American Dream still available

The concept of the “American Dream” is enshrined in our Declaration of Independence, which says we have the “…right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” As long as there has been an America, people have come here wanting a chance to live that dream.

While there may be differing definitions, I think we can agree that a central component of the American Dream is that everyone should have the opportunity to succeed no matter the station in life to which they are born. We are the land of opportunity, and while nothing is guaranteed and success is not assured, the opportunity is there for all.

The study on intergenerational mobility, headed up by Berkeley and Harvard researchers, casts doubt as to whether Americans at the bottom of the income scale can really achieve the American Dream.

Unfortunately, the results for most of the South were not encouraging. Only 4 percent of children born in metro Atlanta between 1980 and 1981, whose parents earned less than $25,000 per year, were able to climb to the top fifth of income earners.

Headlines trumpeted problems across the South, but it should be noted that Indianapolis, Detroit, Cleveland and Cincinnati aren’t doing much better. Those who would say this is simply a “red state” problem stand on shaky ground.

The study provides food for thought for Republicans and Democrats. For example, government programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit did not help people climb from the bottom 25 percent to the top. Areas with higher income mobility had more two-parent households and more involvement in community groups such as churches. While many are weary of debating social issues, this study demonstrates that issues such as marriage and religious freedom greatly impact our society.

Another key factor in mobility is the presence of a quality education. Many parts of Georgia are struggling, contributing to the challenges low-income children face. Rather than blaming teachers or demanding more money, we need to have a serious debate about how we are educating Georgia’s children. The system needs serious reform because what we are doing now isn’t getting the job done.

As the study shows, a thriving economy is necessary to lift people out of poverty. Georgia is, and must remain a good place to do business. I am proud to be part of a Legislature that is continually working to make Georgia the best place in the nation to do business.

The American Dream should be available to everyone, regardless of where they are born or how much money their parents earn. Government can play a role in creating an environment where economic growth is possible. Government must also do better in providing a quality education for all. But government ultimately cannot solve this problem. Economic, religious, civic institutions and families must be strong and vibrant for our citizens to succeed.

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