Still Such a Thing as the American Dream?

Still Such a Thing as the American Dream?

"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 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." — James Truslow Adams, Epic of America (1931)

In its October 17, 2009, issue, National Journal ran an interesting article entitled "Is the American Dream a Myth?"  The article, which highlights some of the findings in Creating an Opportunity Society, a new book by Brookings Institution scholars Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill, questions whether America's optimism in the "dream" is justified. 

The article cites the following facts/figures from Haskins' and Sawhill's book:

  • After World War II, the median income roughly doubled, increasing faster for those in lower income brackets than for those at the top. Since the late 1970s, however, the median income has advanced much more slowly overall, and the greatest growth has been for those at the top.
  • More than 60% of Americans whose parents reached the top fifth of the income ladder have reached the top two-fifths themselves.  However, 65% of Americans with parents among the bottom 20% of wage-earners remain stuck in the bottom two-fifths.
  • Today four-year college graduates earn about 80% more than workers with high school diplomas, more than double the gap in the 1960s.

As the United States begins to come out of a prolonged recession and millions of Americans remain unemployed and/or saddled with debt (and some facing foreclosure on their homes), the question of whether the American Dream is a myth or reality–and how it is actually defined in today's society–remains up for discussion.

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