Introducing Opportunity Nation•
Today I’m thrilled that we’re launching Opportunity Nation, a national campaign to enhance economic opportunity and mobility in America.
Why opportunity, and why now? A slew of recent research confirms what we all know intuitively: the escalator of mobility, the idea that you’ll succeed if you work hard and play by the rules – the centerpiece of the American Dream – has ground to a halt for too many Americans. Research confirms that today there is more mobility in many other industrialized countries than there is in the United States. Only one in three fourth graders is reading at grade level. As overwhelming as the current poverty rate of 14.3% is, research shows that even before the recession, 32% of Americans spent at least 2 months of any year under the poverty line. Children, in particular, are being affected. Scholars estimate that 49% of all American children will spend at least one year on food stamps (SNAP) in their first 18 years of life. And with the combination of income inequality at an all-time high and decreasing mobility, the central American value of opportunity is at risk.
My own personal path to leading Opportunity Nation started twenty years ago when I started volunteering for nonprofit organizations in Boston. I spent most of my time helping start Horizons for Homeless Children, a fantastic nonprofit that has grown into the largest organization in the country focused on the needs of homeless children, particularly those under school age. I’ve seen what a powerful difference we have made in the lives of this incredibly vulnerable population, but as important as our success stories were, the hard truth is that we weren’t able to change the trajectory of enough lives – far too many were not succeeding. And as I listened to the stories of homeless families, a consistent refrain was that they had so little opportunity in their lives. As a country, despite extraordinary growth in GDP/capita in the 90s and in the first half of this decade, the poverty rate was at its lowest in 1973, nearly 40 years ago. We can do better.
Opportunity is not a conservative idea or a liberal idea – it’s an American idea. And every sector has a role to play in creating an opportunity society. Our goals are to stimulate a national dialogue on opportunity that features the voices and perspectives of low- and moderate-income Americans; to organize a broad, robust coalition of organizations who will come together to develop and support a smart agenda to increase economic opportunity in America; and to develop a policy framework that takes the best ideas from the left and the right to create more opportunity.
And this is exactly the right time for this idea. In this fiscal environment, we have to pursue solutions that are working, that are data-driven, and that use ideas from every sector. Many of the solutions can be found right in our own communities. I’ve spent the last six months on a listening tour, hearing perspectives not just from scholars and policy makers, but from regular citizens. I heard young adults in a Year Up class speaking about the need for more accountability – from their teachers, and for themselves. Community activists told me about the changing values in their neighborhoods, and how families had come together to support not just their own children, but the children of their neighbors as well. And I heard from young homeless mothers who spoke about their powerful urge to work as an example to their children, but who didn’t have a safe, educational environment for their preschoolers.
An opportunity society must be a place where everyone has the opportunity to achieve their full potential. It is not a place where one’s zip code at birth is the greatest determinant of how well one does. We all have a role in creating an opportunity society: companies, organizations, volunteers, and governments. Opportunity Nation will bring together people from every sector to develop a powerful, nonideological agenda to help increase opportunity in America. I hope you join us.