A new report from the Center for the Study of the American Dream shows that even while Americans distrust the government, they have faith in the American Dream.
Michael Ford, founding director of Xavier University's Center for the Study of the American Dream, will join The Daily Circuit Monday to discuss the report.
"I spent 35 years in politics and discovered that the American Dream is really the one unifying idea that anybody of any ideological political leaning could relate to," he said. "And I thought this is probably something worth trying to understand."
Faith in every institution has declined, except for the military, Ford said.
"Politics, government, business, media, religion, you can look at any of those and it's declined," he said. "People feel abandoned because these institutions used to be partners in dream achievement. How can we think the government is trustworthy when we have 80 percent of Americans who don't trust our basic institutions? What this means is the dream doesn't stop, but how you get there is complicated now or different."
What does 'The Dream' really mean, and how has it changed in the current economic state? We take a look at how the American Dream has transformed, and why our idea of 'The Dream' may not match up with America's current reality.
Tamara Draut, vice president of policy and programs at Demos, will also join the discussion.
"I define the American Dream as the idea that demographics are not destiny, being born to a poor family doesn't decide your future," she said. "On those things I'm pretty sure that people now see that we've had a real breakdown in the American dream. We're in a vicious cycle where we need the government to reinvigorate the dream and yet we've lost faith as a people that government can make that possible. It's very troubling."
You can't impose what the American Dream is on the next generation. It changes; there is no narrative.
Coming up at 9a this morning. A discussion on what the American Dream means today.
Michael Ford, Center for the American Dream
Tamara Draut, Vice president of policy and programs at Demos
RT @KerriMPR: How does your version of the American Dream match up with your reality? #dailycircuit @ 9.
Michael Ford: "Few ideas are as central to American self-identity as the 'American dream.' Politicians invoke it, immigrants pursue it, and despite unremittingly negative economic news, citizens embrace it. But what is the American dream? We began regular study of how people define and perceive the dream three years ago, and have discovered many misunderstandings worth a second look."
Demos: The State of Young America
Ford: Understanding the dream is confusing sometimes because we think of material objectives. ... It is really much bigger than that. It is quite simply about creating a better life for ones family. ... It is about striving. .. The state of the economy and the state of the dream shouldn't be conflated.
The "American Dream" for me is to be able to be financially independent, be able to afford a decent house, and have a nice car. It's not having to worry about a financial catastrophe if one little thing goes wrong, and it's about being able to live relatively stress-free. I don't need a huge house, and spending a ton of money on a depreciating asset, luxo-barge, is not my idea of a dream.
@Rick: So it is all about economics for you then? And living within your means?
Reaching the American Dream is an increasing challenge for Minnesota's families--Our recent study of MN's middle class: t.co
For me, the American dream is a story that, whether true or not, gives us a common narrative. That, in itself, is worth celebrating.
To me, the American dream means you can work hard and make a better life for yourself and your family. My husband is from Poland, came to the USA as a college educated man but had to start out delivering newspapers. He never gave up and today, he is the President of a local Minnesota company. Unfortunately, I think that the concept of hard work is lost on the 20 somethings of today who feel that things should be handed to them on a silver platter.
@Adam Copeland Do you think it matters what the common narrative is?
@Tonya Where do you see those attitudes from young people?
The American Dream
In my youth, my vision of the American dream was influenced by TV. It was largely Huxtabular. And somehow my adult life roughly fits that mold. I wonder if there are TV shows that define it for today’s youth?
@Michael Olson, MPR News I'm less concerned about what the actual narrative is. Compared to my experiences living in other countries, the fact that we claim a dream in the first place already sets us apart in helpful ways.
@Adam Copeland Can you elaborate on how having an "American Dream" sets us apart in "helpful ways"?
@Michael Olson, MPR News I have worked for a large fortune 100 company in MN and have several friends in management there who deal with this generation everyday. We are all in our late 30's and we often discuss how many young people just out of college seem to be lacking the work ethic and the drive to put in the time and effort to climb up the ladder. In my experience, if you put in the effort, you will be rewarded.
As a young person the American Dream to me is the guarantee of an equal opportunity to succeed as compared to every other person. What this means is that hard work, dedication, and good ideas are going to be the reasons for success; instead of heritage, parent's wealth, race, etc, being determinant factors in success. This is not the case in America right now, not everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed. What this shows me is that at the moment the American Dream might exist as an idea inside our minds, a powerful idea certainly, but still just an idea. This idea will propel some to greatness but the American Dream is now largely a myth.
