I wrote this book because I love my country and I’m concerned about our future. As I often said when I first ran for President in 1992, America at its core is an idea—the idea that no matter who you are or where you’re from, if you work hard and play by the rules, you’ll have the freedom and opportunity.

That idea no long seems achievable to the more than 15 million people who are unemployed or working part-time who need full-time jobs to support themselves and their families. And it must seem downright unreal to the growing number of men and women who’ve been out of work for more than six months and can’t even get interviews for job openings, as if they’re somehow to blame for becoming casualties of the worst recession since the Depression.

"It’s heartbreaking to see so many people trapped in a web of enforced idleness, deep debt, and gnawing self-doubt. We have to change that. And we can."

Work is about more than making a living, as vital as that is. It’s fundamental to human dignity, to our sense of self-worth as useful, independent, free people. I earned my first money mowing lawns when I was twelve. At thirteen I worked in a small grocery store and set up a used comic book stand on the side. By the time I finished high school, I’d made a little money doing seven other things. By the end of law school, seven more. Over the last four decades, nine more, not counting my foundation and other philanthropic work. Most of these early jobs didn’t last long. I didn’t like them all. But I learned something in every job—about the work, dealing with people, and giving employers and customers their money’s worth.

I came of age believing that, no matter what happened, I would always be able to support myself. It became a crucial part of my identity and drove me to spend a good portion of my adult life trying to give other people the chance to do the same thing. It’s heartbreaking to see so many people trapped in a web of enforced idleness, deep debt, and gnawing self-doubt. We have to change that. And we can.