Democrats Would Expand Opportunity and Rekindle the American Dream
By: Matthew Ellison
The 2016 Democratic Coordinated Campaign, in which we are declaring that Enough is Enough of failed Republican governance, is focusing on how Democrats have a better way to deliver opportunity, security, and unity to South Carolina. The SCDP blog will be a forum where Democrats from across the state will be sharing their ideas on precisely how, once Democrats are elected, we will make South Carolina a better place to live for all South Carolinians. I will be publishing posts laying out each of our three themes of opportunity, security, and unity, explaining how Republicans have failed and how Democrats can do better. Here are my thoughts on opportunity.
Growing up in Charleston, I was blessed with all that any young person could hope for—a loving and stable family; a school with incredible teachers, driven classmates, and state-of-the-art facilities; and more extracurricular and summer learning opportunities than I could hope for. I was told that there was no limit to what I could achieve, and I was given everything I needed to pursue the goals and passions that had been inculcated and nourished from an early age.
There are many big issues facing our country and our state, but to me, none are as crucial as ensuring that all children have the same opportunities that I had. Doing so is vital to preserving and expanding the American Dream, especially in the 21st century knowledge-based global economy. Only the Democratic Party offers policies that would move us closer to true equality of opportunity.
America prides itself on being a place where anyone can succeed economically if they work hard and play by the rules. But compared to other countries, we sadly come up short. A 2006 study found that 42% of American men raised in the bottom fifth of the income spectrum stay in the bottom fifth as adults, compared to just 30% in the UK and 25% in Denmark. (If there were true equality of opportunity, every child across the income spectrum would have a 20% chance of ending up in the bottom fifth.)
While America has had less economic mobility than the rest of the developed world, South Carolina has had even less than the rest of America. Using a slightly different metric, a 2013 study found that in the Charleston area, a child raised in the bottom fifth of the income spectrum had just a 5.4% chance of rising to the top fifth, significantly below the national average. The rest of our state has had even lower mobility than Charleston. (Similar to the above, if there were true equality of opportunity, every child across the income spectrum would have a 20% chance of ending up in the top fifth.)
Our state’s Republican leaders, who completely control our state government and hold eight of the nine seats in our congressional delegation, have failed to offer a policy agenda to give every child an equal chance to succeed.
At the state level, Republican governance has left our rural schools severely underfunded, children dying in the care of our neglected social services, rural infant mortality at third-world levels, more than 1 in 4 children living in poverty and without enough to eat, the worst-funded pre-K education program in the country, and in-state college tuition 7th least affordable in the country. While Governor Haley insists that every day is a great day in South Carolina, for far too many young South Carolinians striving to live the American Dream, that simply isn’t true. And her proposals to cut taxes for the rich and raise them on the poor would make opportunity even less equal.
At the federal level, our congressional Republicans are doing their best to make the problem worse. As our lone Democratic Congressman Jim Clyburn laid out in a blog post this past January, congressional Republicans have repeatedly voted to cut nutrition assistance, strip children’s access to Head Start, reduce the availability of job training to those wishing to learn new skills to get ahead, and eliminate family planning funding that has been shown to reduce unintended pregnancy. And the “new” anti-poverty plan released by House Republicans last month is simply a repackaging of failed ideas that would make it even harder to live the American Dream.
Democrats offer a better approach. We believe the opportunity is expanded if everyone has enough to eat. We believe opportunity is expanded if no child grows up in poverty. We believe opportunity is expanded if everyone has access to a high-quality education from pre-K through college. We believe opportunity is expanded if everyone has access to high-quality health care. And we believe that all of us, especially those who have benefited the most from our great country, have a duty to contribute to expand opportunity for everyone.
Republicans have been talking recently about the importance of expanding opportunity. But Republican policies would constrict it. Democrats say enough is enough.
Matthew Ellison is Policy & Communications Director of the South Carolina Democratic Party.