Before a room of people interested in economic fairness, John Hickey shared how his family strove from disadvantage to stability. In the 1950s, he said, his Irish immigrant parents were able to buy a house in the city and raise five kids on the income from his father’s two jobs.

“I don’t think that’s possible today,” he said, to knowing nods from the audience.

At yesterday’s panel discussion, “Boston Labor Market Panel: Looking Through the Lens of Equity,” business, nonprofit, and city leaders gathered to discuss the causes and possible solutions to today’s economic inequities detailed in the recent labor market report released by the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development.

Hickey, now Boston Medical Center’s director of employee and labor relations, lauded his hospital’s decision to raise its starting wage to $15.12 per hour as one method for addressing inequality, but cautioned that it was not enough to effect the sweeping change the city needs.

“Starting wage is important, but development growth is important, too,” he said.

Michael Durkin, CEO of United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, emphasized the value of financial literacy in ensuring that low-income workers maximized their economic gains. The United Way helps workers take advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit, which can save families an average of over $2,000 a year.

To illustrate how life-changing that number could be, John Barros pointed out that many families are evicted over less than that.

For his part, Barros, the city’s chief of economic development, suggested that an overlooked approach to addressing economic inequality is to encourage more entrepreneurship.

“We’re in an economy with a lot of capital out there,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many times social impact investors tell me, ‘We don’t have ideas…we can invest in.'”

Barros called those missed opportunities a “disparity that haunts me.”

Still, the city has taken many steps to expand economic opportunity. Barros cited the city’s Tuition-Free Community College Plan and Boston Saves, its upcoming children’s savings account program. He said businesses should also play a significant role, which was why Mayor Walsh had encouraged over 100 companies to sign onto a compact for equal pay for women.

“Investing in this city has returns for them,” Matthew Resseger, a Boston Redevelopment Authority economist, said of business leaders.

Durkin concurred.

“This is not an issue that’s the sole purview of government,” he said. “Government can be a motor. But we’ve all got to pitch in.”

Audience members queried panelists on particular economic challenges, including how to address racism, help children of immigrants, transition ex-offenders back into the workforce, and make workforce development “sexier” to businesses.

The panel, hosted by Root Cause, was moderated by Karen Holmes Ward, director of public affairs at WCVB-TV.

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