Is the American Dream Dead?

by Dr. Jennifer Charles

The American Dream is the idea that there is equal opportunity available to any American in America, allowing the highest aspirations and goals to be achieved. The American Dream was first defined by James Truslow Adams in 1931. He explained it as “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.”

The American Dream is the reason refugees worldwide make life-threatening journeys just to set foot on American soil to have their chance at that opportunity — an opportunity to live in a country where people succeed not by the color of their skin, socio-economic background, family name or connections; a country where people thrive solely on their own hard work and effort.

When my family immigrated to his country back in the early ’80s, it was for the opportunity. My parents were not wealthy, they didn’t know anyone in this country, and all the people they had known back home had made it to America years earlier. Barely even knowing the language, they saved up until they could achieve homeownership and open their own business. They both worked two and three jobs to send their children to school for a good education. We were told that if we put our minds to it, we could succeed and live a more comfortable life here in America.

But is the American Dream still obtainable? Or has it died?

The United States ranked 27th in The Global Social Mobility Index in 2020, out of 82 countries, with Denmark at number one and the Ivory Coast as number 82. That means that people in 26 countries of those surveyed have a higher likelihood of raising themselves from poverty to middle class or middle class to upper class than someone in America.

When surveyed, more than 70% of Americans still believe they can achieve any goal if they work hard. However, what they get wrong is the environment that supports them. The environment — meaning their country, the United States of America — needs to be a supportive place of upward mobility and opportunities. Unfortunately, upward mobility saw a sharp decline in the 1980s and has been going down ever since. Although the reasons vary among education, marriage and connections, to name just a few, Americans still have hope.

They have hope because they aren’t looking at the vast legal regulations that actually contribute to income inequality and stifle upward mobility, thus killing the American Dream.

Regulations: Small businesses are the backbone of the American economy; they create jobs and increase economic growth. But now, it is becoming increasingly difficult for a business to go from the ground up because of regulations. For example, if a business wants to open a restaurant, it must obtain at least 42 permits and approvals.

Taxes: In the United States, the ultra-rich actually pay less taxes than the middle class. Wealthy people saw record tax cuts, with generous cuts in estate tax, income tax and corporate tax. All of that has brought more money into the hands of wealthy people. As prices rise due to inflation, rich people can remain more than comfortable as the middle and lower classes struggle to keep up.

Education: The type of education a child gets in school is primarily determined by their school. While wealthy people can afford to send their children to private schools or live in areas with good school districts, most middle- and lower-class children attend public schools in so-so neighborhoods. Meaning they will be at a disadvantage to their wealthy counterparts from the start. Not only that, but college tuition is out of control. Students whose parents cannot pay for their education accumulate crippling debts, which push them further behind.

The American Dream is still alive for those willing to work hard and break their backs so they can give their children a chance at something better than what they had. But because of high taxes and excessive regulations, people are working longer hours for less money. Nevertheless, the American Dream is still possible. It’s just more challenging to obtain it.

Jennifer Charles, Ph.D., is a product of Haitian Immigrants. She is the inventor of the Boosting Healthy Habits app and owner of Building Block Resolutions. Her company provides therapy for children with autism, parent coaching, and crisis management for business.

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