One of the key tenets of the American Dream is the promise that if you work hard, you can get ahead. This dream doesn’t discriminate – regardless of the circumstances you’re born into, hard work will lead you to success. Generations of Americans have lived, worked and raised families believing in that idea.

Despite honest living and persistence, millions in our country still struggle to get ahead financially. This is especially true in rural communities where the challenges of poverty differ significantly from urban areas. When access to higher education, health care, affordable housing, social and financial services, and job opportunities is limited, the path toward upward mobility is challenging. 

As someone who grew up in small-town Kansas, the issue of rural poverty hits close to home. While representing Kansans in Congress, I have made it a priority to highlight this often overlooked struggle and have proposed policy solutions to help drive Americans, both urban and rural, up the economic ladder. For example, I’m working to make certain all Kansans can access high-speed internet and get care from their local Critical Access Hospital, as well as ensure our veterans receive the benefits they’ve earned in a timely fashion. 

Many rural, low-income families lack both affordable housing and access to credit: two major factors in determining one’s mobility. And unfortunately, as the cost of compliance with new government rules and regulations grows, community banks and local lenders are increasingly being squeezed out of their local economies. As a member of the Senate Banking Committee, I’ve proposed legislative solutions to relieve this burden, but it is clear solving this issue will require a series of policy and regulatory changes coupled with broader economic growth.

In Kansas, much of that economic growth depends on the health of the agriculture industry – a major pillar of our economy – which determines the financial well-being of nearly 250,000 Kansans. As the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, I’m tasked with drafting annual legislation to prioritize funding for the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration – agencies whose work impacts growth and mobility in rural America. My bill (S. 2956) includes critical improvements to rural infrastructure such as water and waste systems and upgrades to electric and telephone services. It also strengthens the farm safety net to keep family farms viable in tough economic conditions, which in turn helps keep Main Street businesses that rely on agriculture afloat. These policies improve the economic viability of small town America.

Rural economic interests, while often overlooked, must be represented in all policy debates on Capitol Hill – agricultural or otherwise. With that in mind, I cofounded the bipartisan Senate Economic Mobility Caucus in 2012 to bring together policymakers to examine mobility challenges and develop ways to overcome them. Since the caucus’ inception, we have conceived numerous bipartisan policies, including some that are now law. Most recently, the caucus hosted an event to convene experts from various backgrounds focused specifically on economic mobility through a rural lens. To see such strong interest in the topic was encouraging and I will continue to stress the importance of rural-specific considerations during policy debates.

While each of these steps represents progress, much work remains to enable all Americans to become economically mobile and financially secure. I will continue to do all I can during my time in the United States Senate to help restore the confidence that every man, woman and child has a real opportunity to achieve their own American Dream.