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Preserving the American Dream

1/11/2011, 9:28 a.m.
“Maybe I can do better if I can have the...
“Maybe I can do better if I can have the American Dream.”

Preserving the American Dream

The principle of America as the Land of Liberty has survived despite organized attacks on that notion. From the nation’s founding, wealthy citizens of the Confederacy insisted that the slavery of other human beings was acceptable. To establish that right they engaged in the Civil War which cost an estimated 620,000 lives. This is a higher toll than Americans have suffered in any war in which the United States has been involved.

Despite this conflict the nation survived and demonstrated the efficacy of the democratic process in coping with opposing political views. The nation that had paid such a dear price for freedom developed the reputation as the Land of the Free. Not only did America offer political freedom, but its industrial development offered business opportunities and the hope of freedom from want and poverty.

Americans have a belief that through hard work, everyone can improve their economic circumstances. Those who do not see greater wealth in their lifetime feel assured that their efforts will at least provide opportunities for their children. But now as America must compete in an industrializing world, the assurance of economic success has diminished.

With political freedom more assured, the American Dream has become primarily the ability to move up the economic ladder. Television and Hollywood films provide a dramatic vision of what economic mobility looks like. Economic success is what the political battle in Washington is now all about. Republicans believe that the government must not impose any impediments to private enterprise. Democrats believe that the government must assure a minimal standard of living for everyone.

When evaluating different economic policies, it is well to understand that (according to the U.S. Census) the poverty rate in America in 2009 had risen to 14.3 percent, the highest level since 1994. One in five children lives in poverty. The poverty income level in 2009 was $10,830 for an adult and $22,058 for a family of four.

The 14.3 percent rate is the average for all Americans. The rate for non-Hispanic whites was only 9.4 percent, compared to 25.8 percent for blacks and 25.3 percent for Hispanics. The state with the highest percentage of citizens living below the poverty line is Mississippi, with a rate of 21.9 percent.

The Pew Charitable Trusts has established the Economic Mobility Project to determine the vitality of the American Dream. Some of the results of the project should be a major concern for black leaders. A project report found that 42 percent of children born to parents at the bottom of the income ladder remain there for the rest of their lives. With a poverty rate of 25.8 percent for blacks, a substantial number of the next generation of black children is condemned to economic failure.

An even more depressing report is that almost half of black children born to parents in the middle class fall to the bottom of the income ladder. This means that blacks are unable to sustain their economic progress into the next generation.

America fought a battle to determine whether the nation would tolerate slavery or would be free. The battle now is to redefine the American Dream of economic success. Of course for the super-talented the sky’s the limit, but what standard of living should every law abiding American have a right to expect? Even an advertisement for Herbert Hoover’s presidential campaign promised in 1928 “a chicken in every pot. And a car in every backyard, to boot.”

Conservatives oppose the concept of governmental entitlements, but the nation’s unity and strength will be seriously impaired if the American Dream becomes a cruel delusion.