Restoring the American Dream: Something We Can All Agree On•
The urgent need to expand opportunity to more Americans took center stage in 2013.
Whether the rising cost of higher education, the job skills gap or growing income inequality, opportunity-related issues have dominated our national conversation. President Obama recently described America’s stalled upward mobility and increasing income inequality as “the defining challenge of our time.”
Yet even as 2013 exposed just how gridlocked the political sphere has become in Washington D.C., it also illustrated how much Democrats and Republicans agree on at least one critical fact: we must find ways to bridge the widening opportunity divide.
We know it won’t be easy. Our political leaders have divergent perspectives on the sources of the problem and the role government should play in finding solutions. But modest progress on several bipartisan bills and a series of recent speeches demonstrate this consensus: the American Dream needs a jumpstart.
“Upward mobility has never been easy, … but if upward mobility was not universal in America, it was the norm,” Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) told an audience at the Heritage Foundation on Nov. 13.
“What makes America exceptional – what gives life to the American Idea – is our dedication to the self-evident truth that we are all created equal, giving us equal rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” said Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) at the Heritage Foundation on Oct. 26. “And that means opportunity.”
Too many Americans feel “the deck is stacked against them,” President Obama said when he spoke at an event sponsored by the Center for American Progress on Dec. 4. “And it’s rooted in the fear that their kids won’t be better off than they were.”
“…While we don’t promise equal outcomes, we have strived to deliver equal opportunity,” President Obama said, “the idea that success doesn’t depend on being born into wealth and privilege, it depends on effort and merit.”
Opportunity Nation’s Shared Plan led to some promising federal policy work over the past year. This includes bipartisan support for the American Dream Accounts Act , co-sponsored by Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Chris Coons (D-DE), that would establish college-savings accounts and financial planning for low-income students, and the CAREER Act, co-sponsored by Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Michael Bennet (D-CO), that aligns job training programs with local workforce needs. These bills offer hopeful examples of concrete programs that can expand opportunity to our young people.
To tackle these issues, it will take all of us – Democrat and Republican, public, private and nonprofit sectors, urban and rural communities – to identify ways to expand opportunity to more Americans.
With a compromise federal budget currently being hammered out, there is a glimmer of hope that our elected officials will be able to build on this cooperation. We pledge to continue our efforts to reach out to both parties and find common ground, and we urge all Members of Congress to find ways to work together in 2014 and restore our promise as a land of opportunity.