American Dream Term Paper

Pages: 5 (1606 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 4  ·  Level: College Sophomore  ·  Topic: Economics

American Dream

The term American Dream was coined in the midst of the Great Depression, in 1931. In the book the Epic of America, James Truslow Adams 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," (cited by Library of Congress). Since the Great Depression, the American Dream has become a reality for millions. The United States has since become known as the Land of Opportunity, where even the poorest immigrant can trade rags for riches. However, the American Dream is changing. For many, the American Dream has become impossible to achieve. As Francis notes, one in five American households has a zero net worth and "owes more than it owns," (1). Income mobility has stagnated. Young people can no longer expect to make more than their parents to achieve the Dream of upward social mobility. The "fading" American Dream must reveal some underlying problems in the society (Francis 1). Unless the nation wakes up to face reality, the United States risks turning the American Dream into an American nightmare.

One sign that the American Dream is fading is the rising income inequality in the United States. A country that once prided itself on its unique egalitarianism now ranks lower than many other nations in terms of social justice (Francis). Minorities and women suffer the most, earning far less money than they need to in order to make ends meet, let alone to grow rich. Predatory lending is one of many possible culprits for the current breakdown of the American Dream. As Francis points out, predatory lending does not allow American families to build wealth for upward social mobility. Rather, predatory lending leads families deeper and deeper into debt, preventing them and future generations from achieving their economic or personal goals.

The American Dream is therefore still rooted in the need to achieve financial security. However, the American Dream is about more than making ends meet. Even in the 1930s, the American Dream was about entrepreneurship as much as it was about making money. The rise of giant corporations has squelched the American Dream for many would-be small business owners. Moreover, government protectionism of big business has also contributed to the decline of the American Dream. As Florida points out, both the Republicans and the Democrats have protected big business at the expense of average Americans. As employees of large corporations, workers do not earn enough to achieve the American Dream. Their meager earnings are funneled straight into paying bills and many people find that their income is not enough to do even that.

The American Dream is also changing for the millions of Americans who are neither poor nor in debt. Many Americans view the Dream as being more about achieving a higher quality of life than about earning more money. Florida notes that job satisfaction is the new American Dream. Americans want to do what they love and get paid for it. Americans do not just want to make more money than their parents. They want more than fancy cars and penthouse apartments. Americans want more control over their work environments and their jobs. They want more responsibility and greater creative potential than their parents might have had. The Dream of self-determination is the new American Dream.

Florida calls this phase of American history a "crucial transitional stage," (1). Income inequality and social injustice is on the rise, making the American Dream unattainable to many if not most Americans. The myth of meritocracy is over (Francis). The American Dream cannot be fulfilled through hard work, because only those who can afford it can attend the best universities to gain access to the resources needed to achieve creative or financial goals.

The key to fulfilling the American Dream is not hard work but social and cultural capital. Families that can provide their children with financial support ensure that their children have opportunities to fulfill their career dreams. Similarly, a family that is already a part of the wealthy elite guarantees their children will have access to opportunities for financial and creative achievements.

One of the reasons Florida calls this a "crucial transitional stage" is because the nature of the global economy has changed dramatically since the early days of the American Dream. The economy in the United States was then built on industry and productivity. While it still is to an extent, innovation and creativity play a much greater role in today's economy than industry alone. The need to innovate is motivated by increasing competition from other nations. Whereas the United States once enjoyed supremacy in the area of product and service innovation, it is currently lagging. Economic and political policy centers on protecting stagnant corporate interests rather than on finding new ways to stimulate creativity. Florida urges a radical reform of the educational system to help young people reach their creative potential so that the American Dream becomes more within their reach.

The need to continually create has been especially important in the global market economy. To compete effectively in the global market, American firms need to invest more in innovation than they are now. However, Florida shows that the current economic policy does not encourage innovation. The current economic environment supports the status quo. Politicians in both the Democratic and Republican parties are offering the wrong incentives to the wrong people.

The American Dream was originally significant because it was supposed to extend to all people. It was not just about a few select individuals getting rich: it was about extending the rights and privileges of an open society to all citizens. Even new immigrants had a legitimate stab at the American Dream. Many immigrants are poster children for the American Dream as a result. All the immigrants who came to the United States penniless that started small family businesses that thrived represent the potential for the American Dream to be fulfilled. Those immigrants passed their businesses down to their children, who had the opportunity to expand the business and achieve their own version of the American Dream. Examples of immigrant success still about. As Eric Liu points out in his optimistic essay, the American Dream is alive and well. It is still a valid ideal that represents the core values of American society.

Even if the American Dream is not about money alone, it is about financial freedom and independence. It is built right into the fabric of American culture, and remains the main reason why immigrants continue to cross the border. The current clampdown on immigrants from Mexico is ironic because all immigrants are potential Americans who only want a part of the Dream: the ability to achieve at least greater financial freedom than they have now or that their parents had. The American Dream is far from being dead, even if it has changed to reflect shifting social, political, and economic realities.

The American Dream is in jeopardy. Many people find that hard work is not helping them achieve their goals. Liu claims that the current generation might be the first to have a lower standard of living than their parents. Income disparity is prevalent in many American communities. Strangely, the communities with the greatest creative potential also seem to be the same communities with high levels of income disparity. Florida reveals a set of astonishing statistics showing that a growing number of Americans are being cut off from the American Dream by being stuck in low-wage, low-status jobs with little if any chance for advancement. The rich are getting richer, living the American Dream by hiring the poor at minimum wage.

Another problem with the state of the American Dream is that it has changed into the American Entitlement. A sense… [END OF PREVIEW]

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American Dream .  (2007, June 24).  Retrieved January 15, 2019, from http://allstarrchiro.net/subjects/paper/american-dream-term/8862

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"American Dream ."  Essay.  June 24, 2007.  Accessed January 15, 2019.
http://allstarrchiro.net/subjects/paper/american-dream-term/8862.