People Pathway: Expanding Access to Opportunity


From childhood, most of us dream about what we want to be when we grow up, and about what kind of home we would like to live in. We hope that we will have the resources we need to live a good life, feel safe, and provide for our families.

These are fundamental aspirations that we all share. But as the economy and population has grown in the Bay Area, not everyone has benefitted from the financial gains, job growth, and development, and few have realized their childhood dreams. In fact, many haven’t benefitted at all, and some are worse off. Thousands of Bay Area residents no longer earn enough money to live in the increasingly expensive Bay Area.

Income inequality between low- and high-wage workers has sharply increased, with wages growing for top earners and shrinking at the bottom. Fewer and fewer people have the middle class incomes to comfortably meet their needs, and the region is no longer increasing the number of middle wage jobs to provide enough opportunities for aspiring workers. And while people of color are leading the population growth and are now in the majority in the Bay Area, they are more likely to be in poverty and among the working poor, face higher levels of unemployment and earn significantly less than their white counterparts. Immigrants face additional challenges accessing good jobs and building long-term economic stability because of lack of documentation or language differences. The formerly incarcerated often have difficulty getting a good job or affordable home because of their criminal records or bias. This combination of rising inequality, stagnant wages and persistent racial and economic inequities are placing the Bay Area’s long-term economic future at risk.

The People pathway seeks to expand access to opportunity by tackling the inequities in our criminal justice, education and immigration systems, while at the same time investing in the necessary training, skill building and employment opportunities for those facing the greatest barriers to a good job. We also recognize that reliable public transit access and resilient infrastructure are not only essential to accessing opportunity, but hold the promise of providing good jobs and meaningful careers.

Good Jobs

While there is seemingly no shortage of high-paying jobs for workers with advanced degrees in the Bay Area, or low-wage jobs with little hope for advancement, there simply are not enough good jobs that pay a wage that provides financial safety and security.

California recently passed legislation raising the minimum wage, which was an important first step, but truly raising the floor means advocating for high quality, high opportunity jobs for low-wage workers, as well as for jobs that pay a living wage and provide for career advancement.  A good job will not only lead to financial self-sufficiency, economic security, and upward mobility for low-income people, but also contribute to our region’s overall economic prosperity.

Education Equity

Students of color face significant barriers in Bay Area schools, widening the gap for college and career prospects. Insufficient public funding, ineffective responses to chronic absenteeism and suspensions, and disengagement of both youth and parents are just some of the barriers that stand in the way of accessing a good education in our schools. Education can only fulfill its promise to overcome differences in privilege and background, if we work to ensure that all students are in school every day and receive the supports they need to learn and thrive. Without significant change, the Bay Area faces a shortage of workers with the education and training needed for the jobs in the region.

Criminal Justice Reform

Too much money is being spent on mass incarceration, and too little on education, rehabilitation, reentry services and workforce training for the formerly incarcerated. One in four black men born since the late 1970s has spent time in prison and people of color make up 60% of the imprisoned population. Prisons are overcrowded, recidivism rates are high and the criminalization of undocumented immigrants has increased. People with criminal records are excluded from job opportunities, affordable housing and social services.

Moreover, families cannot afford the high cost of incarceration. When a family member is arrested or goes to prison, many families are unable to pay for basic needs such as food and housing, and they often struggle to pay for court-related costs associated with arrests, probation and conviction. Many families go into debt to pay fees, leaving even less money for food and shelter. Upon their release, people with a criminal record often are unable to find work—increasing the financial burden on families and individuals.

Reducing the number of people of color and immigrants entering the criminal and juvenile justice systems; reallocating prison spending to reduce recidivism; helping families of the incarcerated save money; increasing job opportunities for the formerly incarcerated; and reforming other inequities in the criminal justice system are some ways to expand access to opportunity for those who have been formerly incarcerated.

Transit and Infrastructure

Transit and infrastructure can either enhance or hinder access to opportunity and quality of life. With available, effective and affordable public transit, people can get from their homes to jobs, schools, and services. But as communities are priced out of the housing market, they are moving farther away from public transit and their jobs, and being forced to drive long, unhealthy commutes to get to work. These transportation challenges not only interfere with employment prospects and economic self-sufficiency, but they contribute to the region’s environmental challenges and associated adverse health effects.

Infrastructure that co-locates transit and affordable housing, without displacing residents, can strengthen the connections between home and work, contribute to a healthier environment, and build stronger access to opportunity for all. With the region expected to grow by an additional 2 million people by 2040, investing in our transit networks, and rebuilding our water and energy systems will be critical to ensuring that not only do low-income communities of color have access to opportunity and a clean environment, but also to the clean, sustainable jobs of the future.


  1. Increase access to job opportunities and career pathways for those facing the greatest barriers to employment.
  2. Remove barriers to student success in our education system.
  3. Reduce mass incarceration and reform our criminal justice system.
  4. Improve public transit systems and increase and target infrastructure jobs.


  • Advocate for policy and systems change that will advance access to opportunity and remove barriers for key populations
  • Raise the floor for low-wage workers, build economic ladders, create good jobs, and direct public funding to disadvantaged communities
  • Increase access to affordable, clean and reliable transit
  • Expand and target infrastructure jobs to those who have been excluded
  • Advance immigrant integration
  • Target data, research, and communications efforts
  • Forge and fund innovative approaches and partnerships to tackle systemic barriers and expand opportunities.

Grants Awarded

Review equity grants for the People pathway.

Read about Michael and REDF working to create more good jobs and reduce barriers to employment for Bay Area residents.