My parents are both Albanian Immigrants who came to America in search of a better life. They, just like everyone else in the outskirts of America, had romanticized the country they would soon call home. They imagined a better life, not just for themselves, but for their families and their children to come. They soon found a falsified version of the America they had heard so much about. Their days filled with work, their nights with regret. My dad would ride his bike in the pouring rain to the trailer with broken windows where he lived; nights spent lying awake wondering if the rest of his life would be this way. But, hey, this is the American Dream, right?
The American Dream is the idea that anyone, no matter their upbringing, in the United States can achieve success. It’s the idea that if you work hard enough, you’ll reach your dreams and that opportunities are equally available to everyone.
However, the American Dream is a flat-out lie.
This country has set up many obstacles deeply rooted in racism and classism that achieving the American Dream is impossible unless you’re a rich, heterosexual, white male.
Let’s break down what the American Dream really entails for the average American, working ourselves to death, wealth inequality, and unaffordable health care.
“While the American Dream is supposed to mean the ability to rise up through hard work, it’s actually harder than any other advanced nation to rise up in America.”
According to a study done by the New York Times, the lower classes of Canada, Britain, Germany, and France have an easier time moving their way up the social ladder than their American counterparts. Meaning, most Americans born into a lower class remain in the lower class.
“America: Work Till You Die”
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, full-time minimum wage workers can’t afford a two-bedroom rental anywhere in the United States and can’t afford a one-rental in 95% of the country. Many Americans are forced to overwork themselves, working multiple jobs to afford rent. The same study notes, “The average minimum wage worker must work 97 hours per week to afford a two-bedroom rental home or 79 hours per week to afford a one-bedroom rental home at the average fair market rent.”
Despite Americans’ toxic relationship with work and reports that the United States is the most overworked nation in the world, things remain the same. There is no federal law requiring paid sick days, the U.S. remains the only industrialized country in the world that has no legally mandated annual leave, and the U.S. lacks any type of paid parental leave.
The American Dream includes inconceivable levels of wealth inequality.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, wage growth for the bottom 90% of the country has barely gone up from 1979 to 2018.
Meanwhile, wealth for the top 1% and 0.1% has skyrocketed.
Per EPI, “The most visible indicator of wealth inequality in America today may be the Forbes magazine list of the nation’s 400 richest. In 2018, the three men at the top of that list – Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and investor Warren Buffett held combined fortunes worth more than the total wealth of the poorest half of Americans.”
Wealth inequality exists between everyone, not just the ultra-rich and the rest of us.
The Black-white wealth gap is astonishing. In 2019, the median white household held $188,200 in wealth-7.8 times that of the median Black household at $24,100. And this wealth gap is directly attributed to racist factors – beginning with 246 ears of chattel slavery and followed by discriminatory policies such as the Jim Crow era “Black Codes” and redlining.
“In America, your life depends on how it started, where you grew up, how much your parents earned, etc. Everything else in your life, including where you go to college, what kind of job you get, and even your health rely on this.”
Success in America is not dependent on how hard you work, but on where a person starts. So the promise that if we “pull ourselves up by the bootstraps” and work hard, we can achieve the American Dream is just another aspect of the lie we’ve all been led to believe.
“We are all prisoners to a health care system that is designed to benefit insurance companies instead of human beings.”
The United States is one of the only major countries that doesn’t offer healthcare to its citizens. Americans are often put in difficult situations when it comes to health care. We are all at risk of losing our health care if we change jobs, turn 26-years-old, move out of state, retire early, or get divorced.
In a survey conducted by GoodRx in March 2021, roughly 39 percent of respondents who regularly took medications reported skipping or rationing doses due to the high costs; 37 percent reported paying for their regular prescription was difficult.
A December 2019 poll conducted by Gallup found that 25 percent of Americans say they or a family member have delayed seeking medical treatment for a severe illness due to the costs of care.
The American Dream remains a facade put in place to keep Americans and people everywhere under the belief that America is a nation where dreams come true. But the truth is, the American Dream is more like a nightmare.