11.15.11 Since the Pew Research Center began unveiling a series of studies on income disparities in the U.S., I’ve been reading about the death of the American Dream. People are saying that because my generation will not earn as much money as my parents’ generation did, the opportunities that fueled the dream are gone. Then you throw in the income gaps––between the Baby Boomers and Gen X and Y-ers, between the 99 percent and the 1 percent, between white and non-white ––and you get a keener sense of the widening cracks in our unifying ideal of forward progress.
Meanwhile, homes, even with low interest and occupancy rates, are still out of reach for many working families. Our education system is struggling to adjust to a globalized world in which skills are increasingly specific. To top all that off, we’re making it harder and harder for immigrants to come here, disconnecting us from our engine of upward mobility, which has always been based on people’s willingness to work themselves to the bone so their kids won’t have to.
Mainly, when people call out the death of the American Dream, they do it as a kind of warning whistle. Hey, watch out, work harder or the American Dream will die. But what if you take it at face value, as an acknowledgement that we need to update the dream? While we’re unpacking the mid-term elections statewide and at home the Occupy movement is holding its ground, gaining legitimacy, and likely looking forward to a collision with the 2012 Presidential Election.
For the first time in my memory, we’ll have a youth-driven left (Occupy), an age-driven right (Tea Party), and two mainstream parties in utter disarray. Amidst this restlessness, Charlottesville celebrates its 250th anniversary, a perfect chance to reflect on what it means to be a first generation American city and to consider, appropriately or not, what the Author of Liberty and the Architect of Westward Expansion might have to say about the state of affairs.––Giles Morris