The American Dream
What is the American Dream and how does one obtain it? The American Dream is supposed to disregard the societal classes you were born in and offers every American the chance to rise in the ranks regardless of where they came from. The dream also holds the ideals of freedom, equality, and opportunity as long as people put in hard work and dedication. For most Americans, this entails earning a college degree., gaining a good job, buying a house, and starting a family. But are these ideas sustainable in today’s society? I will begin with what is the American Dream, its origins, where it is today, and what does the future hold.
Where did it all begin?
The origin of the idealism of the “American Dream” began with the signing of The Declaration of Independence in 1776 by our founding fathers. This declaration protects our opportunity to improve our lives, no matter who we are, and it specifically states:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that
they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that
among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure
these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just
powers from the consent of the governed.”
It is this Declaration that is the foundation of the American Dream and defends the right of each person to be able to pursue their dreams of happiness. Of course, in 1776 the “Pursuit of Happiness” only applied to white male property owners, not blacks or women. Then in 1944, the American Dream ideas shifted. Our country had grown in size and stature, and our industrial economy had experienced rapid expansion. To ensure Individual freedom, Franklin D Roosevelt knew that it couldn’t exist without economic security and independence, therefore, he presented the “Economic Bill of Rights” or most often referred to as the “Second Bill of Rights”, to Congress in his State of the Union Address. These political rights were defined as follows:
1. The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
2. The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
3. Right of every farmer to raise and sell his product at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
4. The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition in domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
5. The right of every family to a decent home;
6. The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
7. The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident and unemployment;
8. The right to a good education.
So, what happened between 1944 and today?
Today, most people will readily agree that the American Dream is no longer a reality. To many that dream of having a great paying job, a large beautiful home, a shiny new car, and having a “Leave it to Beaver” family is gone forever. As Barbara Ehrenreich pointed out in her writing of “The (Futile) Pursuit of The American Dream”, the American dream is not a walk in the park, and in fact for many this dream is filled with daily struggles.
Some would argue that unemployment is still on the decline and that there is no excuse why people cannot find a job, buy a house or afford decent child care. What these individuals fail to realize is that even while unemployment is on the decline, the increased jobs have only been in the lower income ranges, while the middle and upper incomes range jobs have decreased dramatically. Ehrenreich advocates in her writings that many Americans are the victims of “downsizing, right-sizing, smart-sizing, restructuring, and de-layering”, and more recently, the outsourcing of jobs to cheaper labor markets in other countries. Sadly, I can support these findings with an example of the most recent outsourcing of all the IT positions within Saint Louis University.
Are college degrees the key to obtaining the American Dream?
The majority of the IT employees that had been let go with Saint Louis University, had been loyal employees for more than 20 years, had their bachelor’s degree and some a Masters, and solid working knowledge of the University. So, in this case I would have to say, “No”. But, the one thing that I firmly believe is that if you are trying to establish a position in the world, you will need a college degree. This degree may not guarantee you a job, but it can put you slightly ahead of another in a job line. People with degrees don’t always have an opportunity fall into their laps without serious marketing of their own potential. I can also acknowledge, that taking on a crippling student loan debt, coupled with housing, car costs, and other inflation-related issues can cause an enormous amount of stress. This stress combined with other circumstantial stresses in life, can make any chance of an American Dream life look bleak at best.
Should this kill the prospect of the American Dream?
The American Dream might seem out of reach to many, but there’s one important thing to keep in mind. The American dream is different for everyone. My dreams and aspirations are probably not the same as yours. They may be similar, but no two peoples will be exactly the same. That’s the thing about the American Dream; it changes for every single person based on what you define as a successful, full, and meaningful life. If you strive to be the very best that you can be, you have a shot at attaining that elusive American Dream. As my parents use to tell me, “How will you know if you never even try?”. I’m not saying life is always going to be easy. There is literally and infinite amount of possibilities in the world for you to take advantage of; the American Dream is unique to what you want it to be.
So, what can we do?
The National Jobs for All (NJFAC) outlines a recommended 21st Century Economic Bill of Rights that should be added:
1. The Right to Useful, Living-Wage Employment;
2. The Right to Security in Old Age;
3. The Right to Adequate Medical Care;
4. The Right to Decent Home;
5. The Right to a Good Education;
6. The Right to Collective Bargaining;
7. The Right to Security in Childhood;
8. The Right to a Healthful and Sustainable Environment.
Looking forward, the American people will need to force their leaders to face the reality of the struggles that the majority American people endure. No one who works full time year-round should have to raise his or her family in poverty. The American government needs to rebuild the American foundation so that once again, America can be great again!
“Declaration of Independence: A Transcription.” National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives and Records Administration, www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript.
“The Economic Bill of Rights.” Ushistory.org, Independence Hall Association, www.ushistory.org/documents/economic_bill_of_rights.htm.
Ehrenreich, Barbara. Bait and Switch: the (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream. Henry Holt, 2006.”American Dream.” Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com, www.dictionary.com/browse/american-dream.
Ydstie, John. “The American Dream Is Harder To Find In Some Neighborhoods.” NPR, NPR, 1 Oct. 2018, www.npr.org/2018/10/01/649701669/the-american-dream-is-harder-to-find-in-some-neighborhoods.