I ask this question because of several articles and books I have read lately that has motivated me to think about the subject. “Malcolm and Martin and America” has helped me to see that the American dream is not the same for those who don’t look like me or live in the suburbs. Other articles have helped me to see the dream is a little harder to realize today than when I was younger. However, another article has helped me to see it is still possible.
First, why do I say the American dream may not be the same for someone who doesn’t look like me or live where I live? Many of the issues that Malcolm and Martin dealt with are still relevant today. The poverty associated with living in inner city, for lack of better term, ghettos, still create hard to escape situations for people of color. Educational opportunities are limited, resources to develop social skills needed to be successful in our society are often lacking, positive male and female role models that impact day to day living are skewed, and jobs that pay a living wage are minimal. Therefore, the system of poverty could be considered a perpetuity.
As much as we want to say they that the people who live in these environments just need to pick themselves up by their bootstraps, we must realize the system is detrimental to that type of change. Therefore, there must be some type of intervention to ensure that change occurs, but the question continues to be how?
I do agree with articles that say it is a bit harder to gain the dream, but I don’t agree with those who think it is dying. I do think that it is harder to get ahead financially. Due to wage reduction and increased costs associated with education it is more difficult to climb the social ladder. To get ahead many families resort to two family incomes. This puts a strain on children. Parents are required to be much more organized in their homes to ensure positive child development occurs. We are in the “Two Income Trap.”
I also agree there is a growing wealth gap. The owners of capital, stocks, etc., have much larger access to the means of wealth than the worker. This allows some Americans to have more of an ability to be debt free than those who attempt to live on a low wage and are required to have debt to live day-to-day. This also applies to our higher ed students who are acquiring levels of debt that will make it hard for them to gain financially for much of their life.
Think about the last vacation you took. For some, vacations are trips to Europe, for others, a trip to Disneyland, and for some, it is a staycation. Try to take a budget vacation for a family of four and you can see how much is involved. Many vacations today are traveling to see family, if you can afford the gas.
Don’t get me started on health care costs. My wife just had surgery, and if we did not have really good insurance I don’t know what we would have done. This is one reason that our life expectancy is not the highest in the world. We have people that continue to practice risky eating habits, and many have substandard insurance.
And lastly, what about retirement? The baby-boomers are probably the last generation to enjoy the traditional pension. And even many of the boomers have lost the benefit. We are all asking what will social security look like in twenty years? For the younger generation retirement will look very different than it did for previous generations.
With all the challenges though I would agree with Ester Cepeda, “The American Dream is down but not out.” First, Cepeda asks the question what is the American dream? I really like her definition, “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement, regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.” OK, I can buy that one. It is not about wealth, the American dream is about what constitutes a good life. Cepedea ends her op ed with, “Just like this Founding Father [Benjamin Franklin], the American Dream’s strength is its ability to transform in whatever way is needed to ascend from modesty to greatness. Whether it represents a dollar sign to some or the comfort of globally envied personal freedom to others, its strength gives it the ability to be either catalyst or comfort.”
To me the American dream is alive and well, although maybe a little sickly at the moment. However, the American dream will live because of we the people want it to live. We can make fun of our leaders, and not end up in a prison some place. We can protest, peacefully, the injustices of systematic racism to make things better. We can attend church and not worry about being arrested for believing in God.
However, it is a bit more difficult financially to get ahead. It does take a little more skill to navigate the treacherous white water of the economy. Those with greater skill need to put their mask on first, and then help the others who cannot help themselves. If we do that, even the difficult economic issues of the American dream can be available to all! You may think I am naïve, but I choose to believe.
And that is my thought for the day!