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Persistence of the American Dream
Old 10-04-2018, 08:01 PM   #1
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Persistence of the American Dream

We have had many threads here touching on the ideology of the American Dream and whether one can make it if only one works hard and makes smart choices in life, or whether there are institutional barriers to success. Opinions are many and varied.

This doctoral dissertation that I just came across https://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitst...eds_1.pdf?...1... approaches the issue from somewhat of a tangent. Specifically, she asks how people continue to believe in the "work hard/make smart choices" American Dream in the face of objective measures that show that may not be sufficient for them.

She studied people of different economic classes in two towns in the Rust Belt and got incredible personal details about their income, spending and attitudes. Among other things, she observes that some who still believe in the traditional American Dream ideology are buffered from the reality of current day economic trends due to either access to credit or financial support from parents and other relatives. That is, their lives were better than they otherwise would be, given the true economics of their lives, which allows them to continue their belief.

It is a very long paper (550 pages or so), but I am finding it very interesting. One of the most eye-opening parts to me was Chapter 7 (begins on page 250), which addresses what The Millionaire Next Door called "economic outpatient care". The sheer number of adults whose lives depend on the economic resources of parents and other older relatives was somewhat shocking.
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Old 10-05-2018, 12:08 AM   #2
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We have had many threads here touching on the ideology of the American Dream and whether one can make it if only one works hard and makes smart choices in life, or whether there are institutional barriers to success. Opinions are many and varied.

This doctoral dissertation that I just came across https://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitst...eds_1.pdf?...1... approaches the issue from somewhat of a tangent. Specifically, she asks how people continue to believe in the "work hard/make smart choices" American Dream in the face of objective measures that show that may not be sufficient for them.

She studied people of different economic classes in two towns in the Rust Belt and got incredible personal details about their income, spending and attitudes. Among other things, she observes that some who still believe in the traditional American Dream ideology are buffered from the reality of current day economic trends due to either access to credit or financial support from parents and other relatives. That is, their lives were better than they otherwise would be, given the true economics of their lives, which allows them to continue their belief.

It is a very long paper (550 pages or so), but I am finding it very interesting. One of the most eye-opening parts to me was Chapter 7 (begins on page 250), which addresses what The Millionaire Next Door called "economic outpatient care". The sheer number of adults whose lives depend on the economic resources of parents and other older relatives was somewhat shocking.


I think it is true but would like to see the numbers. Read several articles in The Economist and FT that a number of countries now have better opportunities for moving up financially than the US. Still, a person has to chart their own course.
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Old 10-05-2018, 08:55 AM   #3
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Didn't read it but...off the top of my head:
I'm not sure that two towns in the Rust Belt constitute a broad enough sample for the country as a whole.

I also wonder how 'making it' is defined. Do recent immigrants view the 'institutional barriers to success' the same as non-immigrants?

As far as outside influencers acting as buffers to economic realities, I have a whole list of trust funded friends who would fit into that category but likely not in the same context as the paper might imply.

Don't many of us--particularly members of this forum--have some sort of buffer? A fully paid off house might qualify. A pension or paid-for-HC-until-Medicare might qualify. LBYM might qualify as a 'buffer to economic' realities?
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Old 10-05-2018, 09:40 AM   #4
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We have had many threads here touching on the ideology of the American Dream and whether one can make it if only one works hard and makes smart choices in life, or whether there are institutional barriers to success. Opinions are many and varied. ...
I have not read it yet of course, but that opening from you strikes me as a bit of a straw man.

I think if we were careful with phrasing, and looked carefully at the responses on this forum, most of us would not say that "one can make it if only one works hard and makes smart choices in life". My sense is that most of us recognize that luck plays a role, and sometimes a role that can't be overcome by anything (health, accident, etc). And I think most realize that it is harder for someone in a lower socioeconomic class to succeed.

I think it is more helpful, and probably more accurately reflects many on this forum to reverse the statement. Try this re-phrase:
We have had many threads here touching on the ideology of the American Dream. Opinions are many and varied, but many understand that one is far less likely to make it if one does not work hard and does not make smart choices in life.

-ERD50
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Old 10-05-2018, 10:08 AM   #5
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I have not read it yet of course, but that opening from you strikes me as a bit of a straw man.

I think if we were careful with phrasing, and looked carefully at the responses on this forum, most of us would not say that "one can make it if only one works hard and makes smart choices in life". My sense is that most of us recognize that luck plays a role, and sometimes a role that can't be overcome by anything (health, accident, etc). And I think most realize that it is harder for someone in a lower socioeconomic class to succeed.

I think it is more helpful, and probably more accurately reflects many on this forum to reverse the statement. Try this re-phrase:
We have had many threads here touching on the ideology of the American Dream. Opinions are many and varied, but many understand that one is far less likely to make it if one does not work hard and does not make smart choices in life.

-ERD50
That version effectively filters out the "dream" part of the American Dream, doesn't it? It reads more like a warning.
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Old 10-05-2018, 10:12 AM   #6
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For some reason, I always thought the idea of the "American Dream" was "A car in every garage and a chicken in every pot", which implied to me that it meant to be successful enough to own your own home (with a garage) a car, and never worry about going hungry.


But, it turns out that was apparently an old Herbert Hoover campaign slogan.
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Old 10-05-2018, 10:19 AM   #7
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For some reason, I always thought the idea of the "American Dream" was "A car in every garage and a chicken in every pot", which implied to me that it meant to be successful enough to own your own home (with a garage) a car, and never worry about going hungry.

