Given the inequity and inequality prevalent in our country today, we would do well to address both with a focus on outcomes.
If we have learned nothing else over the past several months, the plight of our most vulnerable has become obvious. We know that many of those considered essential workers earn less than a living wage and that they struggle to meet their most fundamental needs.
We know that people of color in the United States face systemic racism and represent a disproportionate share of the disadvantaged, but many of us do not recognize that the largest number of the impoverished in our country are white.
We know that most people in this country who live at or below the poverty line work. Also, we know that many members of the middleclass of all backgrounds and origins face the imminent risk of falling into poverty.
We know that on measures of human longevity, infant mortality, distribution of wealth and income, and access to healthcare and first-class education, for examples, our country ranks toward the bottom among affluent industrialized nations.
At the same time, we know that people whose basic needs are met can then aspire to higher levels of accomplishment, whereas those who must work simply to survive can fall prey to despair and ill health, physical and mental. Lack of opportunity kills human agency – an individual’s drive and motivation for advancement.
For decades, conservative plutocrats have largely dominated public discussion from behind the scenes with specious characterizations of the victims of economic policies favoring the wealthy. Contrary to their message, most of those living at or below the poverty level are respectable and hardworking.
For many of us Americans, decrying, for example, apartheid in South Africa or the constraining status of women under fundamentalist Islam has proven relatively easy, as has recognizing the consequent impoverishment of those societies, intellectually, economically and culturally. But in view of our aspirational American values, recognizing our own shortcomings is far more difficult.
By sidelining large portions of our population from economic advancement and social mobility, we ignore the enormous loss of potential and missed opportunity that would otherwise benefit our society. Empowering everyone would benefit all of us.
If we are to tap the enormous potential of all members of our society, me must directly address outcomes.