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.
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