The idea and meaning of the American Dream has changed over the last few decades. It was once an all inspiring goal to reach and is now a mixture of bewilderment and discontentment. The term American Dream was first used by James Truslow Adams in his book The Epic of America which was written in 1931. He states, “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.”
This statement encompasses many predictable factors. Circumstance of birth or position plays a major role in the American Dream coming to fruition. This ideal means many things to many people and success is relative to the dream holder. Advancing one’s career and homeownership has been the ideal that all Americans strive toward. In the midst of the most serious economic crisis in decades, many people are wondering if the American dream still exists.
Malcolm X, is an American Black Muslim minister and a spokesman for the Nation of Islam. He made this statement, “I don’t see any American dream; I see an American nightmare”. Malcolm X was pointing out the difference between the ideal and the reality; between what American stands for ideally (freedom and prosperity for all) and the reality that some Americans do not get a chance to realize that dream.
Although the United States was founded on equality, many believe that our country is governed by a group of out-of-touch politicians that have no idea what poverty or middle class is like. The corporate bailouts of 2008 doubled the amount of bailouts in the history of our nation. It has left citizens wondering who would pay for it and would it affect them by raising their taxes.
Corporate CEOs salary averages $11.4 million dollars while the average worker is $44,410. While corporate profits are at an all time high, the government reported that household income dropped more than 10% from 2007 to 2011. This is due mainly to rising inflation rates exceeding rising income levels. This polarizing of income has had its effects on the dream as well.
Lenient lending practices created the recent mortgage crisis. The high-risk homeowners were getting qualified for more than they could afford or at least stretching their paychecks to the maximum. Referred to as “predatory lending practices”, these loans got sold to the secondary mortgage market for a higher rate of interest. Any small change in the borrower’s status nearly sent them right into foreclosure. When the economy dipped, it set off a ripple effect of millions of homes ending up in receivership; a real blow to the American dream for some.
According to a survey done in 2009, most Americans believe that hard work and education are the key to upward mobility. Most believe (79%) that it is still possible to achieve success. They should keep in mind Adam’s words, “each according to ability or achievement.” Although the American dream is still alive, it is relative to each person’s situation.