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The Myth of the American Dream

Revelation of some realities behind the American Dream.

Success is what the American Dream is all about. Many people are motivated by the promise of a better life, hence they chase dollar bills all their lives in the hopes of living out the American Dream - a fantasy which only money can buy. The American economic system is designed to meet the needs of the upper class, as it ignores problems of ethnic minorities.

The American Dream is a fantasy that has not come true for the millions that are toiling in the system hoping to get a piece of the wealth which America so liberally shares with its rich upper class. Mansions, expensive cars, a happy family and of course lots of money. These images adorn the minds of the less privileged of this nation.

For many this dream soon becomes a nightmare. With the cost of living becoming so high and lack of medical care or job security, minimal pay and an expensive education system are just some the hurdles that people have to jump over to reach the American Dream. Therefore it is fair to say that it is almost impossible for numerous people to make a decent living. Many people in America are earning minimum wage which is $5.65 a hour, and contrary to popular belief, they are not middle-class teenagers working for gas money. Most minimum wage earners in the United States are adults, more than half are female, and about half work full time. (Epinet)

America's economic system is flawed as there is unequal distribution of its wealth. When we examine where America's wealth lies we see that it certainly not in filling the bellies of countless hungry babies in this country. The wealth is filling the pockets of the rich:

Wealth inequality has grown in the 1990s. As of 1997 (the latest year for which data is available), the top 1% of U.S. households controlled 39.1% of all wealth. When comparing the changes in wealth distribution over the 1983-97 period, the large shift in wealth primarily benefited the top 1% (rising from 33.8% to 39.1% of all wealth). In comparison, the bottom 95% of the wealth distribution experienced flat or falling growth in wealth over the same period. The explosive growth of the stock market further concentrated wealth at the top of the income scale between 1995 and 1997. Projections suggest that the share of wealth controlled by the top 1% increased by 1.5 percentage points (from 37.6% to 39.1%) in just the past couple of years.(Epinet)

Behind the people who are making all the money, there is a task force of thousands of overworked and underpaid individuals. It seems that the people who don't count in this country such as the racial minorities are left to do this country's dirty work. In the following excerpt we can get a glimpse of who really does the work in America.

The population of this country is 337 million, 154 million are retired. That leaves 183 million to do the work. There are 85 million in school, which leaves 98 million to do the work.. Of this total, there are 29 million employed by the federal government. That leaves 69 million to do the work. Four million are in the Armed Forces, which leaves 64 million to do the work. Take from that total the 24,800,000 people who work for state and city Governments and that leaves 39,200,000 of us to do the work. At any given time there are 24,000,000 in hospitals, so that leaves 15,200,000 to do the work. Now, there are 15,199,998 people in federal and State prisons. That leaves just two people to do the work, you and me.(LinkAmerica)

Approximately thirty-two years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. launched the "Poor People's Campaign". This was a far-reaching plan to lift the economic conditions of underprivileged Americans of all classes and races. The heart and soul of the campaign was the progressive demand for full employment -- that the opportunity to secure jobs be extended to all in order to lift people above, as King termed, "the curse of poverty." (Epinet)

Presently, African Americans are not much better off than they were in King's time. In 1968, the income of a typical black family was 60 percent of whites. Median Income grew slowly throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and much more gradually for blacks than for whites. As of 1997, the ratio stood at 61 percent. For all the progress of the past few years, the income gap has closed by all of one percent - from 60 to 61 percent - since 1968. (Epinet)

Other racial discrimination can be seen through a study done by The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), which demonstrates increasing racial disparities in the home purchase mortgage market.

In a study covering all lenders in thirty-five cities over three years, ACORN found that African Americans and Latinos are rejected more frequently than white applicants for both conventional and government-backed mortgages and that this disparity is rising. The growth in conventional mortgages for African Americans between 1995 and 1997 was modest, under 5%, but the increase in lending to white borrowers was nearly five times as large. Over the same period, conventional home purchase lending to Latinos declined by more than 1%. (ACORN)

Over a hundred years ago Asians were told that the streets were paved in gold in America. They were promised some of this gold, but in reality companies just wanted cheap labor. (Chang 366) Nowadays the media portrays the Asians as having found that gold. (Chang 366) According to a U.S Censor Survey Asians average income was $22,713 whereas the whites were $20,800 (Chang 367). The media took this statistic and announced to America that Asians were achieving the American Dream.(Chang 367)

Such statements bring to light aphorisms such as "Statistics are like a bikini. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital." (Chang 367) Unfortunately the media failed to examine these statistics closely. A close examination of these will reveal that Asians usually have more children or live-in relatives therefore more mouths to feed, they also have more than one income earner in the family to make ends meet and many live in areas where the cost of living is very high. (Chang 367) According to Dr. Robert S. Mariano, professor of economics at the University of Pennsylvania, who has calculated that

When such appropriate adjustments and comparisons are made, a different and rather disturbing picture emerges, showing indeed a clearly disadvantaged group ... Filipino and Chinese are no better off than black men a with regard to median incomes.(Chang 367)

Along with other minorities Asians are only getting the crumbs of the economic pie. The City University of New York constructed fake resumes for Asians and for whites. Both resumes had similar education and work experience except that some had an Asian name and others had a white name.(369) They concluded that the resumes meant for whites got 5 times the interviews than the Asians. Another U.S Census showed that Chinese and Filipino males only earned 75% and 52% respectively as much as their equally educated white males. (Change 369) It is obvious that economic discrimination is coupled with racial discrimination making it very difficult for racial minorities to climb up the financial ladder.

In order for change to take place, people need to get together to make changes in our economic system. One such group is ACORN, who has started the living wage campaign.

In short, living wage campaigns seeks to pass local ordinances requiring private businesses that benefit from public money to pay their workers a living wage. Commonly, the ordinances cover employers who hold large city or county service contracts or receive substantial financial assistance from the city in the form of grants, loans, bond financing, tax abatements, or other economic development subsidies. The concept behind any living wage campaign is simple: Our limited public dollars should not be subsidizing poverty-wage work. When subsidized employers are allowed to pay their workers less than a living wage, tax payers end up footing a double bill: the initial subsidy and then the food stamps, emergency medical, housing and other social services low wage workers may require to support themselves and their families even minimally. Public dollars should be leveraged for the public good -- reserved for those private sector employers who demonstrate a commitment to providing decent, family-supporting jobs in our local communities.(LivingWages)

There needs to be a larger public outcry against this "institution of wealth". As more and more people demand changes to occur, we will still be living under the golden rule: "The one's who have the gold, make the rules." (Howard Lyman speech). The curse of poverty is far from lifted as there is much work to be done to bring about economic equality for racial minorities. We, as a nation, have far to go before we arrive at King's vision of economic justice.

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