Media Highlights

Sen. Gillibrand and Rep. Ryan Share Support for Expanding Social Mobility; Differ on How to do it

by Mark Edwards   •  


The most encouraging result of a day-long seminar about social mobility in the United States held at the Brookings Institute this week was that two of the most high-profile Members of Congress from different sides of the aisle joined in this important discussion.

Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Republican Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin may have come up short on fresh ideas to solve this worsening crisis, but their presence reaffirmed a commitment to make this issue a national priority.

Now if they could just find a way to cast aside partisanship and accomplish this goal together, our country would see real progress.

While neither speaker focused on America’s young people – millions of whom are overlooked and whose talents are untapped – as much as I would have liked, both had a lot to say about the urgency of jumpstarting the American Dream. They outlined conditions – fostered both with government and without government – that expand opportunity and economic growth.

And they reinforced Opportunity Nation’s belief that “the block that you live on shouldn’t determine your [chances for] success,” as Sen. Gillibrand said.

Sen. Gillibrand’s speech touched on Opportunity Nation’s Shared Plan: Restoring Opportunity to Young Adults, particularly her concern about rising college costs that “seem to be working against working families.”

Recognizing the growing need for more young Americans to receive training and education beyond high school in order to compete for good-paying jobs, Sen. Gillibrand is a co-sponsor of the American Dream Accounts Act, along with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Sen. Chris Coons, (D-DE).

She outlined five principles all focused on children, families and mothers, who make up 40-percent of wage-earners.

  1. Expand paid family medical leave.  For the cost of a cup of coffee, the Senator argues, women caring for children or sick parents can stay off government assistance and return to work more easily.
  2. Raise minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. Boosting the minimum wage would help low-income wage earners rise above the poverty level.
  3. Expand affordable childcare. Many mothers must work today. It costs at least $6,700 a year for childcare – considerably more for infants.
  4.  Offer universal pre-kindergarten. Sen. Gillibrand said a hefty investment is worth it.  “This is one of the best things we can do to propel more kids out of poverty.”
  5. Equal pay for equal work. Women are nearly half of the workforce, but earn just 77 cents for every dollar that men earn.

Congressman Ryan, meanwhile, emphasized several social and civic actions that can strengthen neighborhoods and expand opportunity. These include the power of mentoring and the importance of engaging in community and church groups to help residents get ahead – factors that are measured in the Opportunity Index and are connected to expanding opportunity.

With one in seven Americans living below the federal poverty line, Congressman Ryan criticized government programs for increasing the isolation of the poor, even as these efforts seek to help them, and for being costly, yet yielding questionable results.

Just as welfare was overhauled in the 1990s under President Clinton, Rep. Ryan wants to see similar changes in other safety-net programs.

He also challenges the notion that Democrats care more about low-income Americans than do Republicans.

“Concern for the poor is not some policy niche,” U.S. Rep. Ryan said. “It goes to the very heart of the American Experiment itself.”

Rep. Ryan’s speech did not include concrete proposals, but he said he will be releasing his ideas about how to propel social mobility later this year.

Rep. Ryan and Sen. Gillibrand agreed on one critical point –that “the condition of your birth should not determine the outcome of your life,” in the words of Congressman Ryan. From this shared belief, Opportunity Nation’s diverse coalition will continue to push our elected officials to work together to expand the American Dream to the next generation.

Mark Edwards

Mark Edwards is the founder and co-chair of Opportunity Nation. Read Mark's bio.

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