The modern world, that we all live in, tells us that success is measured by how much money we make, how much we own, or how famous we become. And I would say that, judged by this standard, my background is certainly not one of privilege. My parents immigrated here almost six decades ago with little money or any formal education. They worked service sector jobs and had little connections to power, to influence. Yet I consider myself to be a child of privilege.
Because I was raised by two parents who were married to each other, who instilled in their children the expectation that we would get our educations, that we would find fulfilling careers, that we would one day get married and start families of our own. So while we weren't rich or well connected, my background, coming from a strong and stable family, gave me an enormous advantage in life -- because I was taught certain values that led me to live my life in a sequence that has a proven track record of success.
In America, if you get an education, find a good job, and wait until marriage to have children, your chances of achieving economic security and professional fulfillment are incredibly high. In fact, if everyone in America lived lives that went in this order, in the order I've just outlined, some estimates are that the poverty rate would be cut by an estimated 70 percent.
But now, each element of this "success sequence" is eroding in our country. Many Americans lack the education needed for the better jobs of the 21st century. Many either can't find a good job, or have quite frankly stopped looking for one, given up. Marriage rates are on a steep decline. And a higher proportion of children are raised in single parent homes in America than in the vast majority of developed nations.
The economic price of this erosion in the success sequence is staggering. The unemployment rate is almost twice as high for those with only high school diplomas as it is for those with bachelor's degrees, and almost three times as high for high school dropouts. Over 20 percent of children raised without both parents live in poverty long-term, compared with just 2 percent of those raised in intact families. And only around 40 percent of children growing up in poor single parent homes will ever make it to the middle class or beyond.
Too often in modern politics, debates about our values have been viewed as either wedges to win elections or unnecessary distractions to be avoided. But the truth is that the social and moral wellbeing of our people has a direct and consequential impact on their economic wellbeing.
And so I am grateful for this opportunity today to discuss how we can help restore the American Dream by restoring the values that make it possible.
No one is born with the values crucial to the success sequence. They have to be taught to us and they have to be reinforced. Strong families are the primary and most effective teachers of these values. As the social philosopher Michael Novak once said, the family is the original and best department of health, education and welfare. It is crucial in developing the character of the young. And those efforts can be reinforced in our schools, religious institutions, civic groups and our society.
That's why reinvigorating the values behind the success sequence begins by reinvigorating the institutions that teach and reinforce these values. It is through our roles as parents, as neighbors, as volunteers and as members of faith communities that we can have the greatest influence on the social and moral wellbeing of our people.
Societal breakdown is not a problem that the government alone can solve, but it is also not one the government can afford to ignore. We need leaders willing to use the platform of public office to call attention to the impact societal breakdown is having on our nation.
We need leaders, in both parties, willing to acknowledge that one of the principal reasons why so many people are struggling is because too many aren't getting an education, too many aren't working, too many aren't getting married and too many are having children outside of marriage.
But we also need leaders, in both parties, willing to acknowledge that many single parents and the children they are raising are not going to have an equal opportunity to achieve a better life, unless we do something to help them.
Having more political leaders publicly recognize the link between our social wellbeing and our economic wellbeing would be enormously useful. And government reforms that promote or remove impediments to education, to work, marriage and two parent homes would help change the direction of our country.
In the 21st century, a good education is not just an option, it is a necessity. And no group in America faces more impediments to a good education than children being raised by single parents, many of whom are doing a heroic job of raising their children by themselves.
If they were wealthy, they would not have this problem because they would simply pay to send their children to better schools. But lower income parents cannot afford that. They do not have the financial means to send their kids to private and religious schools. So the government gives them no option other than sending their children to failing schools -- even if just down the street are schools with higher test scores or better graduation rates.
Low income children are the least likely to get a good education because they are the only ones forced to attend schools not of their parents' choice. In order to give them a chance at the first element of the success sequence, we need our government to give their parents the opportunity to choose the education that is right for them.
That is one of the reasons why I've proposed a tax credit that encourages contributions to scholarship granting organizations, which would distribute private school scholarships to children in need. And I've advocated for more funding and more flexibility for our nation's innovative charter schools.
Finding a job is the second part of the success sequence.
Helping people find work begins with an economy that creates good paying jobs. To create this growth-oriented economy, I introduced an agenda this year to enact pro-growth and pro-innovation policies, harness the power of emerging industries, and open our businesses to hundreds of millions of new customers around the world.
