Bridging the Opportunity Divide

3 Ideas That Will Give Every Citizen Access to the American Dream

February 10, 2015
3 Ideas That Will Give Every Citizen Access to the American Dream
Children eat breakfast at the federally-funded Head Start Program school in Woodbourne, N.Y., Sept. 20, 2012. The school provides early education, nutrition and health services to children from birth through age 5 from low-income families in Sullivan County, one of the poorest counties in the state. John Moore/Getty Images
A researcher from The Pew Charitable Trusts identifies areas where policy needs to change.

During last month’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama declared an end to the nation’s economic downturn. “The shadow of crisis has passed, and the state of the union is strong,” he said. But for many, the president’s announcement felt premature.

Currently, 45 million Americans live below the poverty line. Income inequality, stagnating wages and job market volatility make the prospects of upward mobility bleak. According to research by The Pew Charitable Trusts, Americans raised at the bottom of the income ladder are likely to remain there as adults. Two-thirds will never make it to the middle class, and 96 percent will be barred from the top bracket, where household income exceeds $81,700.

Erin Currier, director of Pew’s projects on financial security and mobility, studies the factors that limit economic opportunity. Recently named one of the most influential women in Washington under 35, she has utilized the research to establish nonpartisan agreement on the facts that guide policy decisions. (It’s already helped establish a bipartisan caucus.) “We hold this up to be the national ethos of being able to pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” she says, “but it doesn’t happen that often.”

During a conversation with NationSwell, she identified three areas lawmakers from both sides of the aisle need to address if they hope to restore every American’s chance at success.