Former Google exec wants Utah to come up with an idea to save the middle class — and is offering $1M

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The University of Utah in Salt Lake City celebrates its largest graduating class, of 8,568 graduates, at its 2018 commencement earlier this month. The U. is one of four schools participating in a national competition to strengthen the middle class.

Do you have an idea that could save your community’s shrinking middle class?

Google guru Eric Schmidt is offering up to $1 million for winning proposals from Utah, Wisconsin, Arizona and Ohio.

“There’s never been this kind of an overarching push before to solve this problem,” said Pam Perlich, director of demographics with the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah, which will host the state’s effort.

On Wednesday, the flagship research institution will announce how the contest will work in Utah. The goal: Increase the income of 10,000 middle-class households by at least 10 percent in the next two years. Submissions can come from anyone and can focus on anywhere.

In Utah, Perlich said, that might include rural areas or the Navajo Nation. It could also mean the state as a whole.

“We’re a place of dynamism, but not all households have access to that rising tide,” she added. “It’s not just about targeting the middle class. It’s about opening avenues to become part of the middle class.”

The first round of proposals — which can be submitted online at americandream.utah.edu — will be due Aug. 30. The top 10 innovative ideas will snag $10,000 for refinements and move on to a second round. A final three will get $30,000 and head to the national level to compete.

The other schools participating in the Alliance for the American Dream initiative are the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Arizona State University and Ohio State University. Each of the four schools receives an initial $1.5 million.

Schmidt, the former executive chairman of Google, was the CEO for a Utah tech company in the 1990s. He has suggested that proposals for solving the middle class crisis focus on raising income, decreasing cost of living and incorporate technology.