But helping our people find good jobs will also require reinvigorating the value of work. To do so, we must reform the way we fight poverty. Our current anti-poverty programs are incomplete. Because while they help alleviate the pain of poverty, but they do not do enough to cure it.
The best cure for poverty is a good paying job. That is why our anti-poverty programs must be reformed to incentivize work and bolster training and education.
The innovations we need to achieve these reforms will never come from the federal government, which has tried and failed for 50 years to significantly curb poverty. Only states and local communities have been able to craft and execute effective programs.
Earlier this year, I outlined my plan to transfer all federal anti-poverty spending to the states so they could design more programs tailored to the unique, localized causes of opportunity inequality -- programs that will not just alleviate the pain of poverty, but also help to cure it.
And finally, helping people attain good paying jobs in the 21st century increasingly means having access to higher education. One of the primary reasons single mothers and their children struggle is that our current higher education system lacks the access points and the variety of options that people like them need.
That is why I have proposed reforms to make higher education more affordable and more accessible, especially for those who have to work full time and raise a family.
This includes a series of policies aimed at promoting career and vocational opportunities, some which can begin as early as high school. For example, as an air conditioning technician so they could be here today. So that just after you finish high school, they don't just have a high school diploma, but they also have a job-ready industry certification that prepares them and allows them to go to work immediately.
I proposed reforms that would increase access to more affordable higher education options, such as online programs, through changes to our accreditation system -- because we all know that higher education is no longer a luxury for a few, it is now a necessity for all.
After getting an education and finding a good job, the third element of the success sequence is marriage. Of course, you can achieve success without being married, but the link between marriage and economic security is undeniable. At a minimum, we should eliminate policies and programs that punish marriage.
Our current tax code penalizes marriage by hitting married couples with taxes that two otherwise identical singles would be spared from. That is why I support pro-family tax reforms that would end the marriage penalty by doubling the tax threshold for joint filers.
The final element of the success sequence is raising children in a married two parent home. Even in my own family, of course, I have examples of children raised by one parent who have gone on to successful lives. But we also know that having an active father makes children 98 percent more likely to graduate from college and complete the first step of the success sequence.
Today a growing number of children are growing up without both parents. 50 years ago, the percentage of children born to unwed mothers was 7 percent. Today it is 40 percent.
In just the last hour, roughly 450 children were born in America -- and 180 of them were to unwed mothers. Some will go on to achieve great success in life. But as things currently stand, these children are 82 percent more likely to be in poverty during childhood. They are 44 percent less likely to earn a college degree. And they would go on to earn $4,000 less per-year than the children born in married homes.
These are figures we cannot ignore. So in addition to doing all we can to encourage and strengthen two parent homes, we must also do all we can to help children born into these circumstances. Because if we do not, most of them will simply not have the same opportunities to succeed as children born into strong and stable families.
First, many single parents work in jobs that pay very low wages. That is why I have proposed that we increase the per-child tax credit from $1,000 to $2,500 and to make it refundable. And it's why I have proposed education reforms to help these single parents acquire the education they need for a better job, even as they work and raise their family.
Second, many single parents have jobs that come with little flexibility. As a result, their children often can't participate in sports or afterschool activities. And taking their children to a dental appointment during working hours could cost them money out of their pocket or maybe even their job.
All parents -- but especially those doing it alone -- need flexibility during work hours. The federal government currently prohibits the choice of paid time off as a form of compensation for overtime hours. We should end this restriction and allow our parents to spend more time with their children in return for overtime.
And third, many single parents are often overwhelmed by the financial cost of raising children all alone. We have roughly 8 million American fathers who live apart from their children. We should search for ways to help all fathers gain the financial independence necessary to financially support these children.
One reform I proposed this year was a wage enhancement credit that would bolster a low-wage earner's paycheck, thus encouraging work over dependence. We know that a working father is much more likely to support his children financially, which also makes him likelier to be an active and positive influence in their lives.
Now, I know that given the current cultural debates in our country, many expect that a speech on values would necessarily touch upon issues like same sex marriage and abortion. These are important issues and they relate to deeply held beliefs and deeply divisive ideas.
We should acknowledge that our history is marred by discrimination against gays and lesbians. There was once a time when the federal government not only banned the hiring of gay employees, it required private contractors to identify and fire them. Some laws prohibited gays from being served in bars and restaurants. And many cities carried out law enforcement efforts targeting gay Americans.
Fortunately, we have come a long way since then. But many committed gay and lesbian couples feel humiliated by the law's failure to recognize their relationship as a marriage. And supporters of same sex marriage argue that laws banning same sex marriage are discrimination.
