A Presidential Plan to Restore the American Dream•
Perhaps more than at any other time in recent history, the national movement to increase opportunity in America has hit a tipping point. It is up to all of us, but especially the next president of the United States, to push beyond bipartisan stalemate and ensure that expanding opportunity is our country’s number one focus.
We cannot afford to squander this moment. Instead, we need bold ideas, leadership, and solutions coming straight from the top.
Though the unemployment rate has plummeted over the past five years and important gains linked to increased opportunity have been made, including improved high school graduation rates, millions of Americans are surveying the post-Great Recession landscape and asking a deeply troubling question: Where is my economic recovery?
Our next president has a unique opportunity to prod, persuade, and pressure leaders from all sectors and political parties to work together to ensure that all Americans, particularly young adults, have access to the supports and skills they need to succeed in the global economy and contribute to thriving communities here at home.
We call on all 2016 presidential candidates to make clear their specific plans to restore access to the American Dream for one of our most valuable assets: our youth. Guided by bipartisan and cross-sector solutions that work across the country – from cities and suburbs to rural settings and tribal lands – the priorities outlined in Restoring the American Dream: A Presidential Plan to Expand Opportunity reflect our vision of how we become a true opportunity nation.
First, we call on the next president to establish the first White House Office of Opportunity, designed to harness, streamline, and accelerate effective work already being done across federal departments and agencies. But the focus of this office shouldn’t stop with the federal government.
The Office of Opportunity is also intended to encourage greater efficiency and collaboration among government, nonprofits, educational institutions, philanthropy, and community leaders by breaking down bureaucratic and institutional barriers that impede the expansion of opportunity. The Office of Opportunity would empower local communities to meet clear targets linked to the strengthening of education and career pathways that lead to economic stability and security.
Most importantly, the White House Office of Opportunity would elevate upward mobility as an urgent national priority while maximizing the president’s bully pulpit to champion the restoration of the American Dream.
Additional steps the next president can champion include: updating career and technical education; offering tax credits to companies that offer apprenticeships linked to local workforce needs; and providing wrap-around support services for at-risk students so they can complete high school and earn a postsecondary degree or credential.
The next president can also advocate comprehensive juvenile and criminal justice reform for nonviolent offenders that includes meaningful skill training for all incarcerated youth so that they are released into a better life when they complete their sentences. In addition, the next president can support access to high-quality early childhood education programs and college savings plans for low-income children, among other priorities.
Equal access to opportunity for all Americans is the defining issue of our time. We believe that helping children and young adults achieve their full potential by providing the conditions they need to be successful is the most powerful way to increase economic mobility, close the opportunity gap, and create a more resilient, vibrant, and competitive country.
When our youth do well, our communities and our nation do well. We all benefit.
For millions of Americans, the opportunity gap begins at birth, and instead of narrowing over time, the divide widens. Stagnating wages, double-digit youth unemployment, a skills gap, and rising income inequality threaten the core tenet of our country: No matter your origins, if you work hard and persevere, you have a fair shot at improving your lot in life.
We believe that your zip code should not condemn you to an inescapable economic fate. Inequality without the chance for mobility is inefficient and unjust.
While not every solution must or should be addressed by government alone, presidential leadership will enhance each approach and accelerate results. That is why we call on the next president of the United States to restore our promise as a true opportunity nation.
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Monique Rizer is executive director of Opportunity Nation, a bipartisan, national campaign comprised of 350 businesses, educational institutions, faith-based and civic organizations, community groups, nonprofits and individuals working together to expand economic mobility and close the opportunity gap in America.
Rob Denson is president of Des Moines Area Community College, Iowa’s largest community college, and Chair of the Opportunity Nation Leadership Council, a group of 125 influential Americans representing business, higher education, community colleges and entertainment who lend their name and reputation to Opportunity Nation’s collective work.