Howard Schultz town hall thumb 2
Schultz takes government approval poll at town hall
00:40 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Howard Schultz, the former chief executive of Starbucks, is considering an independent run for the US presidency in 2020. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own; view more opinion at CNN.

CNN  — 

It is difficult to find Americans who believe the government is working for them.

In fact, I asked that question during a CNN town hall in Houston Tuesday night, and not a single person in the audience raised their hand.

Howard Schultz

We live in an incredible country. But we all know we can do so much better. Everyone should have an opportunity to succeed in America. So what are we waiting for? I’m asking my fellow Americans if they agree we should consider another approach because it’s clear the two-party system is failing us. The system as we know it simply isn’t getting the job done.

My own love for America is rooted in my childhood. I grew up poor and never forgot what that feels like. Being poor isn’t just about not having money. It’s about a lack of access to good health care, good schools, good jobs, mentors, and role models. It’s about a lack of time and transportation. It’s about a lack of dignity and self-confidence. Without these opportunities and resources, it’s hard for people to improve their circumstances.

Luckily, I inherited my mother’s optimism that I could make a better life for myself. I also grew up at a time when access to education and a first job helped me earn success. After I became the first in my family to go to college, I got a job in sales, where I learned what it means to be accountable.

Since then, and throughout my career, I have worked with teams of talented people to address many of our country’s challenges by making opportunities like access to health care, jobs, and education available to more people.

Over its history, Starbucks has employed some 3 million people. Everyone – even part-time workers – can opt in to health insurance, equity in the form of stock options, and a retirement savings plan. The company also provides qualifying employees in all 50 states access to a tuition-free college degree. More than 3,000 have already graduated; 11,000 are in now school. Under my leadership, Starbucks also started programs to raise money for small businesses, as well as employ tens of thousands of veterans, refugees, and young people who weren’t in school or working.

Today, I’m asking whether I can help bring more opportunities to more people – not as a business leader, but as a public servant.

Everyone should have equal opportunity to rise beyond the station of their birth, and to rise again if they have a life-altering setback. Everyone should have the equal opportunity to save for a rainy day and for retirement; to get an education and learn employable skills; to get a first job, get promoted, and experience the dignity of work. Unfortunately, these opportunities are not available to far too many Americans.

The hyper-partisanship in Washington, D.C., is exacerbating this problem. Extreme ideologies in both parties are holding our elected leaders hostage, and a culture of revenge politics is overshadowing collaboration, creativity, and problem-solving on behalf of the American people.

Take health care. While the far left calls for government-run health care, the far right calls to repeal the Affordable Care Act, with no clear replacement option. Meanwhile, both sides ignore the real problem: health care costs. The truth is there are ways to bring down the costs of care, while increasing choice and access.

Take jobs. While the far left wants to guarantee government jobs and the far right touts the stock market as a proxy for economic health, both ignore the millions of Americans who lack employable skills for contemporary jobs. America does not lack jobs; many Americans lack skills for the million of jobs available today. We should invest in lifelong learning and increase vocational training and apprenticeships in every region of the country that touch all of the industries undergoing rapid change.

Take education. The far left calls for expensive college programs the country cannot afford. The far right doesn’t want to spend another dime on this issue. Again, they are ignoring realities: four-year colleges are not best for everyone; schools can be held accountable for bringing down the cost of tuition; and public universities can innovate the student experience so more people can complete a degree. A more holistic, middle-ground approach to education reform will reflect the 21st-century economy and the needs of today’s students and workers.

In so many ways, the people of this great country are not getting the opportunities they deserve because our two-party system is broken. Americans know it, and they are ready to disrupt it.

My vision for what we can achieve in America is not based on building a coffee company.

My vision is steeped in what I’ve learned over the years:

• Compassion and empathy for others help leaders prioritize and make better choices.

• When passionate, talented people from different backgrounds come together for the same goal and work as a team, new ideas emerge and become reality.

• When people talk honestly about what’s broken and communicate disagreements with civility, problems get solved.

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    • Even when people doubt something is possible, when everyone around the table agrees to sacrifice self-interest for the common good, has the courage to make bold choices, and does what is right and what is required, change happens.

    I am a product of the American Dream, and I know that a dream cannot be achieved without hard work. But hard work is not enough. More opportunities must be made available to more people. Once they are, more dreams will be realized, and so will the promise of our country: everyone will have a chance to rise from the ground up.