Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Hope Agenda

Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C., sat down on a plane several years ago next to the CFO of a company that owns more than 700 Burger King restaurants. After they began talking about their respective jobs, Brooks asked the man, "Do you ever feel bad for creating dead-end jobs?"

Brooks immediately felt guilty for asking the question and as he tried to take back his words, the CFO replied thoughtfully: There are no dead end jobs. There is a dead end culture, there’s a dead end government and there are dead end people, but there are no dead-end jobs, he said.

That struck a chord with Brooks, who shared with AFC Policy Summit attendees how our country is leaving the poor behind. For people in the top half of the U.S. economy, there is an expected five percent growth this year. That number is in stark contrast to the zero percent expected growth in the bottom half of the economy, and what makes that number sting even more is that this is the seventh straight year low-income individuals and families will see declining economic growth, Brooks said.

"It's two Americas," Brooks exclaimed, sharing that the number of Americans who require government assistance through food stamps to feed themselves and their families has doubled since 2009.

"What do you need?," Brooks asked. "Hope-- the idea that there’s a promise for a better future, but the problem is for a society that’s leaving the bottom half behind, it feels like it’s rigged. In the bottom half, it doesn’t matter how virtuous you are, your school is going to be lousy and even if you do get into college, there probably won’t be a job for you."

The first step to providing hope to Americans is by providing a quality education to every child, regardless of their socioeconomic status. Every child deserves equal access to the kind of education that helps them learn best. Said Brooks:

"Real social justice means fighting for people who have less power than you do."

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