To many who live outside of the United States, the American Dream is a vague term that is extremely hard to define. While this may be partially due to the numerous cultural differences that exist throughout Europe and in other regions of the world, the evolutionary nature of the American Dream is also something that causes considerable confusion.
This even applies to citizens who live within the boundaries of the U.S., as the American Dream can no longer be defined by the pursuit of opportunity and a desire to live a more fulfilling life. Instead, those who choose to chase the American Dream must learn how to identify and earn hidden opportunities for advancement, applying acquired knowledge and strategy as opposed to ceaseless work and dedication.
What is the American Dream and how it has Changed?
There have been numerous American Dream enthusiasts who have failed to appreciate its changeable nature. This has led to them becoming disenfranchised with their own existence. According to James Truslow in his 1931 book, "The Epic of America," the American Dream is "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." Rather than being a dream based on the attainment of material possessions, it is driven by the desire to see a social order in which each citizen can fulfill his or her full potential regardless of position or status.
While the fundamental ideals that underpin the American Dream may not have changed, the world around them certainly has. Truslow's words suggest that individuals can achieve success and wealth based on the application of hard work, but the impact of the recent global recession and the rising number of working poor in the U.S. have drastically undermined this assertion. Including families who live close to the poverty threshold despite including at least two adults who have full-time employment, the working poor currently consists of approximately 10.4 million households and a total of 47.5 million U.S. citizens.
This is indicative of the widening wealth gap in the U.S., which has seen the percentage of income acquired by the top American earners double since 1980. The recent recession has certainly played its role in exacerbating this, thanks largely to the fact that it impacted heavily on the working class and individuals with minimal education or a lack of workplace experience. Even though unemployment has fallen steadily throughout the recovery and reached a four-year low of 7.5% in April, the average hourly wage has stagnated and grown disproportionately to consumer prices. With this in mind, it is clear that the American economy is creating low paid, entry-level jobs that fail to deliver a living wage.
Re-Imagining the American Dream in 2013: The Challenges Facing Small Business Owners and Low-Income Individuals
With millions of U.S. citizens working full-time, menial jobs in exchange for less than a living wage, it is clear that hard work is no longer enough to fulfill the promise of the American Dream. This conflicts with its underlying appeal, however, and creates a vision that is far removed from the one that has encouraged immigrants from all over the world to enter the U.S. in the quest for a better life. With current immigration laws also pandering to global political unrest rather than America's core values, the land of opportunity has become a wasteland for overseas travelers armed with little more than ambition and a commitment to work.
The failure of hard-working U.S. citizens and immigrants to find solace in the American Dream offers an insight into a failing economy, and one that is more beneficial to high-income individuals. Take income tax legislation, for example, which currently seems to favor CEOs and business leaders above their employees and entry-level staff. This is reflected in the fact that while both CEO salaries and the average employee's wages rose between 1988 and 2008, the former experienced considerably higher and more surprising levels of growth. Given that the average tax rate for high-earning citizens also remained largely unchanged during the same period, there is ample reason to believe that those who have attained wealth are afforded more advantages than those who simply aspire to it.
Another demographic closely affiliated but increasingly disenfranchised with the American Dream consists of small business owners, whose ventures remain integral to long-term economic growth. With 23 million independent ventures in the U.S. accounting for 54% of the nation's total retail sales, these firms generate considerable profit and have brought success to entrepreneurs regardless of their gender, age or social standing. Despite this, however, the so-called Marketplace Fairness Act (MFA) could have a significant impact if it is passed into law, by imposing an online sales tax on independent outlets that earn $1 million per annum or more regardless of whether or not they boast a physical state presence.
The Bottom Line
Whether you consider the creation of low-paying jobs, tax breaks for high earners or the implementation of an online sales tax, there is an underlying economic theme that goes against the grain of the American Dream. This is establishing a wealth gap, which continues to tear at the fabric of society, rewarding individuals and corporations that have attained success at the expense of those who aspire to do so.
So long as the system continues to create advantages for the wealthiest members of society, the American Dream will continue to evolve and become increasingly distant for low-income or poorly educated members of society. The fact remains that spirit, hard work and determination are no longer enough by themselves to achieve success in the U.S., and those who wish to pursue the American Dream must instead re-imagine the concept and strive to identify industry specific opportunities while gaining the necessary qualifications, credentials and experience to make their mark.