Smile, the American Dream is Better than Ever

Smile, the American Dream is Better than Ever
(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Story Stream
recent articles

This year has been a very bad one for many of us. Millions of people have lost a loved one or a job, most have stopped seeing their families and friends, and young people have switched to virtual education across the country. We also saw one of the most polarizing election campaigns in history, and riots and protests engulfed America multiple times. But despite all of this and the constant negativity emanating from our newsfeed, Americans are optimistic about their future, and they have reasons to be.

According to a survey recently commissioned by the Walton Family Foundation, two in three young Americans say that they have the opportunity to achieve the American dream — and it’s Hispanics, Blacks, and Asians who are most optimistic about their chances.

But when young Americans are asked not about their chances but those of their generation to achieve the American dream, a much smaller 56 percent agree. Why the difference? Why are so many more young people optimistic about their personal chance but not that of others?

It probably has something to do with the story we hear on repeat from politicians and the media — namely, that the middle class is disappearing, that wages haven’t budged in decades, and that the American dream is ever more unreachable. This is a myth, and Americans’ optimism and the hard facts prove it.

In 2019, before the pandemic hit us, the average American married couple made over $100,000 after taxes and government benefits while the average household over $68,000 — more than any time in history after adjusting for inflation. But what that figure doesn’t tell us is how much better the things we already buy are and the things we can purchase today that didn’t exist before, twenty, or thirty years ago. Over 8 in 10 American families had an internet connection at home in 2016, over 9 in 10 has a car, and many have two, and of course nearly everyone has electricity and potable water at home. In terms of health outcomes, fewer Americans are dying from preventable causes like the flu, and even of heart attacks and cancer.

Of course, the American dream isn’t just about having more material well-being or a longer life; it’s about much more. Many people point out that suicides are increasing at alarming rates, opioid addiction keeps destroying thousands of families, and a record low share of Americans are married, going to church, and having children. Those are crises without easy answers, but they also paint a deceivingly negative picture of American social life. I say negative because it’s also true that teens today are the less likely to drink alcohol, smoke, and have sex and get pregnant as minors than previous generations. Some things have gotten worse, and we must fix them, but many others have gotten better and we should celebrate them.

The media tells you that America is hated around the world for its foreign policy, but the truth is America is a beacon of opportunity that shines abroad. Even amid historically restrictive immigration policy, when people around the world are asked whether they want to immigrate to another country, their top answer has always been America. 

Politicians want you to believe we haven’t improved and then blame the rich, immigrants, other countries, other politicians — you name it —all because they want your vote. Highlighting our positive reality doesn’t get too many retweets or ratings on TV it seems.

The danger with the negative narrative about American reality is that it diminishes how grateful we are for the opportunities we enjoy and increases the chances that we will pawn away our freedoms to fix inexistent problems. The people of my native country of Venezuela did just that in 1998, and now 5 million people, including my family and I, have had to flee from a country that was once a prosperous nation of immigrants like America.

Being grateful for the opportunities that America has to offer means recognizing they exist and being willing to do what it takes to protect them and enhance them. Here’s what you can do: Go online or read a book to get informed about the issues that matter to you, especially about those very few people talk about; vote for those who have plans you agree with to address your concerns, not for those who are most charismatic; and remember that not every problem has a government solution, the most important challenges we face can only be fixed by us alone or with a few friends and neighbors.

The American dream is alive and well so pursue your dreams, take a chance at that business idea, go to school, excel at your job, get married, volunteer, vote. Let’s set the example so our children and grandchildren have the same chances we have to pursue their own American dream.

Daniel Di Martino is a Young Voices senior contributor and openness fellow, speaker, and PhD in economics student at Columbia University. You can follow him on Twitter here.

Show comments Hide Comments