The American Dream Myth – Is Upward Mobility Still Achievable?

Nmesoma Okwudili


November 20, 2023

The so-called “American Dream” has for generations seduced the American psyche, enchanting us with the tantalising prospect that, through unyielding tenacity, relentless ambition, and a serendipitous stroke of luck, anyone can ascend to the pinnacles of prosperity, bask in the glow of success, and claim a brighter future. Yet, as we find ourselves navigating the turbulent waters of the 21st century, the time has come for a no-holds-barred reckoning: Is the American Dream still an achievable reality, or has it devolved into nothing more than an elusive fantasy for countless individuals?

The classic myth of the American Dream has long portrayed a vivid picture of a society in which anyone might climb the social ladder and claim their share of prosperity, regardless of where they came from. It tells the story of hopeful immigrants working tirelessly to establish themselves in the middle class and their steadfast faith that each succeeding generation would surpass the one before it in terms of prosperity and well-being. A nation’s drive for invention and ambition was fuelled by this story.

But the reality we live in now is a complex web of interconnected issues. Since the 1980s, income inequality in the US has been rising steadily, creating a gap between the wealthy and the rest of society. The rising expenses of healthcare and education make it more difficult for many Americans to obtain the resources necessary for advancement. The promise of upward mobility, once thought to be a birthright, has now become an airy fantasy for countless people.

At the very core of the American Dream lies the sacred notion of homeownership – a symbol of financial stability and a coveted ticket to the middle class. Yet, for today’s younger generation, the pursuit of this dream often seems more like a cruel mirage than a tangible reality. The astronomical real estate prices in major urban centres, entwined with the menacing spectre of student loan debts, cast a formidable shadow over the quest for a down payment on a home. The once well-trodden path to homeownership, so deeply ingrained in the American Dream, now appears obstructed for countless.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also cruelly highlighted the flaws in the American Dream’s defences. Low-income and minority populations were particularly hard hit by the virus, exposing the fragility of their social and economic standing. We are faced with a difficult decision: Does the American Dream, in its completeness, still belong to everyone, or is it, in fact, an elusive oasis that is out of reach for too many? These stark discrepancies in access to healthcare, work prospects, and education have forced us to face this difficult decision.

The American Dream is still alive despite these overwhelming obstacles, despite being beaten. Even today, there are examples of extraordinary success tales where people have overcome all odds and ascended from the ground up to the very top. However, a seismic upheaval is urgently needed in the very system that once served as the driving force behind upward mobility.

We must set out on a path of systemic transformation if we are to renew the American Dream and rekindle the fires of attainable progress. This mission entails taming the ferocious beast of income inequality, lowering the sky-high expenses of healthcare and education, and securing open doors to possibilities for everyone. It also encourages us to recognise that diversity and inclusivity are the winds that carry the ship rather than its weight, and that a society that truly embodies the American Dream warmly welcomes and supports people from all backgrounds.

The American Dream finds itself standing at a pivotal juncture, caught between the enduring allure of its ideal and the mounting trials of its realisation. It has been a beacon, a siren’s call for countless generations, yet today, the path to its embodiment seems fraught with greater obstacles than ever before.

To salvage this dream from the clutches of disillusionment, we must engage in a collective endeavour of extraordinary proportions. We must forge a society where opportunity flows unbounded, a realm where the dream is not merely a lofty myth but an achievable reality for all, regardless of background or circumstance. This calls for a renaissance of upward mobility, breathing life back into the American Dream, and resurrecting it in its intended glory, accessible to each and every soul that dares to dream.


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