We agree with the last caller. The American Dream is still alive today, despite tough economic times. Check out our research: www.xavier.edu/americandream
The original coining of "The American Dream" was based, I believe, on the opportunity to fulfill one's potential and strive toward ideals. The focus was not upon external rewards or circumstances--it did not have to do with material gains.
@Tonya Please don't belittle my generation. We work hard at what we do but a lot of us have chosen to focus our efforts on achieving happiness as opposed to financial gain. This does not mean we do not work hard it just means that we have a different definition of success and happiness. This is not necessarily a bad thing because a focus on something other than financial gain will be good for this country in the long run.
For me (a Boomer) the American Dream means living life on my terms and not working for the "Man" ever. See Paul Fussell's concept of the X person.
I would completely agree that the American Dream is not necessarily related to the Economy. The American dream since the Declaration of Independence has been the freedom to pursue one's own path to happiness. Thus, the Dream is different for every individual. For some, it is economic, for others social or religious or artistic or multi-generational. The key is that each individual decides for themselves. Unfortunately, NPR and the government don't seem to understand this and in the well-intentioned effort to make a better life for all wind up taking away much of the freedom that allows individuals to define the Dream for themselves.
A universal American Dream is a myth. Those who have no idea of the true nature of the global situation, in which most individuals exist, want the dream handed to them. Those who understand the advantages of even being a disadvantaged American want to fulfill their potential whatever it may be. There is no consensus.
Without a doubt, "The American Dream" is stongly rooted in the freedoms that this great country was founded on. The dream, to me at least, is the continued prosperity of the nation as a whole. Without that none of us would be able live well and laugh often.
The American Dream at heart is a protection of property and labor. In essence that striving will be rewarded and I agree that immigrants are the ultimate embodiment of this ideal and keep the dream fresh. However, the dream unevenly protects those with the most property by making Americans look inward to explain of their economic circumstances instead of at the economic system which they are apart of. Radical systemic reform is then never on the table, because failures are always individual.
We agree @Bill. We say it often but it bears repeating. It's wrong to confuse State of the Economy with State of the American Dream. www.xavier.edu/americandream
Ford: There is a certain amount of resentment by young people towards Boomers... that work came at a cost of family life.
I came to the US in 1997 and american dream definitely not about economy alone - it is about the freedom of being able to realize one's full potential which produces the economic benefit as a consequence. Lot of people who grew up here seem to lose sight of that as they focus on a lot of micro issues.
@Saeed Khan What kind of "micro issues" are you talking about?
To me, the American dream is that if you work hard, you can have a decent life, not be rich, but be comfortable and have some security. The reality, to me, is that this is a bad joke. Even with a college degree, your opportunities are limited and being reduced almost daily. Unless you already have financial independence, you aren't going to get there at much higher a rate than by hitting the lottery. It's who you know and what you already have, not how hard you work. Even with a degree, you have no security, and can't get ahead. I never wanted to move away from where I was raised, but instead I've moved 5 times to 4 different states just to have a job. Oh, and I do have one of those "desirable" science and engineering degrees, not some fluff degree in underwater basketweaving. I hate to break it to all of you, but all that gets you is another place as an expendable asset at a company, limited opportunities to advance, and a very narrow pipelining of your abilities.
What does the American Dream mean to you?
lot of things that might affect them in the short term like the wall street melt down in 2008 which in my view was a good thing for the long run as the end result will probably produce some sort of oversight over the workings of the traders and some sort of modification of how people do their business. So what I am saying that american dream is a work in progress and as long as it stays a work in progress based it will be alive.
I don't seem to hear a concrete definition of what the America Dream is but everyone, including your experts, keep referring to it as something that is definable and achievable. When you refer to the American Dream, I hear the common theme of stability in all parts of life which I think is a concept that people all over the world, not just America, would dream about.
@Mike How would you define it? Can it be defined?
The American dream is a myth designed to keep the masses in line. If you believe you can achieve anything, you are less likely to question the system that is run by millionaires and billionaires. They want you to believe you can be just like them so you don't question why the CEO makes 150+ times more than you do. When the richest 1% are our senators, congressmen and women, lobbyists, and presidents. Open your eyes and stop dreaming like a fool!