But, it turns out that was apparently an old Herbert Hoover campaign slogan.
My favorite Hoover quote, from 1931: "What the country needs is a good big laugh. ... If someone could get off a good joke every ten days, I think our troubles would be over."
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Old 10-05-2018, 10:26 AM   #8
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My favorite Hoover quote, from 1931: "What the country needs is a good big laugh. ... If someone could get off a good joke every ten days, I think our troubles would be over."
There’s a lot of wisdom in those words
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Old 10-05-2018, 10:30 AM   #9
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That version effectively filters out the "dream" part of the American Dream, doesn't it? It reads more like a warning.
Maybe I'm not following you, but I'd say that you can have a dream, but also realize that it will take a lot of hard work , and some luck, to achieve that dream. They are not mutually exclusive.

Example to illustrate: A young person can dream of being in the Olympics someday, but realize they will need to work hard and train to achieve that. And some luck will be involved.

edit/add: I think the Declaration Of Independence holds some significance in defining what constitutes "American", And it calls out "certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. —— ". It does not guarantee happiness, only that one should be free to pursue happiness.

-ERD50
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Old 10-05-2018, 11:19 AM   #10
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America has "an unfair economic system" per the author. Wonder what she advocates as the alternative...I could hazard a guess.
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Old 10-05-2018, 11:33 AM   #11
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America has "an unfair economic system" per the author. Wonder what she advocates as the alternative...I could hazard a guess.
I’m tired of reading these types of articles.
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Old 10-05-2018, 11:46 AM   #12
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America has "an unfair economic system" per the author. Wonder what she advocates as the alternative...I could hazard a guess.
It reminds me of that old Lee Iacocca saying of "If you can find a better car, buy it"... if the author can find a better place, move... but otherwise please just shut up and stop whining.
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Old 10-05-2018, 12:42 PM   #13
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It reminds me of that old Lee Iacocca saying of "If you can find a better car, buy it"... if the author can find a better place, move... but otherwise please just shut up and stop whining.

I’m a citizen, and will critique, complain, or whine as I see fit.
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Old 10-05-2018, 12:55 PM   #14
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Maybe I'm not following you, but I'd say that you can have a dream, but also realize that it will take a lot of hard work , and some luck, to achieve that dream. They are not mutually exclusive.

Example to illustrate: A young person can dream of being in the Olympics someday, but realize they will need to work hard and train to achieve that. And some luck will be involved.

edit/add: I think the Declaration Of Independence holds some significance in defining what constitutes "American", And it calls out "certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. —— ". It does not guarantee happiness, only that one should be free to pursue happiness.

-ERD50
Well, to me the dream is the achievement; the effort needed to get there is the cold shot of reality. Considering the movie "Rocky," where his bout for the heavyweight title was the American dream, the part where he got up at 0-dark-30, wolfed down a bunch of raw eggs and then ran 5 miles before spending the next 10 hours in the gym was more of a wake-up call than a dream.

I will acknowledge this: IMO, the effort required to achieve the dream can make it all the sweeter once you get there. I spent 15 years working my way up to my career destination, so I have had a taste of that.
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Old 10-05-2018, 01:01 PM   #15
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Sorry, I only read things that reinforce my preconceived ideas.
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Old 10-05-2018, 01:14 PM   #16
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Economist Raj Chetty has done substantial work studying the chances of moving from the bottom of the economic ladder to the top and factors that appear to influence those chances. It's pretty fascinating stuff if you are interested in that sort of thing. There are some wonderful articles and pod casts on his data, but I've linked to a brief overview of some of their findings. If you are born into poverty, try not to also be born in the South.

https://www.brookings.edu/blog/socia...e-should-know/
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Old 10-05-2018, 02:02 PM   #17
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It reminds me of that old Lee Iacocca saying of "If you can find a better car, buy it"... if the author can find a better place, move... but otherwise please just shut up and stop whining.
Except Iacocca was blowing hot air. Chrysler Corp cars of that era really sucked. He'd have done Chrysler more good if he'd listened to the criticisms and improved the cars instead of sending people elsewhere.
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Old 10-05-2018, 02:29 PM   #18
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Being allowed to be a graduate student in the PHD program for 11 years to complete your "dissertation" which is a collection of family notes of 40 people with an average family income of $115,000 to make a statement on a need for change in the United States economic system. That someone with so little ability to finish a project, and incidental in her study only 6 out of the 40 even agreed with her conclusion that the economic system is unjust to most people, and despite most people not agreeing with the hard-learned - 16 years of education to print this dissertation on fixing the US economy - she offers the outline for this work to begin - basically political advocacy of social workers to change the view of Americans to conform to the Social Workers world view how an economy should be based.

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Social workers have the power to change the economic system in many ways,
ranging from policy and advocacy efforts to interventions with clients, students, and
community members that will help individuals better understand how the
contemporary stratification system works. Given the widespread economic crises
that are likely to occur in the absence of large-scale policy changes - and the
NASW’s decree that social workers should work to pursue social change –
addressing these issues is a logical and important goal for the profession.
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Old 10-05-2018, 02:34 PM   #19
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Wait a sec!! It took 11 years to complete a dissertation in SOCIAL WORK?
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Old 10-05-2018, 03:08 PM   #20
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Wait a sec!! It took 11 years to complete a dissertation in SOCIAL WORK?


Maybe she was working full time, or two jobs, and raising a family while working on her doctorate. And the dissertation probably involved a lot of data gathering.

Why the all caps for the words “social work”? Do you think social workers are unimportant? Try running a hospital, rehab unit, nursing home, or Child Protective Services without social workers.

But I digress.

Much of our success is an accident of birth. What would your life look like if you were born female to a poor family in Malawi or Cambodia?

Of course our parents helped us.
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