American Identity

Started from the Bottom: The American Dream

Being an American is synonymous with having opportunity. A natural born American does not earn the right to opportunity; it is simply granted upon birth. This  theoretical ability to change one’s circumstances allows for the economic mobility that America prides itself on.

Compared to the United Kingdom, Americans are less dependent on the income of their parents to predict their earnings. In fact, earning a college degree is still the single best predictor of an individual’s upward mobility in the United States , not necessarily his or her initial status.  Therefore being an American in a sense means being able to modify one’s life through self-determination, and the open doors that this country provides.

In this respect, I’d qualify as a true American: I attend a city owned university, one where student loan debts can be avoided while earning a degree from a respected institution. I have the opportunity to manipulate my initial position through subsidized education and emerge in a higher standing. If my degree doesn’t help to escalate my socioeconomic position, the degree is at least expected to provide a fulfilling career in which my personal fulfillment is paramount, as opposed to rote work as a means to self-sustainability.

Economic mobility was touted as America’s selling point as far back as 1784. That was when Benjamin Franklin published “To those who would Remove to America”. In this work he says that the American dream was that of the laborer working from servanthood to ownership: “…if they are poor, they first begin as servants or journeymen (apprentices)…and they soon become masters, establish themselves in business, marry raise families, and become respectable citizens.”

As seductive as this rags to riches notion is, it is also misleading.  Though America’s  economy is no longer  centered around farming, the fundamentals of this American dream is still  deeply associated with the greatness of our country. While it is true in theory that Americans can elevate from a lower to the most privileged class, it is unlikely. According to the Wall Street Journal, only 4% of Americans can go from the lowest economic class to the higher ones. Yet, forty percent of Americans believe that it is plausible for most people to elevate substantially. The truth is that people at the extremes of the income continuum are more likely to stay within their class. While the middle class shows the most potential for change, this change can be to a lower position as well.

With these statistics in mind, chasing the American dream can at times feel like running on a treadmill. Conversely, every anecdotal tale of an American, natural born or immigrant, who achieves the dream, makes it all the more tangible. Which leaves this question for my fellow college students: does earning your degree provide for you a sense of certainty in upward mobility?

 

 

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5 thoughts on “Started from the Bottom: The American Dream

  1. This post was really informative. I felt that the way you approached defining being American was very realistic and factual compared to the more idealistic, romantic notion of the American Dream, which you also mentioned. In being a more realist perspective, this post reveals that the truth about the American Dream and the original idea of the American as self-reliant and self-made is harsh and unreasonable/unlikely/just a dream. This was refreshing in that it can bring one back down to Earth to face these facts.

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  2. I think you clearly expressed some really interesting and good points. “Compared to the United Kingdom, Americans are less dependent on the income of their parents to predict their earnings” –that’s informative and really interesting! I could see why that is, and you even explained when you wrote “being an American in a sense means being able to modify one’s life through self-determination, and the open doors that this country provides.” For this reason I believe I can move upwards in society, and feel I already have (and am even helping my mom do so) just from attending public school in America, and soon from earning my college degree. I don’t think earning a college degree provides me with certainty in upward mobility, since that depends on my continuous determination and what I do with my degree, but it does gives me hope for greater upward mobility.

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  3. First, great choice on the gif :). But aside from that, I think that earning a degree does provide a sense of upward mobility in this country to those who are truly passionate for their field. However, part of me also wants to say that earning a degree does not provide mobility because of the the price we pay for (both tuition and physical participation) at the end of our college careers. I think that there are different routes to achieve the American Dream. Attaining a college degree is certainly the most popular route but it is not the only way in doing so.

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  4. First of all, I love your title and GIF choice! That song is a perfect example of the American Dream. I, too, discussed Franklin and his notions of rags to riches in my blog post. I like how you countered his notion, commenting on the unrealistic hope this notion provides since so few actually “make it”. But I personally see the American Dream not as a realistic goal, but a tool of motivation for the workforce. If everyone is working towards being a millionaire, there is never a deficit in labor. That’s how capitalism works; keep the people hoping for more, even if it can never be achieved, so that the market thrives.

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