I would define it as a broad concept of thought that Americans use to motivate themselves into success. I could also say that it might be propaganda to get people to buy homes, cars, vacations, have families, etc., things that corporate America wants us to have so we spend spend spend, but do we need them or are we ready for them?
Do you think the low level of trust in the government is hurting the American Dream?
There's a good reason that there is more belief in the American dream in immigrants and new citizens than in those raised here. It's hard to keep the illusion up when you look closely at things for a long time.
81% of people responded that politicians have lost sight of the American Dream. How do you feel that affects our political system? www.xavier.edu/americandream
I think the size and scope of the government both lower the level of trust in government and hurt the American Dream by inevitably lessening our freedom to pursue our own American Dream.
This notion that the American dream wasn't about a material focus is ludicrous. The attempt to disconnect economics from 'the dream' is another way to discount the growing disparity between the obscene and meritless wealth of a very few, from the daily reality of the growing majority of disenfranchised Americans. The dream is not dying, it is deliberately being starved by the elevation of corporations to legal citizens. It is a historical bastardization of incorporation's purpose and usefulness to our country and communities.
What a bunch of whining losers. The reality of the dream is that you have to work hard and it appeals to those at the bottom because the American dream is to get to the middle class. Some of those born to the middle class now have an entitlement mentality and will be disappointed.
I find the idea that every generation should have it better than the previous generation, when it comes to the economic situation, to be offensive. We as a country cannot keep growing and growing and growing our economy and economic footprint. If that's the American dream, then it's the rest of the worlds' nightmare. I think making progress on social issues such as racism and sexual equality is a worthy goal and a dream worth having. In that sense, I hope my children have it better than me. But when it comes to my kids having a bigger house than me, that's just sounds like materialism, entitlement and hubris. As a privileged white male, I don't think it's something worth striving for. On the other hand, I think it's understandable that recent immigrants, oppressed minorities and people in the lower class reach for the "American dream," though I think it could better be characterized as striving for justice and a fair shake (and there's nothing uniquely American about those things).
@Mark in Ohio: Exactly correct.
I've seen a lot of posts woefully reminisce the "Good 'Ol Days". Most of these individuals seem to be out of touch with our "modern" economy. To achieve one's dreams of stability, comfort, and security today requires an individual willing to learn a new profession every year to hedge against the volatility of the market place. Self-teaching is no longer an option, it’s vital.
What a lot of people do not realize is that as there is a debate going on regarding that the government needs to be smaller or more efficient or should provide more proves that the american dream is still at work.
The American Dream is essentially about providing for one's children materially and educationally so that they are empowered to have a better life. In this spirit, John Adams once said "I practice business so my son can practice politics so his son can practice art
". The higher one's level of achievement, the higher the bar becomes. Thus developing-world immigrants are better able to realize the American Dream than native middle-class citizens.
I struggle with the idea of the American dream. I am 22 years old and just graduated college. I feel like their are a list of expectations built for my generation that don't accurately fit what we need. Go to high school, go straight to college, get a real job? But too many of us don't know what we want to do and leave with student loans and no job.
I can honestly say that my folks grew up poor, went to college, and got ahead. Even with a good college degree, I'll never make it as good as they did, and my story and circumstances are not unique. I work hard, but the opportunities aren't there.
@mike - apple valley
What a politically incorrect way to say what we are all thinking. ;)
I think that the American Dream still exists, but that the Playing Field has shifted significantly to the privelaged and the well connected. At age 52, with a Business degree from the U of MN and years of sales and mgmnt experience, I have been an unemployed job searcher for a couple of months. While I did find a job, thank God, I didn't feel that the American dream was even an option for me!
I am currently in law school. As the first person in my family to receive an advanced degree, i am bogged down with an insane amount of student debt. I still don't see myself being as financially secure as my boomer parents who benefited from union jobs and cheap interest rates. I'll be happy to get by and skate on the cultural capital a law degree holds.
Work hard and you will be rewarded for it.
I'm an immigrant
The American Dream....."True freedom requires sacrifice and pain. Most human beings only think they want freedom. In truth they yearn for the bondage of social order, rigid laws, materialism, the only freedom man really wants, is the freedom to become comfortable".
Echo back: No confidence that the government wont take what I've worked for, or change the rules when I'm half
The dream itself hasn't changed. People feeling they are entitled to the dream is what has changed.
