Death of the dream

Confirmation has finally come after many years suspecting it, the American Dream is dead, and has been for decades.

An article in Foreign Affairs argues this and elobrates on this theme. She argues that during the recent presidential campaign both GOP and Democrats wanted to promote opportunity. She notes that “In remarks in Chicago in August, Obama called for an ‘America where no matter who you are, no matter what you look like, no matter where you come from, no matter what your last name is, no matter who you love, you can make it here if you try.’ The same month, he urged the Supreme Court to uphold affirmative action in public universities, putting his weight behind what has been a mainstay of U.S. equal opportunity legislation since the 1960s. Days later, the Republican vice presidential nominee, Paul Ryan, echoed Obama’s sentiment, saying, ‘We promise equal opportunity, not equal outcomes.’ Romney, too, argued that whereas Obama ‘wants to turn America into a European-style entitlement society,'”

She mentions that “one of the United States’ major successes in the last half century has been its progress toward ensuring that its citizens get roughly the same basic chances in life, regardless of gender or race”. She adds “women are more likely to graduate from college than men” as well as some other related statistics. Yet these results are mainly from the Great Compression in the 1950s and 1960s. However, since the 1970s and 80s worldwide inequality has risen sharply since the rise of neoliberalism and effectively zero regulation. She adds that “As gender and race have become less significant barriers to advancement, family background, an obstacle considered more relevant in earlier eras, has reemerged. Today, people who were born worse off tend to have fewer opportunities in life”.

The article goes on to add that ” there is general consensus among social scientists on a few basic points. First, an American born into a family in the bottom fifth of incomes between the mid-1960s and the mid-1980s has roughly a 30 percent chance of reaching the middle fifth or higher in adulthood, whereas an American born into the top fifth has an 80 percent chance of ending up in the middle fifth or higher. (In a society with perfectly equal opportunity, every person would have the same chance — 20 percent — of landing on each of the five rungs of the income ladder and a 60 percent chance of landing on the middle rung or a higher one.) This discrepancy means that there is considerable inequality of opportunity among Americans from different family backgrounds”. She the goes on to mention, not suprisingly, that “The United States has less relative intergenerational mobility than eight of them; Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom all do better. The United States is on par with France and Italy”.

She makes the point that education in America was greatly expanded in the 50s and 60s which raised living standards for people, yet she adds “The share of poorer children growing up with both biological parents has fallen sharply, whereas there has been less change among the wealthy. About 88 percent of children from high-income homes grow up with married parents. That is down from 96 percent four decades ago. Meanwhile, only 41 percent of poorer children grow up in homes with married parents, down from 77 percent four decades ago. That has hurt poorer children’s chances of success”.

Indeed this social and familial decay is becoming increasingly prevelant in more developed countries as the corrosive force of individualism eats into society. This both attacks the family as well as people seeking to start a family with the relentless drive for money which has now proven to be socially and morally corrosive.

She argues that “Low-income parents are not able to spend as much on goods and services aimed at enriching their children, such as music lessons, travel, and summer camp. Low-income parents also tend to read less to their children and provide less help with schoolwork” adding that this trend is seen again, “According to data compiled by Sean Reardon of Stanford University’s School of Education, the gap in average test scores between elementary- and secondary-school children from high-income families and those from low-income families has risen steadily in recent decades. Among children born in 1970, those from high-income homes scored, on average, about three-quarters of a standard deviation higher on math and reading tests than those from low-income homes. Among children born in 2000, the gap has grown to one and a quarter standard deviations. That is much larger than the gap between white and black children”.

The same is true for university, she argues noting “The share of young adults from high-income homes that got a four-year college degree rose from 36 percent in the first group to 54 percent in the second group. The share from low-income homes, however, stayed almost flat, rising only from five percent to nine percent. When it comes time to get a job, the story is no better”.

She writes that “A universal system of affordable, educational child care and preschool could help close the capability gap that opens up during the early years of life”, again she argues that education is key, “Among Americans whose family incomes at birth are in the bottom fifth but who get four-year college degrees, 53 percent end up in the middle fifth or higher. That is pretty close to the 60 percent chance they would have with perfectly equal opportunity. Washington needs to do better at helping people from less-advantaged homes afford college. The average in-state tuition at an American four-year public university exceeds $8,000. In Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland, attending four-year public universities is free”.

One of the simplest ways to begin to reduce the inequality is to raise taxes and a country that is clearly undertaxed.

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2 Responses to “Death of the dream”

  1. yourothermotherhere Says:

    Does this surprise anyone at all?

  2. Order and Tradition Says:

    […] problems in modern America, from their obsession of cutting taxes to higher rates of poverty and reduced social mobility to shutting down the government they have helped bring America to where it is […]

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