Just Released! First Set of Findings from the 2021 Menino Survey of Mayors

Among Long-Term Impacts of Pandemic, America’s Mayors Are Most Concerned with Residents’ Mental Health and Learning Loss, According to Survey of US Mayors

Mayors Are Far Less Concerned with Crime and Fallout Due to Shift to Remote Work and Outmigration

Four-in-Five Mayors Plan to Use Funds from American Rescue Plan Act for “Transformative Aims” on Housing, Homelessness, Infrastructure, and Equity – Not to Fill Budget Gaps

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Despite the conventional wisdom that rising rates of violent crime, shifts to remote work, and outmigration of residents will have long-term effects on American cities, mayors find these risks least concerning, according to a survey of 126 mayors across the United States. Instead, mayors say they are far more concerned with the pandemic’s long-term effects on their residents’ mental health and learning loss among young people. These are some of the findings related to COVID-19 recovery from the Menino Survey of Mayors, the only nationally representative survey of America’s mayors conducted annually by Boston University’s Initiative on Cities. A full report on mayors’ attitudes regarding their cities’ COVID-19 recovery can be found here.

More than half of mayors (52%) believe mental health challenges and trauma is a top long-term consequence of the pandemic. Learning loss among young people ranked second (37%), closely followed by a third of mayors expressing concern for the financial insecurity of low-income residents. Only around a quarter (26%) said rising rates of crime and violence are of great concern to them, and strikingly, only a handful (7%) of mayors cite a shift to remote work as a significant worry and a mere 2% are concerned about outmigration.

“Earlier in the pandemic, mayors were worried about immediate threats to their residents, cities, and budgets,” said David Glick, Menino Survey Co-Author and Associate Professor of Political Science at Boston University. “Now, as the pandemic and government response have evolved, we’re seeing mayors focusing on potential long-term and persistent impacts, and the ways the pandemic has changed their residents, and at the same time, we’re also seeing them focusing on making long-term investments.”

While stimulus efforts early in the pandemic focused on critical stopgaps, mayors have big plans for American Rescue Plan funds, seeing the direct and flexible support as an opportune moment to pursue meaningful investments for the future of their cities. Nearly four-in-five (78%) mayors believe that ARPA resources will allow them to accomplish transformative aims—including around housing and homelessness, infrastructure, and equity—while much of the remaining mayors (18%) anticipate using these federal funds to fill gaps in normal expenditures.

“The American Rescue Plan will help shape the future of our cities,” said Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba. “These much needed dollars offer the opportunity to address longstanding issues that we face in Jackson like modernizing our city’s infrastructure and investing in a dignity economy with programs like guaranteed income. While the pandemic has illuminated the depth of our challenges, these resources will help us emerge stronger.”

The Menino Survey of Mayors, named after the late Mayor of Boston Thomas Menino and supported by Citi and The Rockefeller Foundation, is an annual project to understand the most pressing needs and policy priorities of America’s mayors from large and mid-size (over 75,000 residents) cities. In total, 126 mayors from 39 states were interviewed throughout the summer of 2021, providing a representative sample of mayors and cities nationally.

“While we don’t know what the long-term impact remote working will have on cities, it is clear that mayors aren’t waiting to find out,” said Ed Skyler, Head of Global Public Affairs at Citi and former Deputy Mayor of New York City. “They are taking action and investing in their cities’ future by spending federal funds from American Rescue Plan to address major, long-overdue issues facing the future of their cities, like housing and other infrastructure projects. These important investments will create more inclusive, livable, and affordable cities for generations.”

“While the Covid-19 pandemic laid bare deep racial injustices, the possibility of small business as a lever for BIPOC wealth creation still holds great promise,” said Otis Rolley, Senior Vice President of Equity and Economic Opportunity at The Rockefeller Foundation. “We are heartened to see direct insights from mayors and municipalities on how they plan to support small businesses in achieving an equitable recovery, which aligns squarely with the vision of The Rockefeller Foundation’s Equity and Economic Opportunity team to reduce the racial wealth gap through asset ownership and job quality.”

Additional findings related to COVID-19 recovery from this year’s Menino Survey include:

  • The pandemic worsened a stark housing crisis across American cities, featuring dramatically increased costs and a looming eviction crisis. However, there was no agreement among mayors about the best pathway forward towards addressing this crisis—reflecting perhaps the complexity of the challenge. At least half of mayors believe that housing programs should emphasize homeownership rather than renting (including 73% of Republicans and 55% of Democrats.) And while more than half (56%) also agree that strong protections for tenants are important, even if costly for landlords, it was the least popular of the housing priorities surveyed. It was also the policy with the biggest partisan split: 69% of Democratic mayors support strong eviction protections for tenants, compared with only 36% of Republicans.
  • An overwhelming majority of mayors (71%) agree that the pandemic reveals the need for significant changes in how their cities support small businesses. They mentioned changes that range from reducing barriers—such as those in the permitting process—to better data collection, increased communication, and heightened focus on equity and minority-owned businesses. But while six in 10 mayors believe that they are held responsible by their residents for the state of small businesses in their cities, only two in 10 think they wield strong influence over the fate of small business.
  • Moreover, when it comes to small businesses, mayors foresee looming labor shortages. Seventy percent cite access to the workforce they need as one of the two biggest challenges facing their small business community over the next couple years. Notably, mayors express much more concern about access to workers than they do about labor costs (less than one-fourth cite labor costs as a top challenge.) The second most cited challenge, by 43% of mayors, is access to capital and credit—an area that 81% feel disproportionately burdens minority-owned small businesses.

Additional findings from the 2021 Survey – related to homelessness and closing the racial wealth gap – will be released as separate reports in the coming months.

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November 22, 2021: Axios: Mayors’ top concern: mental health

November 22, 2021: MarketWatch: Death of the city? Most mayors aren’t worried

November 22, 2021: Smart Cities Dive: Weighing pandemic aftermath, mayors most worried about resident mental health

November 22, 2021: Business Insider: Mayors are more worried about your mental health than whether or not their cities are dead

November 29, 2021: Route Fifty: How Mayors Are Thinking About Prioritizing Federal Aid

November 30, 2021: Bloomberg CityLab: What U.S. Mayors Are Really Worried About

December 2, 2021: BU Today: US Mayors Concerned about Residents’ Mental Health, Students’ Lost Classroom Time

December 9, 2021: Monocle: Go to town

December 13, 2021: Business Insider: The labor shortage may be in your mind. More Americans are rejecting work because their mental health is suffering.

December 16, 2021: Governing: What Mayors Worry About (and Ought to Worry About)

December 22, 2021: Voice of America: What US Mayors Are Most Worried About After the Pandemic

December 23, 2021: Governing: Mayors and the Need to Develop Community Esprit de Corps

January 13, 2022: The American Prospect: Remote Workers Punch Holes in City Revenues

February 23, 2022: USA Today: It’s OK not to be OK. Erasing stigma of mental illness is a big step toward healing.

February 24, 2022: State House News Service: APRA Money Turned Around Financial Prognosis for American Cities

March 9, 2022: The Boston Globe: Federal COVID funds offer Boston Mayor Michelle Wu a big boost with her big plans