Hosted by the Charles Koch Institute, it featured a diverse and very knowledgeable group of thought leaders who explored an important question: How can we overcome the obstacles that prevent many Americans — particularly the least fortunate among us — from moving up in our society and economy?
Like most Americans, I am proud of our country’s reputation as the “land of opportunity” and truly believe that with hard work and determination anyone can achieve success here. But is that really true?
Research has shown people who are raised in difficult socioeconomic circumstances tend to stay there. Here in Atlanta, one of the toughest cities in America in terms of economic advancement, a child raised in the bottom fifth has only a 4 percent chance of making it to the top.
As a citizen of metro Atlanta, this concerns me greatly. This is a world-class city; I want to know why people living here — and in other low-ranking towns such as Milwaukee and Charlotte — have a harder time making it out of poverty than residents of San Jose or San Francisco. And I also want to know what can be done to fix it.
During the course of the panel discussion it became clear that although there is no simple, single answer to this problem, there are strategies that hold promise to help more people achieve their American dream. And thoughtful discussion of the issues and possible answers is the first step toward success.
The members of the panel represented a broad spectrum of political ideologies and backgrounds. Alexis Scott, the former publisher of the Atlanta Daily World who now serves as the vice president of member relations for the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, was the moderator.
Speakers included Doug Shipman, CEO of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights; Richard V. Reeves, fellow, economic studies and policy director at the Center on Children and Families, Brookings Institution; Max Borders, editor of The Freeman and director of content for the Foundation for Economic Education; and Benita Dodd, vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.
The attentive audience was as diverse as the panel, stretching across racial, age and ideological lines. Questions from the audience helped guide the discussion, as attendees sought to understand the problem and identify answers.
Education and race were touched on, as was the importance of the region in which aspiring socioeconomic movers happen to live. It turns out that this is a key factor, as evidenced by the wide variation in upward mobility among similar residents of different cities. Panel members also talked about the success and failure of welfare programs, and agreed reform of the criminal justice system is long overdue.
The issue of socioeconomic mobility for adults and children is an important aspect of the ongoing academic dialogue and research into well-being. Removing the roadblocks that stand between people and success can improve the quality of life for everyone, and I came away from the Climbing the Ladder panel discussion with good information on the issue and the desire to learn more.
District 21 State Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, is also president and CEO of the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce.