“The American Dream”

This topic is a difficult one. It is difficult for me because I have seen the effects of “The Great Recession” on my own family and friends. Although young, I am not blind and not unaware of what has happened to this country. I just don’t know what the answer is, but the start is surely to look at the truth.

Our grandparents who fought in World War Two or other wars such as Korea and Vietnam believed in “The American Dream.” Most of us grew up believing in such a dream – the idea that no matter where we came from we could succeed. If we grew up in a suburb, we could aspire to upper class. If we grew up in the upper class, we could aspire to luxury.

Most of all, though, if we grow up in poverty we were not locked in to that lifestyle. Instead, we had the opportunity to move up. Moving up is what our parents wanted for us. It is why they worked as hard as they worked, and kept the faith against all odds. Many parents worked two or three jobs just to survive and to keep their children healthy. Often, these were the same parents who stayed up late at night making sure their children were safe and not getting into trouble. The main reason they did this was because they loved their children. But the other reason was because they had hope that working hard and doing right would create the opportunity for a better life for their children.

Maybe most of all, and this one is hard to say, the way out of poverty was always believed to be education. Is that still true? I hope it is.

My interviews included people from all walks of life, and it was difficult sometimes to hear their stories. Let’s start with an easy one. Tom’s finances were secure. He is a physician, and as a physician he has a good heart. But Tom saw a serious drop-off in his income to the point that in his 60s he had to sell the house that his family grew up in. It’s not that he was hurting for money or anything. It’s just that to keep the lifestyle that he and his wife had become used to he and she had to do something that many people would consider drastic – selling the home that you always believed your children and your grandchildren would return to year after year, especially at the Holidays which is where we are now.

Tom and his wife are fine, but their level of wealth is not what is used to be. When they were younger, they were actually more wealthy, and they thought things would only get better as they had fewer expenses with their daughters grown up. Instead, their fortunes are worse. It’s not because of bad investments or anything like that. Instead, it’s because he couldn’t depend on the income that he thought was steady.

Let’s go next to Hattie. She is a custodian at a major university. She told me that when she started working here she believed that her pension would take care of her. Well, maybe it will, but Hattie is not so sure. There are cuts in the state government budgets that in some way that I don’t understand affect the amount of income she will get and which will affect the retirement income she is allowed to get when she retires.

Let’s move on to a school-teacher who has devoted her life to the healthy development of pre-school children. My aunt, Donna, always believed that children ought to come first. That is why she is a pre-school teacher. Donna has two children of her own now, and she lives a happy life. But her happiness comes more from her children and her happy marriage to her husband Jake than it comes from any sense that they are financially secure. You would think that two people working full-time and raising two beautiful children wouldn’t have to worry about surviving. But they do worry.

Finally, my grandmother. My grandfather passed away last fall and my grandmother is doing her best to stay cheerful when she is around the rest of us. She is not just sad, though. She is worried, and even I can see it. My Mom told me that my grandmother is getting only some of the money from Social Security that she and my grandfather used to get, and she is worried when she hears stories on the news about Congress even thinking about cutting benefits to senior citizens.

Preparing for this essay was helpful to me because it gave me the opportunity to put in writing some of the things that have bothered me in recent years. It is clear that none of these problems are anything that can be blamed on the good people who have raised me. Something is very wrong in a country that is based on opportunity but seems to be dragging that opportunity away from people just when they need it most. I talked to my Dad about this paper before writing it, and he said that he wonders what our grandfathers would say about the United States as it has come to be today.

My hope is that we will find a better path. Studying United States history teaches us that this country is able to deal with problems that are almost unbelievable, such as slavery, the bad treatment of women, civil rights, and attacks on the freedoms of our Constitution. I am hopeful that we will be equally able to take on the big issue of economic unfairness, so that my children will grow up with the same faith in “The American Dream” that was instilled in us when we were little.