Hitting the "Opportunity Ceiling"

While Congress squabbles over the debt ceiling crisis, I am far more worried about the millions of low-income, mostly black and brown Americans who are hitting hard against the "Opportunity Ceiling."

Every day, their potential is stunted and shackled by disinvestment and disinterest. The House budget plan - aka "The Ryan Budget" - would exacerbate that disinvestment, moving our nation even further from the equity-driven policies we will need to compete in tomorrow's global economy.

By slashing programs like Pell Grants and YouthBuild, the Ryan budget would knock the legs out from under the next generation, denying them the skills and tools they need to be the leaders of tomorrow. These are long-term investments that ensure America will remain a global economic power. Without them, we are easily knocked off the path to economic stability and success.

As the nation's demographic transformation accelerates and the face of America changes, our investments must evolve, too. We must nurture the minds and innovations of the 21st century. Our economy needs all Americans to be contributing to their fullest.

Thankfully, there are some ideas and models gaining bipartisan traction in Washington:

Promise Neighborhoods - We've seen the future, and it's a six-year-old Latina girl and a 10-year-old black boy. Based on the model of the Harlem Children's Zone, Promise Neighborhoods invest in their future by giving them the educational, health, and social support they need to succeed from cradle to college to career.

Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) - Investing equitably can be a key driver of economic growth. HFFI will help spur economic activity in low-income communities by boosting new supermarkets and farmers markets in needy neighborhoods. Not only will these markets serve as economic anchors, they will expand access to healthy food in communities hit worst by the obesity and diabetes crises.

Smart Transportation - Connecting tomorrow's workforce to tomorrow's jobs is crucial to making sure America's economy is running at full capacity. There is a mismatch now between job centers and the workers needed by those job centers. Smarter transportation investments should create economic opportunity for all Americans - workers and business owners alike.

We cannot use the nation's debt as an excuse for today's leaders to pull up the ladder from tomorrow's generation. We must give them the tools, skills, and investments they need to break through the Opportunity Ceiling.