Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The American Dream is Alive and Well

The American dream is alive and well, but it depends on how you define "the dream" and who you ask. This Christian Science Monitor article provides some perspective:

If the American dream means doing better than your parents did, then Mike Brockman's not living it. Single, with a 10-year-old daughter, he's a server at a Black Angus restaurant in Mesa, Ariz. His father at his age had a good, steady job as a machinist at TRW.

Today "there aren't the kind of jobs available you used to get with a high school education, and work yourself up," says Mr. Brockman. "Now you have to have training or experience to start – then you can work your way up from there."

Norman Payne, on the other hand, thinks the American dream is alive and well. An immigrant from Panama, he's lived in the US for 16 years – and on June 28 in Boston he was sworn in as a US citizen.

Mr. Payne works in customer service at Kodak and has high hopes for his young son and daughter.

"I don't think the American dream has changed," he says. "I am trying to do everything I can do so that they can do better than I did."

Two hundred and thirty-one years after the 13 colonies declared their independence from Great Britain, is the United States still the land of opportunity, the light of hope for the poor of the world?

The economic dream that has united a diverse population for generations, that children would be more prosperous than their parents, is in question as perhaps never before.

Yet the nation's overall standard of living remains high. Immigrants both legal and illegal arrive every year by the tens of thousands, testament to the US economy's continuing dynamism....

The phrase "American dream" is relatively recent. It was popularized in the 1930s by historian James Truslow Adams, who in his day was a widely read author on the major themes and figures of the nation, similar to, say, David McCullough today.

Yet the idea expressed by the phrase, that the US was a land of opportunity where generation after generation would keep doing better and better, has always been the "gyroscope of American life," writes Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson in his book "Pursuing the American Dream."

In some periods the American dream has seemed more attainable than in others, says Mr. Jillson. Most recently, it was alive and well in the era from the end of World War II through the early 1970s.

But since 1973, median family income has been essentially flat, says Jillson.
"This is one of those periods in American history when to many ... the American dream seems illusory," Jillson says.

Some polls back up this contention. In a recent CBS News survey of 17- to 29-year-olds, only 25 percent of respondents said their generation would be better off than their parents. Forty-eight percent said they would be worse off.
The article points out that for many economic mobility is the key measure for attaining the dream. Yet using money to define the dream makes for a narrow economic indicator. When the American dream is defined as a way of life and opportunity, the country's historic vision of unbounded promise still burns bright for many:

Mike Heitmann is a Kansas City resident visiting his wife's family in Boston, his four daughters in tow. "The American dream is having a strong family and living in a place where we have freedoms like we do in the US," says Mr. Heitmann. "Family is the most important thing."

Wallace Sheppard will return to Iraq for his third tour there in October. The Army serviceman, based in Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, is also in Boston as a tourist.

"I define [the American dream] as being happy," he says. "Money doesn't really matter if you make enough to sustain your family."

And for the masses in many other parts of the world, whether they are huddled or not, the Statue of Liberty still stands as their dream destination.

Joseph Nemorin today is a line cook at Nick's Italian Restaurant on Ocean Drive in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He's been there 17 years.

He arrived in the US from Haiti when he himself was 17. Today he is a legal permanent resident who says he has done better than his parents. He expects his children will do better than he has, because they were born in America.

The American dream is available for those who come to the US for the right reason, he says. "If you come to work, you don't get in trouble ... you should be doing fine, just like me."
Read the whole thing. Society has changed. Two income-families are pretty much the rule for attaining an abundant life of material prosperity. But Income statistics don't capture the changes in technology and all the types of home and personal accoutrements available to the modern American consumer at affordable prices. From fancy import sports cars, to jumbo flat screen televisions, to food and clothing of every variety and from every corner of the world, the level of material comfort in this country is breathtaking.

But critics of the dream -- those stagnating in unpromising economic circumstances -- need to look at the personal freedoms and opportunities afforded them by this great big nation of liberty. The United States develops like any other nation, with ups and downs in the levels of economic progress. Yet the dream -- in all its social, economic, and politics aspects -- endures for generation after generation of Americans, newcomers and oldtimers alike.

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