Rethinking the Meaning of the American Dream | DCR Workforce Blog

Rethinking the Meaning of the American Dream

American DreamWhen launching his campaign to become the President of America, Donald Trump talked about how “the American dream is dead”. Mr. Trump may not epitomize the American dream because he was born to wealthy parents. The American Dream is all about the belief that hard work alone is the key to success and any one can make it to the top – in a highly inspiring rags-to-riches transition. The Brookings Institute found that Americans scored over all other nations in holding the highest belief in meritocracy—69% agreed with the statement “people are rewarded for intelligence and skill”—among 27 nations surveyed.

If true, do Americans enjoy social mobility irrespective of their antecedents? Someone could achieve mobility in absolute terms by increasing their income, in inflation-adjusted dollars, to an amount greater than that of their parents. Someone may also achieve relative mobility by increasing their “rank” on the income spectrum when compared to the “rank” of their parents.

Let us take a look at some studies which keep tabs on the way the American dream is working for many Americans who were born without a silver spoon.

According to insights collated from surveys by Brookings Institute, Research by the Pew Charitable Trusts as well as other reports:

  • Parental incomeis highly correlated to that of their offspring’s income.
  • Dual-income families in the bottom quintile produced children who have4 times the chance of leaving the bottom quintile than single-income families.
  • Children who were born into the bottom income quintile and who come from families withunmarried parents are 50% likely to remain in the bottom quintile and only 5% likely to reach the top quintile.
  • Education is a huge factor in social mobility in America as anywhere in the world. In fact, people who were born in the bottom income quintile are about20 times more likely to end up in the top quintile if they have a four-year degree when compared with those who didn’t finish high school.
  • The bottom income quintile children, those who don’t have high school degrees have only a50% chance of leaving that quintile versus a 20% chance with a four-year degree.
  • 43 per cent of Americans born at the bottom of the income distribution remained there as adults, and 70 per cent never reached the middle.
  • A 2007 US Treasury study found that about 42 per cent of people in the lowest-earning fifth in 1996 were still in the same bracket 10 years later, but about 5 per cent of the lowest earners had made it to the top of the income ladder.
  • Studies by the OECD and the economists Miles Corak and Gary Solon, among others, suggest that is significantly harder for people to rise above their family background in the US than in Canada or many western European countries (with Britain being a notable exception).
  • In 2013, the bottom quintile for all Americans was$20,900 in yearly income; the top quintile was $196,000.
  • For White Americans born in the bottom quintile for income, the chances of staying in that quintile, of reaching the top quintile or hovering somewhere in the middle three quintiles are allpretty much the same at 20%.
  • For black Americans, the numbers tell adifferent story: 43% of children born in the bottom quintile will remain in that quintile for life and 70% will never reach the third quintile; only 3% will statistically reach the top.

The Pew Charitable Trusts explains that, while Americans are getting richer in absolute terms and are moving around a lot within the middle three quintiles, the richest and poorest quintiles are experiencing “stickiness at the ends.” In other words, in relative terms, the poor are staying poor and the rich are staying rich – despite all the social programs and incentives to equalize wealth over the past 51 years.

As per a recent survey by Wells Fargo and Gallup, U.S. investor confidence is at a seven-year high, and 84% of those surveyed were as confident today as they were a year ago that the American Dream remains achievable for them. So what does that say about the American Dream? Remember – America is the Land of Opportunity. We are promised that opportunity exists – not guaranteed of wealth and a comfortable lifestyle that surpasses that of our parents. As with most nations, there has always been a small population of extreme wealth, and a population of poor. America’s prosperity has always been tied to the middle class. We are a nation that is constantly transforming itself, but we have not yet found a way to eliminate poverty. Personal achievement is the cornerstone of personal advancement. While the studies cited above may sound discouraging, a further examination of those who have achieved the American Dream shows a pattern of family and community support, a solid educational background, and years of hard work.

So, if you want to achieve the American Dream, take a pledge on this Independence Day to keep the hopes of it alive in yourself (and in every immigrant who is attracted to America) and work hard to achieve it because it is your own responsibility to make it happen.

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Lalita is a people/project manager with extensive experience in operations, HCM and training and development across industries like banking, education, business consulting, BPO and information technology. She believes in a dynamic approach to life and learning as change is the only constant.