of the Urban Institute’s areas of research is Neighborhoods, Cities, and Metros. The Urban Institute’s researchers study the effects of place at these three levels on people’s well-being, access to opportunity, and mobility. Visit the webpage to find resources related to place-based initiatives, economic development, mobility and transportation, and much more.


The Equality of Opportunity Project at Harvard University is a data-driven research project focused on the geography of opportunity, and how upward mobility varies across places and over time.


Papers, Briefs, and Reports

Community Action Agencies and Financial Capability Integration

    ACF Office of Community Services, September 2017


A Place-Conscious Approach Can Strengthen Integrated Strategies in Poor Neighborhoods

    Margery Austin Turner, The Brookings Institute, August 2015


The Impact of Neighborhoods on Intergenerational Mobility: Childhood Exposure Effects and County-Level Estimates

    Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren, Harvard University and NBER, May 2015


Matching Place-Based Strategies to the Scale of the Market

    Alan Berube and Amy Liu, The Brookings Institute, January 2015


Tackling Persistent Poverty in Distressed Urban Neighborhoods

    Margery Austin Turner, Peter Edelman, Erika Poethig, and Laudan Aron, The Urban Institute, July     2014


Job Displacement and the Duration of Joblessness: The Role of Spatial Mismatch

    Fredrik Andersson, John C. Haltiwanger, mark J. Kutzbach, Henry O. Pollakowski, and Daniel H     Weinberg, U.S. Census Bureau, Center for Economic Studies, April 2014


The Intersection of Place and the Economy

    Robert Puentes and Peter McFerrin, The Brookings Institute, April 2012


Creating Effective Education and Workforce Policies for Metropolitan Labor Markets in the United States

    Harry J. Holzer, Institute for Research on Poverty, November 2011


Government Programs Can Improve Local Labor Markets: Evidence from State Enterprise Zones, Federal Empowerment Zones and Federal Enterprise Communities

    John C. Ham, Charles Swenson, Ayşe İmrohoroğlu, and Heonjae Song, Institute for Research on     Poverty, May 2010


Place Matters: Employers, Low-Income Workers, and Regional Economic Development

    Nancy Pindus, Brett Theodos, and G. Thomas Kingsley, The Urban Institute, 2007


Participating in a Place-Based Employment Initiative: Lessons from the Jobs-Plus Demonstration in Public Housing

    Linda Yuriko Kato, MDRC, November 2003



A New Homestead Act--To Jump Start the U.S. Economy

    Henry Olson, The National Interest, December 2015


Rural, Suburban, and Urban Specific Resources

Rural America at a Glance, 2015 Edition

    U.S. Department of Agriculture, November 2015


Expanding Opportunities in America’s Urban Areas

    The Center for American Progress, March 2015


Five Lessons from Leading Innovators on Confronting Suburban Poverty

    Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube, The Brookings Institute, December 2014


Paths to Work in Rural Places: Key Findings and Lessons from the Impact Evaluation of the Future Steps Rural Welfare-to-Work Program

    Mathematica Policy Research Inc., March 2006


Also see resources related to Transportation/Transit in our Resource Library 





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