You are on page 1of 7

1

David Dunkelberg
English 102
Professor Cameron Bandera
28 October 2015
Giving the American Dream Meaning Again
The ability to start from nothing. The perseverance to come back from something. The
provision to look forward to everything. This is the American Dream. This is what so many come
to America to reach, to feel, to experience for themselves. The stories and tales of opportunity all
arise from here. They all come up from the drive and hard work of those seeking to achieve it.
But as a country, there seems to be distance from this meaning, with a need to get it back.
How does the American Dream apply to those living here and immigrants coming to
America seeking a brighter future? This question can be answered from personal stories, such as
Kevin Maggiacomo, an Italian third generation American who is the President and CEO of
Sperry Van Ness, a globally recognized commercial real estate brand. His grandparents moved to
the United States looking to become prosperous. His explanation in his TEDx Talk video of the
shifting definition of the American Dream helps to understand the poverty line that is unstable in
the United States. This is important to understand because it makes it more difficult to argue the
dream against poverty because of its continuous fluctuations. This, in turn, requires the
knowledge of concretely defining the American Dream: an ability to reach a comfortable state;
not thinking one will achieve extreme wealth, living a lavish lifestyle, rather a comfortable life,
with resources to live a way that gives families the ability to provide.
One of the biggest arguments against the American Dream is the poverty line, and how it
keeps getting worse within the United States. People argue that since the poverty line is so high,

Dunkelberg 2
it becomes impossible for people to gain any ground to get started working towards a brighter
future. The poverty within America is affected by the economic mobility of the country, and its
trend to move up and down. Kraus and Nussbaums article American Dream? Or Mirage? in
The New York Times suggests, Americans across the economic spectrum of the nation have
misjudged the amount of upward mobility in society. This suggests conservatives see our society
as more merit-based than liberals view it. This point allows both sides of the political spectrum
to enter the argument. 55 percent of Republicans claim the American Dream is still achievable,
as well as 53 percent of Democrats believing the same (Henderson). These percentages show
that between political parties, over 50 percent of people on both sides believe that the upward
trend in mobility gives way to hope that the dream can still be attained. Sawhill and Morton, a
senior fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution and a director of the Economic
Mobility Project, provide information that there is less economic mobility in the country than
what has been presumed. The last thirty years has seen a considerable drop-off in median
household income growth compared to earlier generations (Sawhill, Morton). House-hold
income affects the mobility of the country because it is not only the money being brought into a
family by father or mother to provide a living for their children and themselves, but it is also a
future to set up our children with a chance at living above the poverty line, through providing the
ability for education, allowing for jobs that the children can turn into work and payment to do the
same for their children.
One of the major differences between Democrats and Republicans is their stance on
government aid. While Republicans traditionally view government aid as a source of many
issues, Democrats see the programs as giving people the ability to get started with full benefits.
The issue here is that both of these views create problems. The American Dream is still

Dunkelberg 3
attainable, but through the use of these policies not to provide a living, but a start. In How to
Revive the American Dream, the closing statements revolve around the idea that the key lies in
rebuilding the middle class (Warren, De Blasio). De Blasio, mayor of New York City and
Warren, a Massachusetts Senate representative believe in governmental policies to make a
difference. In order to acquire the American Dream, it needs to be molded and changed from
what it once was.
A problem that arises here is how people do not understand the need to shift their
viewpoint of the American Dream to the current society being live in. This is evident in Diane
Roberts article Want to get Ahead? Move to Denmark, when the prosperity in other countries
such as Denmark is discussed. She states, The American income inequality is becoming
increasingly third world (Roberts). This view is limited to observing the economy for what it
was and currently isas Roberts says, third world. The way to reach this is not through where
the country presently is; otherwise this would not be an argument. Rather, to look at how the
economy, inequality, and poverty can be reshaped and refocused in order to make the dream a
reality.
The idea that poverty needs to be ended in a sense related to the current upward situation
of our economy is apparent, but what is needed to ensure the poverty cycle is reversed and
children can become great parents and leaders, succeeding in the American Dream? Daniel
Cornfields article: Ending Poverty in America: How to Restore the American Dream, provides
a clear representation of the processes and programs in place to help smooth the transition from
poverty to becoming middle class. Cornfield, a professor in sociology at Vanderbilt University,
discusses the solution to ending the poverty is within the help aided through governmental
programs, such as college education, income tax credits, health insurance, and affordable

