Poverty, Inequality, and Opportunity

Last week, I wrote about how our standard of living has grown much faster in recent decades than most people realize.

Official statistics show that average income has doubled since the 1970s and research by economist William Nordhaus shows that the reality is even more positive. Our living standards today may be four to eight times higher than they were in the 1970s.


So what? Why does any of this matter?

Partly because we can’t solve any of society’s challenges until we have a good understanding of where we are today. But understanding the magnitude of our prosperity and growth is especially important to addressing concerns about poverty, inequality, and opportunity.

As a starting point, acknowledging such enormous affluence and growth places a moral obligation on our society to help those living in chronic poverty. Simply put, in a society as wealthy as ours, there can be no excuse for any citizen to go without the basic necessities of life such as food and shelter.

Providing the basic necessities is only the first step. We must also insure that everyone who is willing to work and contribute to society has a real chance to get ahead and share in the nation’s prosperity. Our heritage as a land of opportunity demands nothing less.

Addressing poverty and providing opportunity are only possible with a vibrant and growing economy. In a stagnant economy, one person’s gain is another person’s loss. If someone gets ahead, a different person must fall behind. In such a world, providing more resources for the poor would mean less for those in the middle. Naturally, this leads to resistance and resentment.

But the reality of America’s economic growth creates opportunities for all. Having one family get a job to move from poverty to the middle class doesn’t mean another family has to lose a job and move back to poverty. Instead, a net total of 70 million new jobs have been created since the 1970s. An expanding economic engine frees us to work together and provide opportunities for those who need it the most.

There is, however, another important lesson that comes from understanding the prosperity of recent decades. It was not created by the agendas of our political leaders. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates did more to shape America’s future than the combined efforts of all seven men who have served as president since Apple and Microsoft were founded.

Lasting solutions to the challenges of poverty and opportunity come from outside the world of politics. It is an all-hands-on-board approach that unleashes the creativity and resources of individual Americans, families, community groups, churches, entrepreneurs, small businesses, local governments, and more.

Drawing upon the power of community is essential because providing opportunity exists only in community. Those working to survive poverty until they can escape it need mentors and supporters. They need people who are connected with the outside economy to help them find that first job and the one after that. Poverty, after all, is not just about the lack of money. It’s about the lack of networks and social circles that provide bridges to opportunity.

Our prosperity creates a wealth of opportunities. Our ideals demand that we make these opportunities available to all. Our communities make it possible.

Also see,

America is Still the Land of Opportunity

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