The American Dream

The New York Times asked people: How Did the American Dream Die For You? (A leading question if there ever was one)

Below are sample responses.

You know what I see in these comments? I see people who don’t understand the American dream and whose expectations are unrealistic and perhaps assume an easier path than ever existed. I also see people who are prone to looking for others and circumstances to blame. I have highlighted some of the statements I see indicative of my perception.

LIANNA EVANS CLOVIS, CALIF. Born in 1978 I grew up in poverty. I graduated high school at 15, had a child at 16 and went to college when I was 21. I’ve worked for state and federal government for almost 20 years and have too little to show for it. Without family support I took out student loans that have crippled me ever since. No assets, less than $60k in retirement, five kids, and a doctoral degree that pays less than an RN. How is my dream even a dream at this point? It’s only a wish. …

KAREN KIMMERLY WILLIAMSBURG, OHIO When the auto plant where both I and my husband worked closed in 2008. He was able to move to another plant; I regret to say that I took a buyout to go back to school. Now, multiple degrees later, I earn less than half of what I did as a skilled trades person with a good union job. I have a master’s degree and I love my job as a public librarian, but if anything happened to my husband I would be unable to support myself.

FRANKLIN PEÑA BRONX, N.Y. The first day I landed in Los Angeles. I realized the concepts of inclusion and progression didn’t have me or my people in mind. I realized my community is expected to work for others but never develop sustainability outside the realm of manual labor. It was the day my soul split in two. My disappointment and ambitions exist within my pursuit of happiness. My American dream died, but not my desire to be great.

JUSTIN IOWA When I saw the wage breakout for my company.My boss made $400k while the average worker made $35k. The death, though, was the year he decided not to award raises or bonuses to anyone but himself. He took the entire $300k pool of money that should have been divided between the employees, and then told everyone the company was struggling.

KIMBERLEY BERRY DENVER The day I realized that no matter how hard I work, or how smart and educated I am, as a Black woman in America I will always be perceived as invisible.

Obituaries for the American Dream

A few things about the American dream:

  • Our streets were never paved with gold or an easy route to success
  • Never in the history of our nation have people not struggled, and especially minorities and immigrants who were different.
    • Untold millions have overcome those obstacles
  • A college degree, multiple college degrees, guarantee nothing. Conversely, not having a degree does not prevent success.
  • In 2020 there are more safety nets, more tax advantages for average Americans and more laws protecting minorities and the disadvantaged than anytime in the Country’s history
  • Americans have survived a revolution, civil war, world wars, multiple economic crisis, depression, political turmoil and more and the Dream has endured … if you understand what it is.
  • The choices one makes, attitude, grit and motivation have more to do with reaching the American or any other dream than any external factors.
  • No goal worth achieving is easy to achieve.


  1. I disagree with this: “A college degree, multiple college degrees, guarantee nothing. Conversely, not having a degree does not prevent success.” My father was a highly intelligent man, but whose lack of a college degree put a ceiling on what he could accomplish and how much money he could make. He was forced to drop out of college for lack of funds during the Depression. On the other hand, I have 3 degrees from good schools, and that has helped me a lot — not so much money-wise as in job satisfaction.


  2. Did they ask others to confirm how they realized the American dream? And, just what is the American dream, anyway?

    The American Dream is the belief that anyone, regardless of where they were born (including outside of our country) or what class they were born into, can attain their own version of success in America – a place where upward mobility is possible for everyone. Historically, the American Dream has been achieved through sacrifice, risk-taking, and hard work, rather than by chance.

    The term was coined in James Truslow Adams 1931 best-seller – “Epic of America” – “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.”

    According to ability or achievement… repeat that again According to ability or achievement….

    “… It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

    The idea of the American Dream has much deeper roots. Its tenets can be found in the Declaration of Independence, which states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

    Achieving the American Dream requires political and economic freedom, as well as rules of law and private property rights. Without them, individuals cannot make the choices that will permit them to attain success, nor can they have confidence that their achievements will not be taken away from them through arbitrary force.

    Each of us has the opportunity to define success, and to pursue it. So, the dream has been realized for all … the dream is not the attainment of wealth, the dream is a “social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable,”

    That is, the dream is not measured by outcomes, but by opportunity.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Sure. Importantly, some will realize their own American Dream, some will not. But, almost all have the opportunity … whatever they may be dreaming about. That’s been true for over a century. Hopefully, it will remain true for centuries to come.