I respect their arguments. And I would concede that they pose a legitimate question for lawmakers and for society.
But there is another side of debate. Thousands of years of human history have shown that the ideal setting for children to grow up is with a mother and a father committed to one another, living together, and sharing the responsibility of raising their children. And since traditional marriage has such an extraordinary record of success at raising children into strong and successful adults, states in our country have long elevated this institution and set it apart in our laws.
That is the definition of marriage that I personally support -- not because I seek to discriminate against people who love someone of the same sex, but because I believe that the union of one man and one woman is a special relationship that has proven to be of great benefit to our society, our nation and our people, and therefore deserves to be elevated in our laws.
Today, public opinion polls show there is a growing acceptance in society of the idea that marriage should be redefined to include the union of two adults of the same sex. And as a result, a number of state legislatures have changed their laws to redefine marriage. States have always regulated marriage in America, and state legislatures have a right, a constitutional right to change those regulations.
But that right to define and regulate marriage is a two-way street. A majority of states still have laws that define marriage as one man and one woman. In some, like my home state of Florida, voters placed that definition in our state constitution. Just as states have a right to redefine marriage to include same sex marriage, they also have right to continue to define it as between one man and one woman.
But now, all across this country, we have judges overturning state laws and defining marriage and redefining marriage from the bench. Just last week, in my home state, a local judge overturned the decision of Florida's voters to define marriage as one man and one woman.
Those who support same sex marriage have a right to lobby their state legislatures to change state laws. But Americans, like myself, who support keeping the traditional definition of marriage also have a right to work to keep the traditional definition of marriage in our laws without seeing that overturned by a judge.
Our nation has in the past demonstrated a tremendous capacity to work through issues such as this. And I believe it will again. Doing so will require those of us who support traditional marriage to respect those who support same sex marriage. But it will also require those who support same sex marriage to respect those of us who support traditional marriage, for tolerance is also a two way street.
However, today, there is a growing intolerance on this issue intolerance towards those who continue to support traditional marriage.
We have seen the push to remove the CEO of Mozilla because, in 2008, he made a small donation to support Proposition 8 in California, which would have upheld the traditional definition of marriage. We have seen the CEO of Starbucks tell a shareholder who supports traditional marriage that he should sell his shares and invest in some other company. And we've seen Chick-fil-A attacked and boycotted due to its CEO giving an honest answer to a question regarding his deeply held religious beliefs.
And I promise you that even before this speech is over, I will be attacked as a hater, a bigot or someone who is anti-gay.
This intolerance in the name of tolerance is hypocrisy.
Supporting the definition of marriage as one man and one woman is not anti-gay, it is pro-traditional marriage. And if support for traditional marriage is bigotry, then Barack Obama was a bigot until just before the 2012 election.
Abortion involves another even more fundamental moral question. It is a difficult question because it involves two competing rights: a woman's right to make choices regarding her own body versus the right of an unborn human being to live.
The decision to abort or not to abort is one that is deeply personal and emotionally painful: a 14 year old girl who is pregnant and scared, a young single woman with her whole life ahead of her who simply doesn't feel ready to have a child. We should not pretend that if we or someone we love were facing this decision that it would be an easy one.
Those who argue that it is a woman's right to make that choice point out that it's the woman who must carry the pregnancy. It is her alone who will face the risks of childbirth. And too often, it is her alone who will have to provide for and raise the child.
But there is another view that has to be considered too. For there is undeniably another person involved in this as well: an unborn child. This is not a statement of faith; it is a matter of medical science. And a human being has certain inalienable rights, primarily the right to live. And that is why this issue so deeply divides not just our politics, but also our families and our people.
In weighing these two options, I know where I stand: An unborn child should be welcomed into life and protected in law. It seems to me a decent, humane society will take tangible steps to help women with unwanted pregnancies even as that society defends an unborn child's right to live.
We will continue to debate these issues -- and I suspect continue to be divided by them -- for years to come. But I know that we are all impacted by the growing erosion of our faith in the American Dream.
For over two centuries now, ours has been a nation of optimists -- an optimism driven by plenty of secure middle income jobs, an expanding middle class, intact two parent homes and strong churches and communities. But now, a majority of Americans worry that our nation is headed in the wrong direction. Truth be told, we appear to be a people increasingly pessimistic about the future.
This crisis of confidence is driven not simply by a great recession, but by rapid changes in our society, our demographics and our economy.
Marriage and two-parent families are on the decline. One in three children in America are growing apart from their father. And the fastest growing household types are people living alone and two or more adult generations living together.
