The American Dream | Opinion
Here’s a question for you: What comes to your mind when you hear the term “the American dream”?
Most people would respond with something related to upward mobility and “success” achieved through hard work, determination and sacrifice, no matter where a person was born or their family’s financial situation.
Indeed, a typical image of the American Dream in progress is a single-family house – the bigger the better – with a white picket fence in front. The story is even better if the owner has a history of rags to riches, succeeding against all odds.
The story offers an interesting perspective. It wasn’t until after World War II that this became the dominant understanding of the American Dream, aided in good part by the overwhelming success of the GI Bill.
However, historian James Truslow Adams, who popularized the term “American Dream” in 1931, had a remarkably different perspective on what the term had meant in America until then. He wrote that it was “not just a dream of automobiles and high wages, but a social dream in which every man and woman will be able to achieve the fullest stature of which they are naturally capable. , and to be recognized by others for who they are, whatever the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.
In other words, the American dream was about the benefit to all of society that results from the inherent fairness of all people with adequate opportunities, not the individual’s goal of proving “success” with wealth, a nice house and some fancy toys.
Consider the part of the definition that says “it doesn’t matter where a person was born or the financial situation of their family”. This suggests that someone born into a poor family in a tough neighborhood with limited opportunities can work hard and escape the vicious cycle of poverty in order to be successful.
Now think about the flip side of the coin: what about someone born into a wealthy family living in a highly desirable neighborhood with plenty of opportunities. Does the American Dream suggest they should have an inherent advantage? No. That said, they need to show a comparable level of hard work, determination and sacrifice to be successful.
Let me come back to the subject of my column last month: “My children will not be able to afford to live here”. The essence of the American dream is that no one is guaranteed anything except the possibility of winning their place.
How can someone earn their place? A place to start is to recognize that as young adults, we don’t automatically pick up on where our parents are after their lifelong efforts. We have to work as hard as our parents did and save as our parents did to have a chance to get to where they did. The first place a young adult lives alone is unlikely to be a five-bedroom, two-story house with a big yard and that white picket fence. Our parents probably didn’t start there either.
A complicating factor is that the housing units themselves – homes, condos, and even apartments – have grown in size with portions of fast food. It is the result of community planning decisions that financially benefit some people in the short term, but end up harming the community in the long term.
Why have previous generations been so successful in achieving their vision of the American dream? The main reason is that home values have risen much faster than inflation (and wages). This is great if you already own your home. Another reason is that in the past it was more difficult to take equity out of your home to spend on other things, and there was less overt pressure from our society to engage in consumerism. irresponsible with the resulting consumer debt.
But we can’t have it both ways – we can’t make the house we bought appreciate more than inflation. and expect our kids to be able to buy when they grow up.
So where are we now?
At the community level, we need to make planning decisions that are best in the long term taking into account what type of housing we are building, where we are building it, what we are allocating to tourists rather than residents. and the type of jobs we create.
At the individual level, each person must think about how they are going to prepare for their future. What types of jobs will be available? What type of employment will provide adequate income? What education and preparation are needed for these jobs?
We will explore these topics in greater depth in future columns as we continue to explore the complexities around “My children will not be able to afford to live here”.
Mike Wondolowski is President of the Carpinteria Valley Association (CarpinteriaValleyAssociation.org), a local organization dedicated to maintaining the small seaside town nature of our community. In his 30 years of involvement in planning matters, he has witnessed visionary successes, as well as decisions that were later greatly regretted. When not stuck inside, it is often found enjoying the treasures of Carpinteria, including kayaking and snorkeling along the coast, running or hiking the cliffs or the Franklin Trail, or “vacation” as a camper at State Beach.