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Not everyone has fair chance at success

Updated: July 20, 2012 6:20AM



In a One Big Tent America, everyone deserves a fair chance to succeed.

We shouldn’t trade in the legacy of the New Deal and Fair Deal for a Raw Deal. It follows from the Declaration of Independence that declared that “all men are created equal,” expanded over time to include all men and women. It follows from the Pledge of Allegiance that promises “liberty and justice for all.” Not for a few. Not for most. For all.

For some, it’s the 1 percent and SuperPAC Deal. For others, it’s the Middle Class Deal. In America, the land of opportunity, every American deserves the Fair Chance to Succeed Deal.

Notice the limits. Success is not promised. Some succeed; some fail. Only a fair chance is promised. It does not promise equality. People have different gifts, different capacities, different amounts of luck and pluck.

But we are a long way from reaching this goal. If you are born in Appalachia or in South Chicago, a fair chance at success isn’t the norm. Children are likely to suffer from inadequate nutrition. Preschool will not be available, schools will be underfunded, understaffed and overcrowded. After-school programs will be unaffordable.

If you are a young person entering the work force or a veteran returning from service, you face the worst job market since the Great Depression. It’s hard to have a shot at success if you can’t even find a job to get started.

A college education or advanced training is becoming more important and less affordable. The extraordinary can make it by juggling classes and jobs and taking on debt. But it is hard to argue that everyone has a fair shot at the middle class when many must take on tens of thousands of dollars in debt (an average of more than $25,000) to get the education they need.

Health care also is essential for a fair chance to succeed. But our broken system rations health care by the ability to pay. Those with the money can get the best health care in the world. Those without go without. Health-care reform was designed to ensure that almost all Americans have health insurance. But rollbacks of Medicaid and Medicare, and efforts to repeal health-care reform put that at risk.

A fair chance is essential to the American dream — to the belief that if you work hard, you can provide a home for your family, an education for your children and a secure retirement for yourself at the end of your working life. Now we are stunned to learn that the U.S. falls behind other industrialized countries in upper mobility — and that your parents’ economic status is more likely to determine where you end up.

We know how to create remarkable public schools, but we don’t create them for all children. College used to be affordable to working families. Now cutbacks in state aid have sent tuition soaring, and stagnating family incomes make college a forbidding expense.

Surely this should inform the president and Congress as they begin to negotiate over how to get our books in order. Everyone deserves a fair chance to succeed. We need to guarantee a healthy start for every child and access to a first-rate education. A job for everyone willing to work must be our first priority. Affordable health care cannot be a privilege. We can cut back on things that are less essential.

We needn’t squander trillions on wars of choice. We can crack down on offshore tax havens. We can cut the subsidies to powerful corporate interests. Those who have done well in America can be asked to do well by America.

When it comes to a grand bargain needed to reduce our deficits, let’s start by ensuring that everyone has a fair chance to succeed.

We owe one another at least that.



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