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Mary Mazzoni headshot

We Thought These Things Would Make Society Work Better in the 2010s. What Happened?

We thought these social solutions could make our communities stronger and more equitable in the 2010s. Which ones took off, and which ones faded away?
By Mary Mazzoni
Fight for $15 demonstration in Los Angeles in 2015 - social solutions for equity

A demonstrator with the Service Employees International Union participates in a Fight for $15 rally in Los Angeles on April 15, 2015. (Image credit: SEIU Local 99/Flickr)

TriplePundit relaunched last week with a focus on solutions journalism, but we've highlighted environmental, social and economic solutions on the site for years. As we look toward our next step, we couldn't help but think about some of the ideas and innovations touted as "the next big thing" in years past. Here we take a look at some of the social solutions we thought could make our communities stronger and more equitable in the 2010s. Which ones took off, and which ones faded away? Read on to find out. 

"Fight for $15" takes on big business in support of pay equity 

The U.S. minimum wage increased from $5.85 to $7.25 per hour in 2009, but entry-level workers still struggled to make ends meet. Particularly after the 2008 financial crisis, frontline workers at some of the country's largest companies relied on public assistance to stay fed and housed. 

"According to a 2013 study sponsored by the University of California, Berkeley’s Labor Center and the University of Illinois, the cost of public assistance to families of fast-food workers is roughly $7 billion a year," TriplePundit contributor Michael Kourabas reported in February 2014. "More than half (52 percent) of families of fast-food workers are enrolled in one or more public programs (compared to 25 percent of the total workforce)." 

Beyond the fast-food industry, public awareness around how taxpayers subsidized poor wages was growing. The living wage, or "fight for $15," movement kicked off with a 2012 walkout at a New York City McDonald's and aimed to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 to ensure it could meet workers' basic expenses. Within two years, the movement was global, with fast-food workers and other entry-level employees around the world striking in solidarity for better wages. 

So, what happened? Well, the U.S. minimum wage is still the same at $7.25 — and the spending power behind that paltry sum has only plummeted. You'll now need more than four times that amount to live comfortably in most major U.S. cities.

But it's not all bad news. Wages climbed across the pond in Europe and the U.K. over the past decade. And although the feds haven't budged, many U.S. cities and states opted to increase their minimums — including 13 states that either already mandate employers pay $15 an hour or plan to do so within the next five years. In response to consumer pressure, individual employers including Target and Walmart also moved to increase their starting wages above $15. 

Businesses get into hard questions around social and racial justice

In July 2013, after George Zimmerman was acquitted for killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin based on Florida's dubious "stand your ground" law, social justice advocate Alicia Garza wrote a post on Facebook. She called the post "a love letter ... to people who look like me," and it featured the now famous phrase, "Black lives matter." 

The post birthed a movement that took the form of protests, community organizing, and crucial conversations across the U.S. and around the world. And business seemed keen to be part of those conversations. In 2016, the software company Symantec partnered with TriplePundit on an editorial series entitled, "Black Lives Matter and Beyond: Corporate Leaders Respond." Business leaders including former Symantec corporate responsibility lead Cecily Joseph and executives from companies like NextDoor and Kapor Capital spoke with us about important topics like talking about race and police violence at work and how companies can be allies on racial issues. 

"If you feel a little uncomfortable, good. We do too," former TriplePundit managing editor Jen Boynton wrote in the opening to the series in 2016. "Our hope in convening this conversation is to show how social inequality is a material issue for corporate social responsibility practitioners, so that we can all work together to make things better." 

So, what happened? After America's latest racial reckoning, another slew of companies pledged to get involved in promoting equity and justice, but the results have been mixed. Since 2020, analysts counted at least $340 billion in corporate funds committed toward aims like improving diversity in hiring, supporting Black-owned small businesses and closing the racial wealth gap. But much of those funds remained unallocated as of this year. 

