Economic opportunity in jeopardy

Dreams are big in Texas, and we like to think this is a place to make them come true. The numbers, however, say that is not necessarily the case. A new “Opportunity Index” ranks Texas38 out of the 51 states and the District of Columbia — not good for a state that likes to be the best.

The index uses a dozen data points grouped into three dimensions of opportunity — jobs and the economy, education, and community health and civic life — to determine the rankings.

It’s a product of Opportunity Nation, which is a “bipartisan, cross-sector national campaign made up of more than 250 non-profits, businesses, educational institutions, faith-based organizations, community organizations, and individuals all working together to expand economic opportunity and close the opportunity gap in America. . . .

“Opportunity Nation’s guiding principle is that the zip code you’re born into shouldn’t determine your chances for success, and that when social mobility grinds to a halt, we are in grave danger of losing the best of America.  That is the unfortunate predicament that our country finds itself in today, and we’re working to see that this tide is reversed immediately and permanently.”

Michael Gerson, a former speech writer for George W. Bush, sees a “social crisis” developing in America, with “growing divisions of class” that threaten the American ideal. “A number of problems among working class families—less parental time with children, less community and religious involvement, less academic achievement and social trust—are predicting a social mobility crash for millions of Americans.”

There are a number of causes, and the result is a “durable, deepening national divide, increasingly rooted in class,” Gerson says. “This is an attack on the self-image of America. Americans are generally comfortable with the existence of inequality in a free economy, as long as economic advancement is a realistic goal.  But economic inequality without economic mobility is just a caste system, in which birth is destiny.”

I added the bold. “Caste system” language has a ring of backwardness and oppression that we do not usually associate with America. And that is exactly Gerson’s point. The lack of economic opportunity affects our American self-image, and rightly so.

“Policy approaches in these broad categories will vary,” Gerson writes. “Some will require government. Others, churches and charities. Others, volunteers. But all of these efforts require the recognition that equality of opportunity is not a natural state, but a social achievement, for which all of us are responsible, in one way or another.”

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