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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

2-26-24 PDF
February 26, 2024
An inside look at Bobby B. Beacon’s insides. Illustrated by Bianca Oppedisano/ Mass Media Staff.
Bobby's Inside Story
February 26, 2024

The American Dream is dead? Good

Growing up, my parents never hid our financial status from me, but they were certainly never eager to discuss it. It was only recently that I learned how tight money was, how many school supplies and groceries my grandparents had to help us pay for and how little my family has in savings. Both of my parents dropped out of college after less than a semester, unable to afford the exorbitant costs. When they met, they moved in together after barely a week of friendship—anything to keep the rent low.  

Nowadays, my family is comfortable, but we still can’t afford college. I’m a living, breathing example of the American Dream: I work two jobs to pay my own way through college, buried under the weight of UMass Boston’s $36,000 out-of-state tuition and $10,000 housing costs—not to mention transportation, food and personal expenses. Most days, I feel like I’m treading water, barely able to keep my head above the waves. Of course, I’m used to this. My family has always had to overwork ourselves to survive. I got my first job at 14 making $8.50 an hour at McDonald’s to save up for college, just like my parents did.  

The American Dream means class mobility; it’s the idea that any average, poor, hard-working American can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and, with enough dedication, get rich. Of course, any working-class American could tell you this is a myth, and it’s been a myth since America’s conception. A study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology suggests that Americans consistently overestimate social mobility; while participants believed that 16 percent of the lowest income bracket could move to the highest bracket, in reality, only about one percent of the lowest income bracket is able to move upwards. [1] According to The Guardian, Americans are also subject to some of the worst income inequality in the world: The bottom 60 percent of people own less than one percent of the nation’s income. [2]

At its core, the American Dream is an aspect of America’s puritan ideals regarding work. If someone’s not devoting 100 percent of their free time to work, they’re lazy. Disregard the fact that studies have proven that people are happier and more productive doing less work for more pay, according to Business Insider. [3] If you’re poor and not working yourself to the bone for every scrap of income you possibly can, are you even trying? It’s this same mentality that encourages think piece after think piece about millennials these days and their expensive Starbucks coffee and avocado toast. Impoverished people are told to scrimp and save every single penny they can to try and climb the income ladder. Like it or not, though, poor people are just as human as those who are more well-off, and they need to enjoy life just as much as everyone else does. What’s the point in always saving and never buying anything fun, in hopes of attaining some far-off idea of the middle class?  

Since the 1950s, the idea of the American Dream has rested on the nuclear family. This is exactly what Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech: The American Dream has only ever been a possibility for select groups of people, particularly White, suburban “traditional” families. The American Dream has been explicitly used to prevent Black and Brown people from accessing resources and being “burdens” to the system. In 1961, Lyndon B. Johnson said the quiet part out loud when, according to The Guardian, he told an aide, “I’ll tell you what’s at the bottom of it. If you can convince the lowest white man that he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” [2]

It’s time to let the idea of the American Dream die. Without serious upheavals to our political and economic system, the American Dream will remain just that—fiction. At its best, the American Dream is inspiration porn for the middle and upper-class, and at its worst, it is a mechanism by which poor people are punished for being human. Instead of focusing on some abstract ideal of social mobility, it’s time to focus on specific issues that actively help the bottom 20 percent; maybe then, we can revive the American Dream.  



[1] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022103115000062  

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/mar/13/american-dream-broken-upward-mobility-us  

[3] https://www.businessinsider.com/4-day-workweek-successful-trial-evidence-productivity-retention-revenue-2023-1?op=1  

About the Contributor
Elijah Horwath, Opinions Editor