Corporate statements around social issues like racial justice and police brutality have also slowed, partly due to the polarizing "anti-woke" rhetoric taking hold across the U.S. While many in big business may have backed down, those on the front lines are still keeping it up — from the boom in Black-owned businesses, to the movement's steady support of frontline workers, to the consistent push for diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace and public life. Still, "until companies make the investment and give it the time that it takes, we’ll never see change," Emerald-Jane "EJ" Hunter, founder of the DEI-focused integrated marketing firm myWHY Agency, told TriplePundit earlier this year

"Slow" fashion movement aims to counter the ugly side of apparel

In April 2013, an eight-story factory called Rana Plaza collapsed in Bangladesh's capital city of Dhaka. The footage from the scene was harrowing, as neighbors and loved ones worked alongside emergency workers to pull people from the rubble in a rescue effort that lasted three weeks. More than 2,000 people were ultimately rescued, but 1,134 perished in the collapse — most of them low-paid garment workers for well-known global brands, which did business in the complex despite the fact that it did not meet safety codes

The disaster rocked public perception of the fashion sector in the first half of the 2010s, with outraged consumers calling for reform and pledging to stop shopping at retailers that didn't address human rights and labor abuses in their supply chains. As the conversations took hold, many began to question fast fashion — an apparel production model marked by trend-driven releases dropped every few weeks, as opposed to the four-season fashion cycle of generations past.  

Fast fashion was a relatively new term back then, but already people noticed how quickly the cheaply made garments wore out (or went out of style) and questioned how it was possible to price items so cheaply while shipping them thousands of miles around the world. While the top fast fashion brands made new commitments to safety after Rana Plaza, many shoppers were still looking for alternatives. The slow fashion movement aimed to provide them — with an eye toward timeless and long-lasting garments, produced less frequently, that customers could wear again and again. 

So, what happened? Even back then, slow fashion was a tough sell. In a 2015 piece entitled "Why is Slow Fashion So Slow to Catch On?," TriplePundit contributor Nayelli Gonzalez observed, "Positioning slow fashion against fast fashion is like pitting David against Goliath." In the years since, the fast fashion Goliath has only grown in market share, although some evidence suggests consumers are ready for change. Secondhand shopping is at an all-time high. Sustainable labels like Reformation reached cult status. And who can forget the runaway success of "The Menswear Guy" on Twitter and the drumbeat of his feed reminding consumers about how much garments really cost to make. 

Cities look to reduce homelessness by ... giving people housing

Around 630,000 people across the U.S. were estimated to be unhoused in the years following the 2008 financial crisis. The last major global survey, conducted by the U.N. in 2005, indicated more than 100 million people were unhoused globally. 

Most governments approach homelessness by looking to get people "housing ready" by compelling them to receive treatment for things like substance abuse, mental health challenges, or chronic illness before being eligible to receive free or subsidized housing. The "housing first" model takes the opposite approach — getting people into housing as soon as possible, with no strings attached, while making treatment resources and counseling readily available if and when people want them. Studies show Housing First is more effective at getting people into housing and is actually cheaper for governments than leaving people unhoused.

In the U.S., the state of Utah became the first to adopt the housing first approach in 2005, and the model began to take off across the country and around the world into the 2010s. U.S. cities including New Orleans, Phoenix, Austin and Nashville looked toward housing first to eliminate homelessness, TriplePundit reported in 2015. In Europe, cities including Austria's capital Vienna and Finland's capital Helsinki did the same. 

So, what happened? Housing first is still known as one of the most effective ways to combat homelessness, and many cities that adopted this model have seen success. The model helped New Orleans reduce homelessness by 90 percent from 2007 to 2019, for example. Across the pond, Helsinki and Vienna also saw homelessness rates drop significantly, at costs lower than the public expenses associated with people being unhoused.

But the model hasn't worked everywhere that's tried it. For example, a 2020 analysis by the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at Arizona State University found highly different results across two cities — Houston and San Diego — due to different ways the model was implemented. 

Mary Mazzoni headshot

Mary has reported on sustainability and social impact for over a decade and now serves as executive editor of TriplePundit. She is also the general manager of TriplePundit's Brand Studio, which has worked with dozens of organizations on sustainability storytelling, and VP of content for TriplePundit's parent company 3BL. 

Read more stories by Mary Mazzoni