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Survey Finds Most Americans Believe Hard Work Will Take You Only So Far These Days

Economists argue that lack of opportunity, not hard work, is what keeps people in poverty. (Photo by Hinterhaus Productions/DigitalVision/Getty Images)

Fewer Americans are buying into the naive notion that hard work and personal agency are all it takes to lead a successful life, according to a new poll.

A recent survey by the Strong, Prosperous and Resilient Communities Challenge revealed that Americans have become increasingly skeptical of the narrative linking hard work and success, with 74 percent of respondents agreeing that although poor people work hard, they still aren’t able to work their way up the economic ladder. Like previous studies, the research suggests that lack of opportunity, not hard work, is what ultimately keeps people living in poverty.

Additionally, nine in 10 of those surveyed voiced support for utilizing public funds to invest in civic projects to increase access to health services and public transportation, prep for severe weather events and amend housing policies to help low-income Americans bring themselves out of poverty, according to a SPARCC press release.

“We must rethink how we invest in communities so we don’t perpetuate poverty and barriers to opportunity,” Brian Prater, executive VP of strategy, development and public affairs at the Low Income Investment Fund, said in a statement. “Cities and regions are recognizing that the same approach and policies of the past won’t lead to different outcomes — and they’re taking action.

“SPARCC is proud to support these local efforts and we are glad to see through this report that the American public backs this positive change as well,” he added.

In the report, titled “How Local Leadership Can Drive Prosperity for All,” SPARCC details how “exclusionary policies, lack of investment and under-representation at decision-making tables” have acted as barriers to opportunity for poor Americans for decades. A variety of predetermined factors like a person’s race, gender, parental income and geography also can impact economic mobility, proving that hard work won’t guarantee success so long as opportunities for upward mobility are unequally distributed.

Backers of the new initiative argue that locally driven infrastructure investments are the solution to creating better opportunities for all.

“The solutions we need to improve the places we live, particularly for people of color and low-income communities, have to be driven locally and regionally,” said John Moon, district manager of community development at the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank. “SPARCC is propelling innovative local groups that are bringing together community residents, the public and private sectors, and local governments to make sure that all residents have a voice in ensuring new infrastructure investments benefit everyone.”

Through its efforts, SPARCC is hoping to reach greater economic mobility by investing $90 million in community-development projects in six cities, including Atlanta, Chicago and Los Angeles. The initiative is a three year collaborative between the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Enterprise Community Partners, the Low Income Investment Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council and a number of foundations, according to its website.

“As local leaders, community members, policymakers and others determine how the next big wave of investments will be spent, the Strong, Prosperous and Resilient Communities Challenge, or SPARCC, is supporting local efforts to make sure these are communities where everyone thrives,” it noted.

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