Editor's note: CNN invited the two African Americans in the U.S. Senate -- Sen. Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, and Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey -- to write companion pieces in conjunction with Black History Month. Scott is a former U.S. congressman and has been in the Senate since 2013. You can follow him on Twitter @SenatorTimScott
(CNN) -- America's economy has the potential to transform lives like no other force on Earth, but too often in recent years we have seen Washington act as an anchor. And while CEOs and presidents may generate the business headlines, an over-involved federal government hurts employees and those looking for jobs across the entire spectrum.
As someone who grew up in poverty, watching his single mother work 16-hour days to provide as much as she possibly could for us, I have lived the power of the American Dream.
With help from my mom and my mentor, I learned that I didn't have to be an entertainer or an athlete to achieve my goals; I could think my way out of poverty. I realized the power of education, and the incredible opportunities provided by free markets.
My fear is that too many folks these days aren't given the chance to see the greatness that resides within them. Over the past 50 years, we've seen the War on Poverty struggle in its core mission -- to help lift folks up. It's time for a change, so I have introduced my Opportunity Agenda.
A significant part of my Opportunity Agenda is focused on job-training efforts. There are 4 million open jobs across the country right now -- jobs that are unfilled because of a skills gap in the work force. This in spite of the fact there are 35 federal work-force development programs.
My SKILLS Act, which the House has already passed thanks to the efforts of Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-North Carolina, would cut through the bureaucratic maze and mountains of red tape that hinder these programs. We'll create one Workforce Investment Fund, cutting waste and duplication out while ensuring more dollars are used for their actual purpose -- job training. President Barack Obama signaled that Vice President Joe Biden would be looking at job-training programs this year -- I eagerly await their call to discuss my proposal.
I am also working on a proposal to create opportunity zones across America to tie some of the tax dollars coming out of our low-income communities to the community itself in order to rebuild infrastructure and lift those areas up. In my time on county council in Charleston County, this concept was referred to as Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts, and I see great potential in this concept at the federal level.
It is not enough to simply rebuild, or as some would call it gentrify, our tougher neighborhoods -- we have to provide the opportunity to the folks living there already to take part in a brighter future. Population shifting isn't fixing the problem, it is simply moving it somewhere else.
So instead of overtaxing and overregulating, I see a future where the government cuts out waste and duplication, and gives all Americans the chance to realize their full potential. As I travel throughout South Carolina, be it speaking with a local chamber of commerce, or a group of pastors, or working at a burrito store for a morning (verdict: my own skills with a broom could stand some polishing), my constituents are very clear: They don't want a handout, just a hand up.
It isn't the federal government's responsibility to guarantee outcomes. It is, however, our responsibility to make sure that a better future is possible if people want it. Opportunity knocks for all of us at some point. My hope is that Washington doesn't get in the way of folks answering.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Sen. Tim Scott.