Yesterday, a guest column appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star written by James C. Roumell titled “What I built – with government help.”
Mr. Roumell is, by the classical definition, a self-made man. He grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Detroit. He went to college. He started a small business that has grown into a very successful financial asset management firm. He has every right to be proud of his hard work and his success.
And yet, Mr. Roumell’s column is not a chest-thumping tale of achievement, but a statement of gratitude for the opportunities that allowed him to achieve his success – opportunities that came through investments by the federal government.
The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 paved the way for the union that employed his single mother. The Higher Education Act of 1965 created Pell grants which allowed him to go to college. The Investment Company Act and Investment Adviser Act of 1940 allowed for the emergence of the financial services industry in which his business flourished.
Mr. Roumell is quick to credit these initiatives for creating the environment that encourages upward mobility. Laws like these are the backbone of the American Dream.
The notion that Mr. Roumell illustrates vividly is at the core of the work of Nebraska Appleseed’s Low Income Economic Opportunity Program. Nebraska is full of hard-working people. We have the second-highest labor participation rate in the nation. And yet, one in four working families in Nebraska is low income. Nebraska must build more opportunity to capitalize on our state’s work ethic. This means more access to adult education, job training, and supports like child care when needed to help working families move ahead – and contribute to the growth of our state.
There is always room for healthy debate on the wisest uses of the public’s resources by the government. But policies that fail to recognize the value of giving opportunity to all people are short-sighted. Mr. Roumell is a prime example that a country that invests in its people – whether in health care, education, or business infrastructure – will earn a great return on its investment.