If I had asked you years ago whether we’d be in this unique moment together, what would you say? And how would you answer the question, what is the American Dream today?
A lot of people are asking themselves that question these days. With the Black Lives Matter protests, a global pandemic, big government decisions on human rights, freedom of religion, and massive economic upheaval, it’s a fair question.
In fact, a lot of people are asking what it means to be an American. By extension, what does the American Dream actually mean today? And is it actually attainable?
What is the American Dream?
The idea of the American Dream is as old as the country itself, even if it wasn’t expressly named. You can find it at the beginning of the Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The actual phrase “American Dream” wasn’t coined until later, by James Truslow Adams in the 1931 book The Epic of America. In it, he defines the American Dream as:
“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. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it.
It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”
Criticism of the American Dream
The American Dream has never been without controversy. Even in Adams’ own description, he admits that people are skeptical that it exists at all. For a long time and for many people (mostly women and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color [BIPOC]), it flat-out didn’t.
To this day, it’s not possible for millions of Americans to “attain the fullest stature of which they are capable…regardless of their circumstances of birth or position.”
We know these things aren’t true for everybody.
Yet, there’s still hope. Although things aren’t as the Founders promised they would be, there’s a world of possibility to explore. By working hard and overcoming obstacles — whichever specific ones happen to pertain to you — most of us can still achieve our own versions of the American Dream.
What makes up the American Dream?
For some of us, the path to the American Dream lies through entrepreneurship and starting our own business. For others, it’s college. Still, others find life’s purpose in passing down cultural knowledge that existed even before America itself did.
For most of us though, the idea of the American Dream consists of common items:
- Affordable healthcare
- The freedom to reproduce
- Access to healthy foods and lifestyles
- Freedom to make your own life decisions
Each of these things ties back into the core idea of the American Dream. The idea that you can become what you want to be, regardless of where you start in life.
What does the American Dream today mean for you?
Knowing what the American Dream means to other people is one thing. But if there’s anything we’ve learned recently, it’s that America doesn’t work for everyone the way many of us assumed it did. America is not the same for all Americans.
Right now, we as a country need to listen and learn from each other. So, that’s what we’d like to do here, by giving a voice to some of your fellow Americans about what the American Dream today means for them.
“It means endless opportunities for me as an immigrant.”
— Valentine Nde, Mr. Money Geek
“The American Dream is so complicated. But, for me, it currently means having the ability to pursue my entrepreneurial interests so that I can live my life on my own terms, explore my interests personally and professionally, and have the ability to do what I want when I want to within reason — while helping others.”
— Michelle Jackson, Michelle is Money Hungry
“The American Dream is the freedom and ability to write your own future. Whether that’s improving your education, finding a job to support your family or starting your own business, you ultimately have control on the path you choose.”
— Jeff Rose, CFP®, Good Financial Cents
“The American Dream originated as an ideal where each person has the right to pursue his or her unique idea of happiness. For me, that is the ability to create what I want to see in the world without needing to make an income from it.”
— Diania Merriam, EconoMe
“The American Dream is peak entrepreneur. It means that anyone can create an industry with an equal opportunity.”
— Kyle Kroeger, Financial Wolves
“As a woman, I would say that the American dream means having the opportunity to live life without limits. As a mom, I would say, that you can instill in your children the belief that they have the ability to create and control their own destiny.”
— DeShena Woodard, Extravagantly Broke
“The American Dream is having the opportunity to work your way towards a better life. There are a lot of people around the world that work hard to survive, but the American Dream involves the opportunity to see big rewards as a result of that hard work.”
— Marc Andre, Vital Dollar
“To me, the American Dream means that our country will have finally created a system of inclusion; one that enforces economic, racial and gender equality, financial literacy, entrepreneurship, debt freedom and philanthropy. It would allow for the opportunity to create as much wealth as we want without all of the barriers.”
— Danielle Davis, Money in Matrimony
“The American Dream is a belief that any man or woman, despite his or her background, can change their circumstances and rise as high as they are willing to work. We all have different ideals and meanings for ‘success and happiness,’ but we should all have equal opportunities to pursue and achieve that idea of happiness and success.“
— Ricardo Pina, The Modest Wallet
“To me, the American Dream is nothing but a marketing ploy meant to keep people trapped in debt. They try to convince us that having all these things will make us happy, but true happiness comes from within.”
— Melanie Allen, Partners in Fire
“The ability to break down racial inequality and narrow the wealth gap in 15 years. To start a new generational wealth cycle that reaches back and helps others.”
— Lawrence Gonzalez, The Neighborhood Finance Guy
“Being a mom of 3 girls, for me, it means my girls have a secure future at the ages of 20-25 with no student loan and own a property. It will give them a push to pursue their passion (other than study) and a place of their own even if it is small.”
— Nadia Malik, Speaking of Cents