Opinion: It’s time to call it – the American Dream is dead

Lucas Misera

For nearly a century, the narrative within the United States has been a consistent one: Through hard work and egalitarianism, Americans are afforded the chance to succeed. Born in the shadows of the Great Depression and an extension of exceptionalism, the American Dream has shaped this country’s economic ideologies since the term was coined in the early 1930s.

When James Truslow Adams initially wrote about the American Dream in his book, The Epic of America, he argued the U.S. is “a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.”

In September 2015, I wrote an article discussing how a shrinking middle class and heightened income inequality served as a threat to the very American Dream that Adams envisioned. Over a year later, it’s evident my worst fears have been realized.

The American Dream is dead. Sadly, this isn’t sensationalism, either.

In terms of economic mobility, America is failing. Data shows that in the early 1940s, 92 percent of middle-class children were earning more income than their parents. Today, that same number has been halved.

Further research by the Economic Policy Institute shows that earnings between fathers and sons within the U.S. are tightly correlated (.47), suggesting that mobility is limited. To put America’s position into perspective, the highest correlation on the list – which includes Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations – is Slovenia at .54. The lowest is Denmark at .15, which suggests very high mobility.

Advancements in technology have also threated workers in the middle class. As automation permeates a multitude of industries, only high-skill, high-education jobs and those not worth automating will remain.

Is it possible to revive the American Dream? Of course.

However, it’s unlikely to correct itself until proper policy changes are in place to confront the inequality issues at hand.

As long as wealth continues to accumulate within the upper-ends of the top 1 percent, money will regularly drift out of the hands of the average American.

Under President Trump’s administration, the stagnation of wealth at the upper reaches of the socioeconomic ladder will continue. Considering the top 1 percent is set to receive tax cuts in excess of 6 percentage points, the stifling economic inequality within the U.S. is unlikely to subside.

While it’s easy to numerically illustrate how the American Dream has drastically faded since World War II, the segment of Adams’ statement that sees the U.S. as a place in which life can be “fuller for everyone” is set to be tested throughout Trump’s presidency. Solutions for economic inequality will be useless if not inclusive; protecting the fundamental human rights afforded by democracy for every U.S. citizen must be prioritized before tackling unfavorable wealth distribution.

Yet, make no mistake: No longer is “new money” attainable through sheer effort. Should Trump’s policies go awry and lead to the demise of social and economic equality, the Land of Opportunity may need to consider rebranding.

Lucas Misera is the opinion editor for the Stater, contact him at [email protected].