You Can Aspire to the American Dream, But You Probably Can’t Have It

Oh the American Dream. That thing that keeps us working hard and believing that if we put in good hours, we too will have a McMansion and fill it with all the things we ever wanted. And if we can’t have that, at least we’ll make enough money to pay the rent and go on vacation two weeks out of the year, right?


There is more and more research pointing to the fact that the American Dream is in fact dead. Only one out of three people now believe that the next generation will grow up to be better off then their own. A recent USA Today analysis put a price tag on the American Dream at $130,000 a year for a family of four. You know how many people have the means to pay for that dream? One out of eight Americans. And while $130,00 is a costly American Dream, that study is still telling.

If you live in a marginalized community, things are even worse. The new book “The Longest Shadow” documents the findings of a Johns Hopkins University study, which followed nearly 800 Baltimore schoolchildren from the early 1980s for a full 25 years. The results are dismal: the poor stayed poor, and only four percent of urban disadvantaged youth graduated from a four-year college.

The American Dream has always been sold as something that’s achievable if only you work hard enough for it. That’s frustrating rhetoric for one of the researchers behind the Johns Hopkins study. ”It is frustrating … the bootstraps logic, you know, that you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps and the world is available for you. In some abstract sense, anything is possible but on the ground in terms of the here and now, it doesn’t work that way,” Karl Alexander, research professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins University, told Al Jazeera.

So what does it look like in other countries? If the American Dream is dead is there a Swedish Dream? An Australian Dream? A Japanese dream?

“Your prospects for moving up in the United States, in relationship to where you started in life in terms of your family circumstances, is much more limited here in the United States than in most of the other industrialized countries throughout the world,” says Alexander.

People at the bottom of the income ladder are as likely to move up as they were 50 years ago; that means that in half a century we haven’t managed to build a system that helps citizens move out of poverty. There’s even a “geography” of the American Dream; where you live can be as much a determining factor for your success as how much you work — in other words, you’re better off in California than you are in South Carolina.

The concept of the American Dream is outdated, and on its last legs. In fact, it’s already dead. It’s time we thought differently about what a progressive, equal country looks like and how we ensure that everyone in the country, no matter their background, or where they live, all have access to the same opportunities.

Photo Credit: torbakhopper


Jim Ven
Jim Ven8 months ago

thanks for the article.

Christine Jones
Christine J8 months ago

I fear it's somewhat the same here in Australia. We are sold the idea that if we work hard we'll be fine, which is a cruel myth. Wages are usually inversely proportionate to hard work, i.e. if you sit in a fancy corner office with a secretary you get paid a fortune, whereas if you are scrubbing toilets you get paid a pittance.

Robert Hamm
Robert Hamm2 years ago

OH YES those PPOOOOOOOOOR corporations. Glutted with cash and not wanting to pay taxes any higher than 3rd world countries. Well the quickest way to BECOME a 3rd world country is to follow the corporatist game plan. It costs money to keep a country from being a 3rd world country in all important ways. I dodnt want to live in a country here I cant see acorss the street. I dodnt ewant to live in a country that I have to wear a mask to go outdoors. I dont want to live in a country that has all the problems 3rd world countries have.

Punishing corproations my ass!! They get tax breaks and subsidies for farming our jobs out of our country. So they have it mae. They get someone to wiork their asses off for 10 dollars a week or month depending on how poor the country AND our governmenbt REWARDS them for it. And WE get to be more poor. Oh yes those poor dears have to pay taxes to their home country who sets up the system that lets them fleeece the world and us.

I am sorry Eric yer goning to have to sell that grabage somewhere else

Eric Lees
Eric Lees2 years ago

It's not rocket science. We punish corporations for locating in the USA and tax their overseas profits. The USA is now worse than what our founding fathers fought a revolution to get away from.
"Britain is a corporate tax haven – that's why US firms are keen to uproot"

Eric Lees
Eric Lees2 years ago

Yes some large corporations are sitting on a pile of cash but they are also borrowing a pile of cash.
Foreign Profits -> cash pile Invest it in the USA and face a 35% tax or invest it pretty much anywhere else in the world and pay no tax.
USA borrow money thanks to the FED zero interest for any investment inside the USA.

So the FED QE and uncertainty created by the Obama administration has created a perfect storm where companies have cash yet borrow more cheap money.

You would do the same if you were in their position.

Christian Rocklein
Land Lost2 years ago

Well.. compare the American Dream to the state-owned Communist Dream and it still seems like something.

Janis K.
Janis K2 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Robert Hamm
Robert Hamm2 years ago

Envy You on the right like to throw that word around a lot. I have no desire whatsoever to live like Romney or anyone else with big money. This has nothing to do with envy.

Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown2 years ago

Yeah, how come when you look closer at these so-called "Fair Tax" deals, they always turn out to be nothing but windfalls for corporations and the rich and increases to the tax burdens of middle and working class Americans?

Robert Hamm
Robert Hamm2 years ago

Eric no one has said profit shouldnt be allowed. No one has said all their profit should go to the government. But corporations use an amazing amount of our city resources and infrasructure. Why shouldnt they be helping to pay for what they use?

Fair tax sounds so friendly. Unfortunately ….it is less friendly to some groups than others.