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The American Dream is Rather a Myth than a Reality

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The American dream is a concept rooted in the cornerstone of the American culture. It is a term that signifies more than just hope and aspiration – it is the embodiment of the American spirit. The American dream – officially termed in 1931 by historian Truslow Adams – proposes the idea that in America, financial freedom, social equality, and a high standard of living can be achieved by hard work. This motivating idea, ingrained in the hearts of millions of honest, hardworking Americans, will only be a myth that exacerbates the socioeconomic divide across American households according to Nobel-prized economist Joseph Stiglitz. Nonetheless, this widely regarded myth continues to motivate Americans to persevere in school and at work in hopes of reaping the incentives of living in America. Moreover, the promising prospects of living in America also drive a wave of immigrants that seek to have a taste of the American dream – yet none of these aspiring immigrants have truly witnessed the reality of living in this country.

The reality is that the American dream is an absolute myth manifested by a faulty education system that led to socioeconomic disparities and inadequate social welfare policies that contribute to a rise of poverty-stricken households that will never have the chance to experience the promise of financial freedom.

By far, the most significant aspect of the American dream is the promise of education. Education not only provides a breeding ground for intellectual and interest development, but it also gives students an opportunity to expand their social network. However, this promise of education is simply a myth as students are challenged by a multitude of problems that inherently limit their chance of pursuing education. Debilitating factors such as cost of education, increasing competition, and lack of public school funding all contribute to the decline of graduation rates and more importantly, discourage students from advancing into higher education like college and graduate school. These trends are particularly concerning because according to a 2017 article, the United States continues to spend less money each year on education despite being one of the largest economic and political powerhouses on the globe. More specifically, the U.S spends approximately $11,319 per student – a 5% decline from previous years – whereas other less developed nations like Turkey, Israel, and Portugal are increasing educational expenditures by 76%, 32%, and 24% respectively within a span of 4 years. What is more concerning is that the reduced budget on education is channeled into correctional facilities like prisons to accommodate for the mass incarceration rates in the last decade. The ultimate tradeoff is that students are unable to thrive in school due to cuts in sports programs, recreational activities, and after-school programs. Especially for high school students, the lack of educational funding becomes a significant drawback as financial aid programs are unable to offer adequate loan programs for students to enroll in their dream colleges, and even worse, federal loaning services are beginning to increase interest rates making it more difficult for students to repay their loans. Consequently, the chance of acquiring a solid education at private universities are reserved for the wealthy and established households – or as most people refer to as the 1%. As for the 99% of the population, or perhaps the working and middle class families, the American dream is out of reach.

Perhaps the consequence of educational inequality is difficult to comprehend without considering its repercussions on household income and job prospects. Unlike the American dream, educational inequality is not a myth. In fact, educational inequality is clearly defined in educational research as various study finds conclusive evidence that household income is an imperative factor associated with college attendance. New studies find that over 64% of students residing in low income household ($325,000 per year) attended a private or public institution. Similar reports find within the top 38 universities across America, students from high income families are twice as likely to gain admission compared to their low-income counterparts. In a 2015 interview with CNN Money, the accomplished Nobel-prized economic Joseph Stiglitz explains this phenomenon as “income segregation”, in America in which the household income is the central factor the divides America into two distinct populations: the rich and the poor. Particularly concerning educational outcomes, Stiglitz contend that students from high-income families have a wealth of educational resources that students from working class families may not necessarily be able to afford, which include access to tutoring services, online text solutions, costly preparation booklets for standardized exams, etc. Still, there are definitive social factors that are made distinct as a result of household income discrepancies. Stiglitz finds that students in wealthy families are, on average, three times more as likely to acquire internship opportunities, twice as likely to be involved in an educational or recreational sports program, and score over nearly one deviation higher on standardized examinations compared to low income students. According to Stiglitz, even living in a different geographic location can affect educational outcomes as wealthier cities have high educational budgets to support more enriching academic programs and are able to afford well-trained, experienced teachers to help students succeed.

Inherently, the American dream is further diminished by the unequal access to job opportunities as students from high-income families are more likely to land a job in high-paying industries such as biotechnology and computer sciences, while students form working class families are likely to acquire minimum wage jobs or become unemployed in search of better job opportunities that they are less qualified for. In a study conduct by Chief Information Officer (CIO) magazine, it was discovered that students from low-income households fall into a “vicious cycle”, which is a socioeconomic term that theorizes the perpetuation of an income divide as different life chances – produced by household income discrepancies – limit students from significantly deviating from their current socioeconomic conditions. To put it simply: the rich stays rich while the poor stays poor. This is an inevitable fact that threatens the prospects of the American dream because people cannot use work ethic and merit to reconstruct their socioeconomic status and achieve the financial freedom that they aspire to attain. The American dream is simply a myth when the quantitative data suggests that unemployment rates are continuing to grow across America, which have implications because the lack of a stable income prevents individuals and families from achieving two big aspect of the American dream: to purchase a house and start a family. In the same study, CIO magazine reports that the rise in occupational competitiveness intrinsically limits the chance for social mobility by students from low-income households because businesses make hiring decisions based on college attendance and experiences, all of which are subpar for individuals from working class families compared to their wealthier counterparts. Moreover, high-earning parents can play a role in the educational and occupation success of their children. Stiglitz finds that children in wealthier households have greater parental interaction due to the flexibility of working schedules and often gain early exposure to competitive occupational fields such as computer sciences or the health sectors because of parental involvement in such fields. As an example, a computer scientist may help their child develop and interest in the same field by exposing them to rudimentary programming at an early age or perhaps, paying for educational training camps and internships that allows their children to gain a head start over their peers.

Evidently, the American dream is a myth. Achieving financial security through a high-paying job and establishing a comfortable and prosperous family environment is simply limited by a multitude of factors that seem to only apply to those that are born into such families. Despite these concerning trends, there has not been a significant amount of social reforms and policy changes that help alleviate these statistics, and as a result, the American dream will always remain as an iconic phrase – a dream that can never truly be reached for 99% of people. Moreover, at this astonishing pace of economic growth in America, it seems that the American dream is becoming more distant as educational competition continues to soar and college acceptances are continuing to drink at an alarming rate. At the heart of the issue, education is the crux that prevents the American dream from becoming a reality. That being said, it is time for America to place more resources in restructuring the educational system in order to give immigrants and low-income students a chance to experience the American dream.

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