We are getting older as a people, with 10,000 Americans turning 65 years old each day. As a point of example, just 75 years ago, there were 42 working age Americans for every retiree. Today there are only 3 workers for every retiree. In less than 20 years, there will be only 2 workers for every retiree.
And globalization and technology have fundamentally transformed our economy. We face more competition than ever from other nations. Automation and outsourcing have taken away millions of stable jobs, and our economy is not producing enough new ones to replace them. And while almost all the good paying jobs of today require higher education, it has become costlier and harder to access that higher education.
America has faced rapid changes before. But we have never faced so many all at once. This perfect storm of simultaneous societal, demographic and economic change -- it's left us pessimistic, insecure, uncertain and increasingly divided against each other.
It is an insecurity that cannot be measured by the unemployment rate or the performance of the stock market or the Dow Jones. It has to be measured by our people's confidence in the idea that gave birth to our country: that everyone deserves the chance to go as far as their dreams, work and talent will take them.
It is an idea, by the way, not grounded in a political concept but rather in a spiritual one: that every single person is born with certain inalienable rights that come from God.
The words "One Nation Under God,' are not symbolic. They describe the purpose our founders saw for America. Virtually every other nation that was ever created to provide a homeland for people of a certain faith, ethnicity or language. But America was founded as the place where people could have the liberty to enjoy fully the rights given to them by God.
This idea, that all people have certain rights given to them by their creator, this idea has shaped our identity as a people and a country.
It is the reason that ours is the single most generous and caring nation on the planet. When the freedoms of others has been under assault, it is America that has sent its sons and daughters to fight and die on foreign battlefields. When AIDS and HIV were sweeping through Africa, it was America that stepped in to provide lifesaving medicines. And when a typhoon hit the Philippines or an earthquake hit Haiti, it was our Navy that was first on the scene and our charities that continue to help those in need.
It is a legacy that is simply unrivaled by any other great power in all of human history.
But the belief that our rights come from God is also the reason why equality of opportunity so deeply defines us here at home. Because we don't just believe it is right for everyone to get a fair chance to get ahead, we believe it is everyone's God given right.
America is indeed an exceptional nation. But it would be foolish to believe that all we have we owe solely to ourselves. For we are also a blessed people, blessed by a vast and fertile land protected by two vast oceans on either side, blessed with natural resources and natural beauty, and blessed with an innovative and creative people -- a collection of go-getters who came here from all over the world and placed a man on the moon and the World Wide Web at your fingertips.
Through our compassion and through our commitment to equality of opportunity, America has been a light to the world. We have honored the blessings bestowed on us by God by adhering to the ancient admonition, "For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required." And God has continued to bless us in return.
Now we are called, as each generation before us was, to further this task.
Our current President has chosen to divide our people for the purpose of political gain. It is hard to believe that the state senator from Illinois who gave a stirring call to unity at the Democratic convention in 2004 is the same person who today never passes up an opportunity to pit us against each other.
But at our core, that is not who we are as a people. We are diverse and we are opinionated. And our freedoms allow us to openly and heatedly debate our differences in ways other nations discourage or even prohibit. But we are united by a common value. For while our nation may be divided on the best way to achieve equality of opportunity, we all believe in the goal of equality of opportunity.
And so it troubles us, it troubles us, that now equal opportunity eludes too many of our people. But what we need are not leaders who will exploit this anxiety. We need leaders who will explain to us why this is happening because they do not have enough education and therefore they can't find jobs, because so many are being raised in broken homes, and because too many face the challenges of providing for their children as single parents all by themselves.
And we need leaders that provide us with answers that will address these problems by fixing our education system and improving our economy, by highlighting the importance of marriage and two parent homes, and by helping children raised in broken families and parents struggling with the burden of single parenting.
No plan to restore the American Dream is complete without addressing these things. We will never improve our people's economic wellbeing without also improving their moral and social wellbeing.
The challenge for those of us in politics is that, while our role is important, we alone can't do this. There is no magic five point plan for restoring marriage. There's no innovative program that will instill the value of education and hard work. There's no law we can pass to make men better fathers and husbands.
The ultimate responsibility for our social wellbeing rests on us as a people. What we do as parents, neighbors and members of a church, a charity or community will often have a greater impact on our nation's future than what we do as voters or even as a Senator.
A strong America is not possible without strong Americans -- a people formed by the values necessary for success, the values of education and hard work, strong marriages and empowered parents. These are values that made us the greatest nation ever, and these are the values that will lead us to a future even better than our past.