Economic Opportunity issues

Keeping the American Dream alive in the 21st Century means making sure families can still get ahead and join the middle class.

We know how the American Dream is supposed to work. A family of limited means works hard, plays fair, and lives frugally. Eventually, the family saves enough to buy a house or open a business. Within a generation or two, that family is firmly part of the middle class.

The deal should be the same today as it has been in the past: people who work hard and take responsibility should not be prevented from getting ahead by any barrier the public sector has the power to remove. So how can government help families meet today’s challenges? What is the 21st Century equivalent of the Homestead Act or the GI Bill?

We have to start by thinking differently, because the old approaches don’t work any more. On one hand, we can no longer pretend simply cutting taxes and shrinking government leads to prosperity, because that strategy leaves society powerless to help solve many of the problems families face today. On the other hand, we can no longer say it is enough to lift people above the poverty line, because there is a big difference between making a family a little less poor and actually helping it enter the middle class.

We should fight poverty, of course, because 10 percent of Colorado’s families – and almost 13 percent of Colorado’s children – still live below the federal poverty line. But at least twice as many of our families and children live in the economic no-man’s-land between the federal poverty line and actual self-sufficiency. We must address their challenges, too, by ensuring that hard work pays and that necessities like housing, child care and health care are affordable.

And we should make sure that, as low-income families continue to climb toward self-sufficiency, they also can begin to save and build assets, because that is how they will ultimately leave dependency behind for good, join the middle class and achieve the American Dream.