Upward social mobility has always been essential to the growth and survival of the United States, but as evidenced by ever-increasing income inequality, many individuals find it difficult to rise above the constraints of poverty. This begs the question, “What happened to the American Dream?”
First, what exactly is the American Dream? Is it living in a big house and driving an expensive car? Is it becoming a movie star and living in Hollywood? Is the American Dream to become incredibly wealthy or to simply provide a good life for your family?
James Truslow Adams, credited with coining the term in his 1931 work “The Epic of America,” wrote, “The American Dream is that 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.
“It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of a social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”
Adams describes the very essence of what made the U.S. into the thriving socio-economic powerhouse the world knows, loves and hates. It’s about social mobility rather than wealth itself; the poor and weak being able to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and make something of themselves through hard work and effort. This is the American Dream. Wealth and social status should follow as a result.
Sadly, this is becoming increasingly hard with massive unemployment and the rising cost of goods and services. Some corporations rake in record profits, while a record number of people fall below the poverty line.
It’s tragic for the majority of wealth to be concentrated in such a small percentage of the population, while people working full-time jobs can’t afford to pay bills or put food in the cabinets. Credit cards and payday loans are offered as easy solutions. These folks need a fair wage, in full recognition of the fact that products would not be produced were it not for able hands to produce them. Instead, they get massive debt they may never have the means to overcome.
Aside from seeking better wages and avoiding unnecessary debt, individuals have to take advantage of any education opportunities available if they ever expect to climb out of poverty. Education is the greatest tool for upward social mobility.
Statistically, college and trade school graduates will earn more in their lifetimes than non-grads, but once again, it isn’t just about money. An education exposes the mind to new concepts, ideas and ways of thinking. It builds character and self confidence, and promotes critical thinking. These can be valuable commodities in an ever-changing world.
Its been more than a couple centuries and we are still struggling to accomplish the true American Dream, but income inequality is an elephant in the room that we can no longer afford to ignore. We all have to do our part, whether that means planning on college after high school, paying employees a wage they can actually live on or simply remembering that wealth shouldn’t give people an infinite advantage over everyone else.
To contact Chris James, email firstname.lastname@example.org.