Dunkelberg 4
childcare. This view is given to those who are already struggling well below the poverty line,
needing something to get out. One of the biggest issues behind this theory is finding the right
balance, because as history shows, there were and likely still are welfare queens out there who
will live off of the governmental benefits, with no desire to move up because the benefits are
providing more than enough. This reaches back to the economy, which is heavily influenced by
governmental spending. Enter the Great Gatsby Curve. The Great Gatsby Curve that Corak
shows in his article, How to Slide Down the Great Gatsby Curve, a statistical based analysis
of inequality associated with less economic mobility across the generations based on countries
and disposable household income. Miles Corak is a professor of economics with the Graduate
School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa. He defines three
important areas for children development in the American Dream and coming out of poverty.
The stronger and more enriching the family environment, the more equal the life chances of
children. The more equal the labor market, the more equal the life chances of children. And the
more progressive public policies in place, the more equal the life chances of children. These
three key factors allow children across the country to rise out of poverty and seek success.
Establishing equilibrium in the labor market between those here and those coming here is key to
providing children future opportunity. The foundation of opportunity and economic mobility are
also important in determining the generational differences between the American Dream and
how it affects parents children and grandchildren.
The significance behind the American Dream might relate back to its first meaning of the
land of opportunity, as Kevin Maggiacomos grandparents experienced it, but it also is a means
by which people are sustaining life to a higher degree rather than living just to put bread on the
table. The definition can lose its grip, for instance, when people from other countries travel to

Dunkelberg 5
America to seek a better job, in hopes of becoming rich and affluent, especially in their field of
study. This correlates to the rise in immigration, as more people come here to work or get
degrees; they realize they could make more money here working in their profession than taking it
back with them to their home country. This concept is known as brain drain. But this is the
American Dream, is it not? How can the country draw the distinction between going to work to
make a living according to average American standards of owning a home, having a job, a good
education, and providing a better life for their children, and going to work only in order to reach
the ultimate level? This is where the American Dream fails. This is where people see it as
something old and outdated. A level of distinction across job markets for those already in
America as well as those coming in is another cure for reaching a new type of dream.
The importance to seeing how the American Dreams core definition shifts allows for an
entire new train of thought to develop on the ideas of success, wealth, stability, and many more.
In order to reach this new definition, a changing view needs to be placed on the inclusion and
exclusion of government aid, which impacts political candidates campaigns. Thoughts on the
poverty line and whether it is shifting or always stable also affect how the line of help can be
provided. The old 1950s-style meaning behind the American Dream that many still define it as
today of living as a happy family with a house in a the suburbs, a white picket fence, where the
father goes to work and comes home to a dinner cooked by his wife are gone. Yet this is where so
many people in society get hung up at. This is not quite the American Dream anymore. The
reality behind the situation is that the meaning of the American Dream is not the get rich quick
scheme many others think it is, yet so many people can not seem to let that go. While the times
have definitely changed from the 1950s, the idea is always constant. Live a comfortable life, not
a life of fancy cars, big houses, and even bigger paychecks, but one that shows that this country

Dunkelberg 6
is a prosperous one where people from all over the world can come to experience what it is like
to live in a place where one can watch their children grow up to be successful, and providing for
some of that success along the way. Where the poverty line is not something people live at
because of the government aid and benefit they receive, but rather a form of aid that provides
them a start to a new life. The meaning behind the American Dream can be so simple, but it
seems as a country, the people have been the ones to misconstrue the true meaning. So, have the
government aid and programs to let people start and no more, have the jobs and economic
stability provided through the work and tax payers, and look forward to watching ones children
living a successful life with the ability to provide for themselves and the power to retire in a
comfortable state where the poverty line does not scare, and the ways of life are not stressful.
This is the ability to start from nothing, the perseverance to come back from something, the
provision to look forward to everything. This is the new American Dream.
There are certainly some aspects of the study behind the American Dream and poverty
that can be further researched and developed upon to allow for more precise numbers and
calculations on the amount of people affected by the poverty line. The basis for conclusion on the
American Dream can further be enhanced through a study on specific governmental aid
programs and their helpfulness in aiding the public to be a part of an upward trend in the
economic mobility. Some more statistics on the political stance between the parties and how they
feel on the issue of poverty and government aid to determine where the line should sit, allowing
those to come out of it and reach the American Dream.

Works Cited

Dunkelberg 7
Corak, Miles. "How to Slide Down the Great Gatsby Curve." Center for American Progress.
N.p., 5 Dec. 2012. Web. 01 Oct. 2015.
Cornfield, Daniel B. "Ending Poverty in America: How to Restore the American Dream." Social
Forces 87.4 (2009): 2203+. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 16 Oct. 2015.
Henderson, Ben. "American Dream Slipping Away, but Hope Intact." YouGov: What the World
Thinks. N.p., 7 Aug. 2013. Web. 01 Oct. 2015.
Kraus, Michael W., Shai Davidai, and A. David Nussbaum. "American Dream? Or Mirage?"
New York Times 3 May 2015: 9(L). Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 16 Oct. 2015.
Maggiacomo, Kevin. "Awakening the American Dream." TEDx. Orange Coast. 16 Oct. 2013.
Lecture.
Roberts, Diane. "Want to Get Ahead? Move to Denmark." The Guardian. N.p., 17 Jan. 2012.
Web. 1 Oct. 2015.
Sawhill, Isabell V., and John E. Morton. "Economic Mobility: Is the American Dream Alive and
Well?" The Brookings Institution. N.p., 01 May 2007. Web. 01 Oct. 2015.
Warren, Elizabeth, and Bill De Blasio. "Reviving the American Dream." Washington Post 6 May
2015. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 16 Oct. 2015.