This Fourth of July, we might find ourselves at cookouts and watching fireworks, enjoying some extra time off work to spend with families if we’re fortunate. We might even take a step back and take stock of all the freedoms we enjoy as Americans that others in the world don’t have and celebrate with pride and patriotism.

In “Notes on Virginia,” Thomas Jefferson said, “Our greatest happiness does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed us, but is always the result of a good conscience, good health, occupation, and freedom in all just pursuits.” This set of ideals suggests that every American, regardless of race, gender, or circumstances at birth, has the ability to improve their lot in life and has been a national ethos for millions of hard-working Americans since our country’s founding — The American Dream. In North Carolina, home to almost 4.5 million employed workers who are striving to improve their futures and those of their children, we are increasingly seeing that the American Dream of freedom in the pursuit of upward mobility is not equally attainable for all.

Charlotte and Raleigh place last and third-to-last, respectively, on the ranking of intergenerational mobility of the 50 largest cities in the nation. A child born into poverty in Charlotte or Raleigh, and all other areas of the state as well, faces a massive uphill climb out of poverty that his or her peers will not face. Institutional barriers create a frustrating set of obstacles for families trying to make ends meet, making it impossible for them to ever pull ahead, impeding their chance at great happiness and fulfillment.

When institutions like our government, schools, and places of employment ignore unmet needs, actively put in place barriers to success, and thwart millions of dreams, something is wrong. If we truly value everyone’s freedom, we need to ensure North Carolinians receive adequate pay for hard work, time to be with their families, and a secure foundation on which to build a good life.

Our mission at Fletcher Foundation is to support organizations working to improve the lives and well-being of all North Carolinians. As such, we’re actively supporting those living on the brink, working hard to support their families, as well as supporting organizations that are working to remove obstacles to economic stability. Families are not free if children lack access to affordable, preventative health care, or healthy food. Families are not free if they cannot find affordable housing in their hometown. Families are not free if their children are receiving an inadequate education in our public schools.

As members of our community, we promise to continue investing in providing basic living standards and meeting human needs while addressing the root causes that lead to unstable families in our state. We will continue to stand up and support greater investment in our public schools, expanding Medicaid for the more than 500,000 people who qualify for life-improving care, and other policy reforms that remove barriers and improve the lives of those who are struggling.

If we all truly believe in the American Dream, we must address a system that’s out of balance, preventing it from being a reality for millions of hard-working members of our community. While we celebrate the Fourth of July this weekend, let’s take a moment to reflect on what freedom can look like for all of us and see what each of us can do to promote fairness and social mobility.

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