@Peter: well put. The herd mentality of the FOX News' of the world have greatly tainted a large percentage of the population's beliefs and attitudes. it truly does take a village!
Michael Ford is going to join the live chat soon to talk about home ownership and the American Dream.
I think part of the middle class American dream often includes entry into the capital ownership class, which is not always a matter of classic hard-working values, but rather, connections and maneuvering. That realization seems to cause cynicism in some people and adaptation in others.
2Are they entitled by the fact that they are Americans? Thus, it is supposedly there dream?
@Al: Well said. I include social, judicial, and environmental justice with economic justice (improvement). The political system and to a great extent the public airwaves of our country has been taken captive by corporate / monied interests. Those interests have used their influence to unlink from the any sense of commonality with the vast majority of Gods creation.
While it is true that working hard does get you somewhere but you have to be smart about it as well. The future of our country depends on creating things, new ideas and the use of technology. People need to realize that working hard at a job that a machine can do doesn't get you anywhere in today's world...learning to operate that machine will get you job security and a rewarding career.
Special interests have always existed. As evidence I present the transcontinental railroad. Billed by the mile at the tax-payer's expense.
What's changed is government is being used and attempting to be used in new and exciting ways to provide hand-outs that have never been offered before.
Is home ownership part of the American dream? Not inherently. It may be for some, but it is an individual choice. BTW, I am a homeowner.
@Mark in Ohio It poses some interesting aspects especially when you consider the divide in the discussion about if the dream ties to economics or liberty.
@Mark in Ohio, Home ownership has been beaten into most people heads for so many years. Which can be seen by the oft heard saying "Throwing your money away by renting". There is something to be said to "owning, your slice of the pie", but look where that mentality got us...BTW I am currently in the market to buy a new home.
Home ownership was more of the ideal of the American Dream in the past but since the housing market collapsed home ownership has become less important. Today it is much more important to have a college degree in an in demand field or some sort of post secondary education that will get you a good job with job security.
I think for some European immigrants who populated the Midwest in particular, homeownership, or farmstead ownership, was a frustrated dream finally realized outside their feudal homelands.
And their praise for such has echoed down the generations, possibly skewing perception. That said, if we swing the other direction, with concentrated holding of real estate, we may become feudal ourselves.
The demands of the "Millennials" are going to have to be very carefully looked at as key component of the American Dream. While insulting to those in the current workplace, Why wouldn't they demand the maximum they can negotiate at the entry into the workforce? They watched their parents long term careers be lost to corporate restructuring? Gone are the days of lifetime employment. Don't expect them to be beholden to the "social contract" us Boomers bought into.
Whatever happened to laissez-faire?
@Neil in St. Paul
I aggree. Expecting someone else to take care of you is only guarenteed to get you what they want to give you, even if the expectation is job security.
Being a leisben today makes it impossible attain my American Dream. I cannot marry my partner which A) makes my persuit of happyness far off/ impossible B) because we cannot marry we are at that much of a disadvantage as far as fanacially able to own a home together because we are not able to take advantage of tax credits together and/or get a VA loan together.
Even before the recession the pie wasn't growing much faster than the population. Before and since income and wealth have been concentrating to the top. So, statistically, it is hardly surprising that fewer are getting ahead.
A mere 7% of Americans ranked homeownership as their first or second definition of the American Dream, beating "don't know" (6%) by a percentage point. Furthermore, our newest data confirms the declining place of home ownership with the eye-opening finding that today, 1 in 4 mortgage owners would be willing to walk away from their mortgage obligations, even if they can afford to pay. Against the backdrop of today’s economy, this indicates, among other things, that homeownership is more a personal financial choice than an American Dream. Currently, homeownership is often not seen as a good financial choice.
Our view is that persistently connecting homeownership with the Dream is a consequence of one of the greatest marketing campaigns in history, created by the real estate industry, builders and lenders in conjunction with the congressionally declared home loan interest deductions and a government-aided homeownership campaign starring Fannie and Freddie. The campaign created the Dream of homeownership, rather than responding to an existing need. Hollywood had a supporting role, beginning with films like "It's a Wonderful Life" wherein the Building and Loan industry-- depicted as neighbors taking care of neighbors -- was iconically romanticized. Mortgages were issued and managed locally. Today’s reality: millions of mortgages are bundled and sold as anonymous "Asset Backed Securities."
Now needs to become lucid!
