Written by Minerva Campos
The term “American Dream” was first coined by James Truslow Adam back in 1931 and although it is over eighty years old, the phrase is still popular today. Adam describes the American Dream as a “dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” For decades, many have pursued the American Dream, a dream in which the working /middle class move upward on the social class structure of America through hard work and determination. The idea of the American Dream has shaped the way the world views America and has made the dream sought out for, not just by Americans, but by immigrants alike. While the concept of the American Dream is very ideal, many soon discover that the dream, especially in modern day America, is nothing more than just that-a dream not as achievable as many would like to believe. Many factors contribute to this, the most prevalent being intergenerational poverty and limited upward mobility.
In 2012, U.S News wrote an article describing America and the Dream that bring many to its doorstep. The author of the article, David Francis, describes the country as a “land of opportunity, and that anyone can achieve success through hard work—has given hope to people born without privilege,” (Is the American Dream Dead?); however, Francis then goes on to question the integrity of the American Dream. He makes the suggestion that the American Dream is becoming less applicable in modern day America because of the growing income gap between the wealthy upper class and the struggling middle and working class and the limited opportunities for those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. This article sums up the problems with the American Dream and provides evidence of how far-fetched the dream really is.
America’s social propaganda has persuaded many Americans that an individual’s hard work is the main element for success in the country. This assumption, however, denies the effects of either oppression or privilege on a person’s probability for success. This type of propaganda has lead many Americans to assume that there is no longer systemic and institutionalized racism and furthermore; this propaganda disregards the impact color, gender, or disabilities might have on a person.
As the U.S News article above stated, intergenerational poverty, and lack of opportunity for upward mobility is the reason the American Dream is hardly ever achievable. Intergenerational poverty, or as it is more commonly known as—the cycle of poverty—is a cycle where poor families become either more destitute or barely better off. The National Center for Law and Economic Justice released a study in 2013 that reported one in seven Americans are living in poverty, and an astounding one in sixteen are living in deep poverty.
The United States measures poverty by comparing household income to the poverty threshold, which takes into account the change in the cost of living, however the poverty threshold is not a representative of what a family actually needs for a decent living. The study also shows people of racial/ethnic minorities, single-parent households, women, and children are especially at risk for poverty and deep poverty. Forty-six million people in America, not including the undocumented, are living in poverty, and for the most part it is not by choice(U.S Census Bureau). Limited upward mobility plays a huge role in keeping impoverished families poor. Without the ability to move up the on the social class ladder of America, there is nowhere but down or stagnation for these families and individuals to go. Unless one is a white, privileged male, the American Dream more than often does not exist for oneself.
Recently a popular television show called “House of Cards” made waves online when one of it’s main characters made a speech about the American Dream. House of Cards is a political drama, and the character in the spotlight was the “current” President of the United States. In his speech, the president claimed the nation was crippled by Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, entitlements and any other welfare program in existence. While this is just a fictional show, there are many in this country who believe that every American should pull themselves up by their bootstraps and trudge along.
In 2009, Zogby International did a poll on 3,500 Americans asking them if they still believe in the American Dream and 56% responded with a yes. Out of the 56% who said yes, 59% believe in the American Dream because they believe their intelligence and hard work is what should help them succeed in achieving the dream. While there are exceptions to this , the theory of hard work being the determinant of whether or not one should be able to achieve the American Dream does more harm than good, as it undermines the problems one would face due to race, gender, and physical and mental disabilities.
While the American Dream will always be a part of American culture it is still detrimental to American society. The American Dream has created an unrealistic ideology that does not help move the country forward. The notion for the American Dream is nothing more but propaganda fed to the poor by the elite 1%. The American Dream is the fuel to the capitalistic jet waiting to take off. Until the country can deal with the ever present problems of inter-generational poverty and limited upward mobility, the American Dream will, unfortunately, remain as just a dream for many.