So many media outlets keep asking us: what’s become of the American dream? They profile middle-Americans who have lost jobs or can’t get home ownership as examples of the disappearance of the “the American dream.” But is this true? Has the American dream disappeared from our national resources? I’ve been reading a lot about this idea and want to share four points that make sense to me:
- What is it? What is the definition of the American dream? That’s a place to start, because the definition changes depending on who you talk with. For instance, older people have a different idea than younger people, looking for jobs. An easy way to define it is to say what it is not—it is not a measure of material goods. I don’t think the dream ever was intended to mean how many toys we could possess. Prosperity can lead to more material goods, but the American dream has meant the opportunity to achieve greatly.
- What about the decreased standard of living that younger people have in comparison to older people? Again, we have to be careful with the definition. If younger people say they’ve lost the American dream because they can’t afford to buy a house at a young age, that may not be the real dream. Here’s an example: my grandparents worked during the Depression and could only buy a house when they were in their 40s. My parents also worked and could afford a house by the time they were in their 30s. I bought my first house when I was 28. It may be true that, for many people who are under educated or unskilled, that their standard of living is lower—but that doesn’t mean the American dream is dead.
- What about opportunity? Isn’t their racism and ageism that hold people back from achieving the American dream? Of course, there will always be these social forces that do discourage and, at times, prevent people from opportunity. But I believe there are more open doors to achieve the American dream than ever before. Here’s why: Shelby Steele is an African-American author and columnist who works at the Hoover Institute at Stanford. He wrote that: “when I was growing up, there weren’t many open doors. Today, it’s hard for an African-American to avoid all the open doors.”
- Think of the thrilling stories of people who have tried, worked hard, and have achieved greatly—even today. There’s Evan Spiegel, the founder of Snap Chat who just took his company public and made millions (billions?) of dollars—he’s 26 years old. There’s also John Goodenough, who in 1980 invented the lithium-ion battery that transformed electronics and enabled you to have the laptop/phone you’re reading this on. He just invented an even better battery—and he’s 94!
The opportunity to achieve great things in this country is still with us. The American dream is still available for those who go after it. What do you think? Do you agree or not? Have examples you’d like to share?