An America that Works for Everyone:
5 Building Blocks for a Land of Opportunity
Today we are in the midst of a great shift away from a middle class economy, where the majority of the people have the majority of the wealth, to a rich-and-poor economy. Benefits and opportunities have been unraveling for the majority of working Americans, who fall further behind while a handful of people enjoy a massive increase in wealth.
More and more of us find our opportunities shrinking. We are told that our success is up to us and that our neighbors’ problems have nothing to do with us. But more and more, these problems impact us all. The difficulties so many of us have in getting ahead damage all of our prospects for a better future.
Not only that, but the limits imposed by these struggles restrict our freedoms. That may sound backward, as we are often told that freedom comes from reducing the role of government in our lives. But our history shows that economic advances that offer everyone the freedom and the chance of prosperity come from investment in the public good — from schools to highways to fair labor laws.
For example, think of all the people whose economic mobility is limited by lack of portable access to affordable health care — from farmers who must take off-the-farm jobs for the insurance, to would-be-entrepreneurs who can’t take the risk, to anyone who feels they are locked into a particular job to ensure their family has decent insurance. Why would we consider ourselves more free without universal access to health insurance?
There are many other examples of areas where public economic investment creates freedom and opportunity for all, and its absence restricts our ability to strive for prosperity. When we are not investing in public infrastructure, we worry about our children’s inadequate schools and the limits they impose on students’ futures. We worry that our bridges are aging and public transit doesn’t necessarily go where the jobs are. A shifting economy means that some of our good jobs are disappearing. If we do have jobs, we may not get the hours we need, or we may be working longer hours for a paycheck that doesn’t go as far as it used to. Many of us have trouble imagining how the future will be better — for ourselves or our children.
How do we restore a Land of Opportunity? I believe the answer lies in investing in an America that truly works for everyone — one that supports working people and ensures that everyone has the freedom to develop their potential and pursue prosperity.
There are five essential building blocks for this vision of a Land of Opportunity:
● Quality education for everyone
● Health care accessible to everyone
● A world-class transportation
● Safe, clean energy systems
● Living wages for all working people
We all have increased opportunities when these five elements are in place, and we all suffer when they crumble. Building and maintaining them must be our number one legislative priority if we are to provide ourselves, our neighbors and our children with the opportunities that we all deserve.
Recent years have proven that we are not better off when our economy is designed to benefit a small percentage of Americans in the hopes that jobs and wealth will trickle down. The opposite has been true: the gaps grow larger, not smaller.
It is time for a different vision, and the truth is increasingly clear. Investing in the basic infrastructure for success sets the stage for better outcomes for all individuals and for the community. In the words of the late U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone, “We all do better when we all do better.”
About David Bly
Now serving in his fifth term in the Minnesota House of Representatives, David Bly is a former educator who taught language arts and special education for 30 years in Minnesota public schools. Teaching in small towns and working with students who struggled in school, Bly came to see firsthand how connecting people to resources and opportunities is essential for the success of both the individual and the community.