The End of the American Ideal?

Will Hutton argues in The Writing on the Wall, growing income disparities and increasingly rigid class boundaries are causing many to wonder whether the American Dream is nothing more than myth.

The utopian ideal of the United States — that through hard work you can achieve your place in the sun — is being confounded by everyone’s actual daily experience.

Americans expect better. About 70% of Americans believe that the poor have a good chance of escaping poverty — only about 30% believe that they are trapped there.

By contrast Europeans — living in more socially fluid societies — are nonetheless much more pessimistic about the chances of mobility. Only 40% believe the poor can escape their fate, and 60% believe they are trapped.

Benjamin Franklin was born the fifteenth son of a candle maker and retired at age 42 with enough of a fortune to comfortably pursue a life of politics and scientific inquiry.

The opportunity for such mobility is retreating, and this is beginning to affect not just American society — but also the American imagination.

In the USA,

  • families with children are likely to stay poor,
    5 times more likely than British, German, French or Spanish

  • only 10% will move out of the lower class; was 23% in the 1970s