What is the Cycle of Opportunity?

The Bell Policy Center first introduced the Cycle of Opportunity concept in 2002 to illustrate how we believe opportunity is created and sustained in the 21st Century.

It represents a series of experiences and events that build on one another and accumulate over the course of a lifetime of effort, and make it possible for families and individuals to realize their full economic, social and personal potential.

If someone gets a good education, she is more likely to get a job that pays well. If she has a job that pays well, she is more likely to be economically self-sufficient. If she is economically self-sufficient, she is more likely to be able to buy her own home and provide opportunities for her children. And if her children are born healthy and get a good education themselves, the cycle will repeat itself.

Most middle-class American families can identify the point at which they entered the Cycle of Opportunity—whether it was when an ancestor homesteaded a farm, when the GI Bill allowed a veteran to become the first in his family to graduate from college, or when fair lending laws made it possible for the great-great-granddaughter of slaves to buy a home.

Whatever the entry point, the Cycle of Opportunity is self-sustaining. Once a family is in, it is likely to stay there from generation to generation.

Individual effort fuels the Cycle of Opportunity. All sectors of society play a role in sustaining it—families, businesses, schools and communities.

Government plays an important role as well. Just as well-functioning markets have been critical to generating prosperity in this country, effective government action ensures that prosperity is available to more and more working families.

The Emancipation Proclamation, the Homestead Act, universal education, rural electrification, Social Security, the GI Bill, the Civil Rights Act: with each step, government swept away barriers and opened new gateways to opportunity for millions—gateways that might never have been opened otherwise.

The way to make opportunity real for all Coloradans is to focus on how society generates opportunity and how it helps families move into the Cycle of Opportunity.

To do so, we must move away from the argument over more or less government and toward a reasoned discussion of what is the right kind of government.