America has been seen throughout the last century as the land of opportunity, the place where anyone has the chance to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and become a member of the middle class. Upward economic mobility is key for the American Dream.
However, in a recent study by LearnVest, a financial planning company, and Chase Blueprint, only 43 percent of people who took the survey think that achieving the American Dream is still possible. What happens when the majority of Americans don’t believe in the dream that has driven our culture for so long? Is it still possible to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, despite what some statistics say? I don’t think it’s possible for everyone who works hard to achieve the American Dream. I don’t think everyone has a fair shot at getting there, either. It’s increasingly too difficult these days.
Upward mobility depends on a few factors. Geographic location within the U.S. matters significantly. For example, “Higher levels of segregation, income inequality and more single parent [households] tend to have worse prospects for mobility. In addition, regions with fewer social networks and poorer school systems are typically worse off,” says Jillian Berman of the Huffington Post. This information provides us with some important reasons as to why the American Dream is dead.
Cards aren’t dealt fairly in the Game of Life, and some kids grow up without a good education, financial security or the opportunity to work jobs that pay above minimum wage. How is it that some people still think that if these kids merely work hard, then they’ll be able to reach the middle class? It just isn’t feasible when the disparity in income for the wealthy and those below the poverty line has increased so much.
According to Forbes, The top 5 percent of families saw their income rise by 56.7 percent while the lowest gained only 3.7 percent over 35 years. Some people are born into families that can provide them with financial security and career opportunities that other, less fortunate families cannot provide. With better opportunities, children of wealthier families are able to get a better education and are thus able to arm themselves with the tools to enter the world and ultimately reach the American Dream.
Times have changed, and the American Dream is no longer accessible. According to economist Richard Wolff, from the 1820s through the 1970s, the average American wages rose consistently throughout the decades. In fact, “In the quarter century from 1947 to 1973, average real wages rose an astounding 75 percent.” However, in the last 25 years, wages have risen a measly 4 percent. This means that while inflation has lifted prices of everyday necessities, wages have not been adjusted to accommodate inflation. This makes it harder for people to live the middle-class lifestyle, namely owning a home and supporting a family on sufficient salaries. For children born at or below the poverty line, it is extremely difficult to move up the socioeconomic scale and become members of the middle class.
Though they may try their hardest, the current state of the U.S. economy and the disparity in income are serious barriers to their success. It will be interesting to see what the American Dream evolves into as we come to terms with the fact that achieving that middle-class lifestyle is more difficult now than it ever was.
Kenna Harpell is a sophomore communication major.