The American Dream is a myth. My parents were both first generation college grads, and my sister and I are currently back in college because we realized after years of part-time and seasonal jobs that a bachelor's degree just isn't enough anymore. We need more education than those people currently holding positions we someday hope to get. The American Dream involves having more than your neighbor. It is impossible for everyone in the US to achieve their dream.
Is home ownership part of the American Dream?
I completely agree with you! I would also add that a college education has been a marketing campaign that rivals that of personal home ownership.
As the skills learned from earning college degrees have become less and less relevant to today's workplace, the necessity to earn a degree has only been emphasized further.
Home ownership stopped being a source of security and part of the American Dream when it was turned into a trade-able commodity by national banks. That disconnected the value from the local economy, geography and people of the communities in which the property exists. Large corporations have been allowed to return to their robber baron roots of pre-depression days. It's the same sad old tragedy of the commons; now elevated to a national policy by bestowing of legal personhood to a group of sociopathic organizations that are dedicated by design to the pursuit of profit - regardless the cost to others.
It's all very well to say that hard work, etc. will get you ahead but the truth is the United States ranks among the worst of the advanced nations in social mobility and, as I said before, it's not an expanding pie that's getting split except for those already at the top. See www.oecd.org and other studies to see that reality doesn't match aspirations. I'm with those who don't believe the institutions, including justice, are working as they should.
Have you ever considered moving to an industry with worker shortage? It will be less expensive than simply trying to out-do others in an over-crowded industry.
What we need is not so much a college degree (which takes 4 years and teaches very few skills that directly apply to an actual job), we need some new ideas when it comes to education. Perhaps we can teach high school grads in 6-12 months many of the newer skills required for today's jobs. Most people simply cannot afford the 4 year liberal arts degree any longer, it's just not worth what you pay for it.
@Not a Dreamer
Closing thoughts? I will close the chat down in about 10 mins.
The reason they call it the American Dream is because you have to be asleep to believe it.
@MPRnews It's called the American Dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it.
Those new to the workplace will be negotiating their place in the "American Dream" on the front end of their careers not the back and corporations will be well advised to acknowledge it.
'I'm the American dream.'
I think the lives and opportunities for people now in their 20s and 30s will change dramatically over the next 5 to 10 years due to demographics. Baby boomers will retire--not all at once, and maybe not when they had hoped to, but they will drop out of the labor force. The Minnesota state demographer's office projects a shortage of workers to fill available jobs in the not-too-distant future. Post-high-school training will be important for those who wish to fill these jobs, whether college or training in specific vocational skills. But jobs WILL be available, the labor market will be tight for skilled workers (hard to believe now, but just wait a few years), and employers will pay what is necessary to hire the people they want, as they did in the late 1990s, before the dotcom bubble burst. For skilled workers, it will be possible to live a version of the American dream. The biggest hurdle I see is the amount of debt many young people accumulate in the process of acquiring the skills required to enter the job market of the future.
@Not a Dreamer--Thanks for the suggestion. I must still believe in part of the American Dream because I am pursuing what I want to do professionally, with little success.
@MichaelOlson Liberty is among the three most fundamentally important aspects of the Dream, along with making a better life for my family and opportunity. Liberty is not the consequence of marketing but of striving. Property has always been fundamkental to the nation, as has been rights and the rule of law.
Interactive graphic: from GOOD.The American Dream
Our situation is not unique. My partner and I bought a home in south MPLS in 2008 with the "advantage" of the first-time homeowners' credit. We bought at $236K and the house is now worth $192K with no signs of it going in the other direction. Our taxes have been going up each year. I feel duped. We pay about $350 toward principle each month because of amortization and try to pay more. Even though we have good jobs, we are challenged to pay more than the mortgage once taxes, insurance, etc. are figured in. We aren't the last people to be duped by home ownership, but I'm disappointed that we weren't more assured about the myth of home ownership being a part of the dream. Meanwhile people who own pawn shops and run check cashing services are moving into the neighborhood. They might be the only ones in our area fulfilling their own American dreams by preying on the desperation of those left behind in the recession.
What ever happened to individuals going where opportunity exists? Trying to get a job in an overcrowded industry is just as ridiculous as a nomadic hunter following a squirrel rather than a herd of buffalo.
Every job search should start with "What industries are hiring", not "What do I want to do".
Thank you everyone for joining, also a special thanks to Michael Ford for jumping on here after his on-air appearance on The Daily Circuit.