News and Commentary

BRANDON: Equality for All Means Breaking Generational Poverty
Still life of deteriorating one dollar bill on wet pavement.
Chad Springer via Getty Images

In times of global crisis, the need for responsible/dependable American leadership is stronger than ever. This is especially true this Fourth of July. But as footage of riots and racial strife have dominated TV networks across the country in the past month, it’s hard for our leaders to take the moral high ground. How can America be an example of leadership to the rest of the world when our cities burn?

If we are hopelessly divided at home, we will not be able to meet the challenges of the future.

Americans were rightly horrified by the death of George Floyd; police brutality and racism are shameful affronts to liberty that need to be exposed and addressed. But riots do not honor George Floyd. Ignoring the long term systemic issues surrounding the black community does not honor George Floyd. What does honor him is breaking vicious cycles of generational poverty. We must work toward this.

America prides itself on the idea that a person of any race or creed can make it in this country if they put in the work. This ideal is built on trust and the understanding that we, despite our differences, are all equal before the law.

The painful history and legacy of slavery in this country makes putting this ideal into practice more difficult than we would all like to admit. And once that underlying trust is broken, it is very hard to get it back.

Election years are hard enough as it is. Covid has made this one even more tenuous, forcing us apart and wreaking havoc on the economy. But open any history textbook and you will see that America has prevailed over countless hardships in the past. When the social fabric tears, where it is healed it is always stronger. Would anyone argue that we are not better off now than we were fifty years ago?

Folks rioting feel that their voices have not been heard. They feel that they are not a part of the system and that, in fact, they have been oppressed by the system. The goal then should not be to tear down the system, but to bring all Americans into the system.

So how do we simultaneously break cycles of generational poverty and make all Americans feel a part of the system? It starts at the ballot box.

We have an opportunity to take a fresh look at policies that help, and policies that perpetuate the problem. It is estimated we have spent over $16 trillion on Great Society welfare programs, but poverty rates have not changed much since the late 1960’s. As well intentioned as these efforts are, they are clearly not working.

Government programs should be evaluated on effectiveness to solve a problem, not simply on good intentions and dollars spent.

One policy I would single out above all to find a bipartisan consensus to break generational poverty is school choice. Every student should have access to safe and great schools no matter what their zip code.

Last December, I heard Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) speak to a group of young black emerging leaders. He said that the next victory for equality will happen when they have equity, in home, stocks, or business. Scott grew up in working class poverty and was supported by a single mother for much of his childhood. But, through education and entrepreneurship, he later came to own an insurance company and became a partner in a real estate group. His own experience speaks to how effective wealth ownership/equity is in lifting people out of poverty. By building wealth and encouraging investment in our nation’s most vulnerable communities, we can make even further strides toward equality.

We can look back on this moment as a time where we made some major gains. The past happened, but we cannot change it. America’s strength has always been in the fact that we are defined by our future, not our past.

When I think about my own family, I think about how America has been a land of hope and opportunity for us since my ancestors came overseas from Eastern Europe. My father grew up in a violent, working class neighborhood next to Republic Steel in Cleveland. Thankfully, he was able to get my family out and improve our situation. That’s the story of the American dream — a future that is defined only by the size of your dreams and work ethic. America is that shining city on the hill when all families have this opportunity.

We will probably never fully attain the ideals laid out in our Constitution, but it is the job of each generation to get us closer. We have a responsibility in making sure every American has a shot at the American dream.

Adam Brandon is the President of FreedomWorks.