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America has been defined by a simple aspiration: that everyone in this country should have the freedom to dream and the opportunity to create a better life. This is our American Dream, and inherent to its strength is the belief that hard work, talent, and creativity—not class or birthright—can breed success. It is this Dream that helped create what is perhaps our country’s greatest source of economic strength and national pride: the great American middle class.
Yet, something is going terribly wrong. The vital middle class is in undeniable decline, and with that so is faith that the American Dream is possible to achieve. This cannot stand, and we feel compelled to help our country envision a better future.
To do so, we have created an Initiative with the goal of setting our country on a path to build the American Dream for a new era by leveraging technology and advancing public and private leadership and individual action.
As millions of the country’s traditional, good-paying, middle class jobs have been eliminated, never to return, half of all Americans no longer expect that the next generation will be better off than the last. Indeed, our country has just experienced the only economic recovery in at least 50 years in which real wages for most workers have declined, while wealth from productivity gains and rising salaries are being reaped by only a few.
The middle class decline stems from a combination of forces. Globalization and information technology are creating shifts that may be even more powerful than those experienced during the industrial revolution. The decline is compounded by decades of public policy choices from elected officials in both parties.
This hollowing out of the middle class threatens not only our economy, but also our democracy. With loss of financial clout comes loss of political clout, and with that comes a loss of confidence in our country’s public and private sector leaders—the very men and women tasked with moving us forward. At its core, our economic problem is a social one with dire consequences.
This march toward inequality cannot continue. If the American people believe that hard work is no longer rewarded and that opportunities no longer exist, and if they believe that their leaders lack the courage and creativity to champion innovative solutions and make hard choices, America could fall into a deeper deficit of dignity and economic hardship, losing the spirit that defines us.
The challenges are great, but some solutions are hiding in plain sight. As always, the American people are our most precious asset. We are famously resilient and resourceful, embracing diversity and applauding innovation. Indeed, many technologies that ushered in this digital age and are triggering such dramatic change can also help refuel our country’s emotional and economic engines.
To harness the power of people and technology, the Markle Initiative will collaborate with committed individuals from diverse sectors and political perspectives, but who share a singular belief that courageous, connected, responsive leadership and collective action can stimulate the revitalization of the middle class and the American Dream.
The Initiative aims to help our country better understand the challenges, see the opportunities, and recommend a path toward solutions, starting in three areas:
As leaders of the Initiative, and proud Americans, we refuse to be bystanders, watching as the American Dream and our middle class dwindle. The power of the middle class is too central to our country, and too unique. By advancing leadership, engaging people and effectively employing technology in a connected world, we seek to prompt action and public policy that will restore them both.
Zoë Baird, co-chair
President, Markle Foundation