Building Bipartisan Consensus•
Opportunity Nation was invited to participate in a panel discussion and provide feedback on a new report, Opportunity, Responsibility and Security: A Consensus Plan for Reducing Poverty and Restoring the American Dream, which was released December 3 by Brookings and the American Enterprise Institute at the National Press Club in Washington DC. The 90-page study was authored by a diverse mix of thinkers and policymakers from across the political spectrum and seeks to build broader bipartisan agreement about how we can build stronger communities, help low-income families become self-sufficient, and create more and better pathways to the middle class.
Opportunity, Responsibility and Security represents a step forward in the national conversation about how to expand economic and social mobility. The opportunity field needs more of this kind of cooperation and consensus building if we are going to move the needle for millions of Americans for whom the American Dream is increasingly out of reach.
We agree whole-heartedly with the underlying belief of this report, namely that to tackle our nation’s biggest problems, it will require relentless bipartisanship and innovative, cross-sector solutions.
We also agree that the expansion of opportunity is the most critical domestic priority of the country and of our next president.
At Opportunity Nation, we also believe that reports cannot simply sit on a shelf. We must act together to propose, promote and implement change for the millions of Americans who are seeking paths that lead to economic mobility and security. We need more community organizations and individuals informing these solutions so they translate on the ground more effectively.
We hope elected officials and other leaders will leverage this report to take prompt, meaningful action on many of its recommendations.
We know there are millions of people, particularly young adults, who face barriers to educational opportunity and economic mobility and who would benefit from smart policies and effective programs that empower them to change the trajectory of their lives.
We believe that through their empowerment, they will help to create stronger communities and a stronger America. Key to this goal is strengthening education and career pathways for young adults.
A growing body of research, as well as data from our own Opportunity Index, has shown that in communities with lower numbers of youth who are out-of-work and out-of-school, overall access to opportunity is higher and communities are more vibrant, healthy and prosperous.
The converse is also true. In places with higher numbers of disconnected youth, overall access to opportunity is lower.
We all benefit when our youth – starting at birth through adulthood — are given the skills and supports they need to embark on meaningful education and career pathways.
That’s why it is so troubling that today 5.5 million young adults ages 16 to 24 are currently disconnected from school and work. And millions more – many of them low income and youth of color – are at risk for such disconnection.
Equally troubling is the fact that youth unemployment rates remain twice the national average. The Great Recession hit young Americans particularly hard and making up lost ground has proven to be very difficult.
Poverty and income inequality are actually higher now than they were before the Great Recession, and wages for working families have stagnated. These factors have hampered greater economic mobility for millions of Americans.
We found several areas where the work of Opportunity Nation and the Brookings/AEI report closely align: strengthening multiple pathways to success; increasing accountability for programs; reforming our justice system; and expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Much of Opportunity Nation’s work has focused on strengthening multiple pathways to success for students and young adults. This includes:
- Helping at-risk students graduate from high school or get their GED and continue on to postsecondary education and training;
- Working with local employers, workforce boards and educational institutions to expand access to apprenticeships which we believe are a critical, often overlooked pathway to the middle class;
- Modernizing career and technical education;
- And empowering and resourcing community colleges, recognizing them as true economic engines and a principal gateway to upward mobility for millions of Americans.
Our policy platform also advocates greater accountability through pay-for-performance initiatives that would require entities to prove their effectiveness through results to receive federal funds.
We believe that one of the most urgent civil rights issues of our time – as well as one of economic competitiveness – is the problem of mass incarceration. We are heartened by the fact that comprehensive juvenile and criminal justice reform enjoys broad bipartisan support in Congress. We are hopeful legislation will be passed that removes obstacles to job training, education and employment, particularly for young, nonviolent offenders.
Opportunity Nation has long supported the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), one of the most effective anti-poverty programs of the last 40 years, and one that has benefitted millions of low-income families. We agree with the Brookings/AEI report that the EITC needs to be expanded, especially for adults without children and noncustodial parents.
In closing, we believe that the next President of the United States has a unique opportunity to elevate and expand upward mobility.
That’s why Opportunity Nation’s diverse coalition has just released: Restoring the American Dream: A Presidential Plan to Expand Opportunity.
We want the next president to establish a White House Office of Opportunity. This office would streamline, coordinate and accelerate opportunity-related policies and programs; prod collaboration among government agencies, nonprofits, employers and educational institutions; and use the bully pulpit of the presidency to elevate bipartisan solutions that can move the needle for millions of Americans.
Despite partisan gridlock, this consensus plan by Brookings and AEI shows that there is common ground among Democrats and Republicans, conservatives, centrists and progressives. We all want our country to be a true opportunity nation and we believe it will take all of us – from all sectors – to realize that vision.