        However, others want to measure this solely in terms of economic mobility. My problem with most of those measures is that they use a snapshot. And, when they do, they miss the actual mobility. For example, in the 1970’s, in my early adult years, my net worth was less than $0. It isn’t today, but that wasn’t and still isn’t MY American dream. It has been about education, making a contribution, being a good parent. Did I fail along the way? Yes, I flunked out of college, wasn’t a very good soldier after getting drafted, family dislocation, etc.

        For comparison, my parents never really made it out of the lowest or second lowest quintile – for those who want to measure the dream based on income or wealth. But, if you measure the dream based on change from stature at birth, my parents achieved their version of the American dream – five children, all who attended college, citizenship for my immigrant mom, etc. But, did my mom get to go to college, no. Did she get to travel extensively throughout the world (per her dreams), no, not really. Did my dad get to attend Case Institute of Technology on the full scholarship he received, no, he ended up in the steel mills to feed his parents and siblings during the Great Recession, then WWII.

        But even if you want to measure based on economics, consider that a February 2019 survey commissioned by AEI found 94 percent of us think a successful career is essential or important to our view of the American Dream, while 84 percent cited having a better quality of life than their parents. And if so, read the following that confirms three evidence-driven assertions which counter the negative narrative most people hear:
        First, wages have not been stagnant for decades,
        Second, income growth has not been stagnant for decades:
        Third, most Americans in their 40s are doing better than their parents were doing during their 40s.


        God bless America.


  3. “Had a child at 16 and went to college when I was 21 … Without family support I took out student loans that have crippled me ever since. No assets, less than $60k in retirement, five kids”

    With these kinds of choices she shouldn’t have been expecting to be able to participate in the American Dream.


  4. The American Dream are for those who are asleep. Now goals are a different thing all together. I raised four children from 1978 to 2009 on an average income of just $12,000, with my highest year being $35,000 in 1995. I never owned more than one car at a time, doing all the maintenance and repairs myself. None of my children had a drivers license while they lived with me. Many years there was no home phone, cable TV or internet. I delivered newspapers to earn an extra $600 per month for 22 months in Montana 2005 / 2006, 27 degrees below 0, 10 inches of snow on the ground. I cannot believe how many kids have their own cell phone, tablet, video game consoles, but no college savings, or no family emergency funds. Credit card debt is at an all time high, because people have forgotten the word NO! Too many people do not know the difference between needs and wants. It is sad that – KAREN KIMMERLY above says – if anything happened to my husband I would be unable to support myself. What no life insurance? If they have kids there are survivor benefits, if one parent dies. Poor financial planing is a major problem in America. A financial planner once told me you need at a minimum a five year financial plan and a monthly budget or you will have a hard time improving your standard of living or a least being able to maintain it. I am sure about 70% of Americans have zero plan or budget.


    1. I am going to steal your line. If you want the American dream, wake up and get to work. Nobody is going to give it to you.


  5. Came from a broken home, white privilege and affirmative action prevented me from applying for my dream government job. Ended up taking an alternate route through the military, got a better job, earned my degree, and retired early because of hard work. The American dream was possible but there is no guarantee that all dreams will come true. Equal opportunity does not mean equal outcomes.

    However, I do fear for my grand children’s chance at the American dream. I did not serve my country, my state, and my local community to live under a socialist nation. If it doesn’t happen this election it is only a few years away. Everyday, people are willing to give up their freedoms to big tech and the government. People are just waiting to be told what to do or to have things given to them. It is sad. This isn’t a republican / democrat statement. It is a fact that people believe in a total democracy or majority mob rule instead of the constitutional republic that we are. People think that if 51% of the people want something, they are going to get it, no matter what the consequence is. Everything cannot be free for everybody. That will be unsustainable. Liberty is being dropped from the American dream. The republic was setup so that the elect officials will make the tough choices which they failed to do for decades now.


  6. I worked full-time to pay for 10 years of night school only to later be passed over for several promotions. Not being the correct affirmative action gender and/or ethnicity “minority”ruined my American dream…so where is my “white privilege” ?


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