American Dream On

I suppose I have an issue with the financially successful because instead of being happy for the person younger than me for her wealth and brooding prestige, I narrow my eyes and experience feelings akin to jealousy. But it isn’t that I’m merely jealous, though. When I see the extraordinary success of a young person, I think about the social system of discrimination and inequality. The richest people in our nation make up about 1% yet they control about 40% of the nation’s wealth. However they got their wealth, it has very little to do with their hard work or skill, but who they know. That’s the way it usually is, even on smaller scale success in most cases. So when I hear of some young person, recently out of college, who just bought a house (and a nice house), and a solid career in an increasingly successful business, it just seems obvious to me they had some external help and that this was not just mere hard work and talent.I would be curious to know what the percentage of people in the top 1% who work hard and had gotten there with no hook-ups or birthright connections. Probably none or very, very few. Most people in the world are intelligent, they work hard, and are very skilled in something but few are given the chance to take their career to the next level or make beyond middle-class wages. Opportunity is usually paired with money: higher education=$$$, mortgage loans/business loans need good credit, interns/volunteer workers still need to eat and pay rent…the list goes on. There are ways around the system, but it usually goes back to knowing someone who can help, someone to make a recommendation, someone to see your potential skills that have not yet been developed.Think of the little girl, born into California suburbs, in a middle-class family who pushes for education, good grades, enrolls her in music lessons and soccer. She lives comfortably, her family’s health insurance protects them from going in debt when she breaks her leg at soccer, and even covers the expensive braces to give her that winning smile. What will her future most likely be? She will probably grow up to be very confident, optimistic about the world, believing that the capitalist economic structure works because it provided for her family. She will go to college fully prepared and not worried about the amount of loans she had to take out because she knows that her internships and college degree will get her a good job when she graduates. She will have letters of recommendations, family connections, and of course that winning smile. No one could doubt her competencies with her all-American appearance. Even if that job offer never came to her–no worries, because she has good credit and will invest in her own business, teaching piano.

Now think of the little girl, born in rural Colorado, in a lower-class household, with many mouths to feed and not enough money. The parents need her to stay home from school sometimes to help with the business, so her grades suffer. She doesn’t pay much attention to current events or has time to socialize as she spends her time between school, home, work, and studying. Access to basic things such as the Internet or a computer is limited and time-consuming. Poor hygiene and diet as a result of her poverty contribute to the fact that no one sees much potential in her and raises her insecurities. Although she graduates high school and does her best to get through junior college. She does not get into her desired college yet still worries about the numerous loans she must pay back for this education, since she was awarded very little scholarship. Now that she at last has a degree, she just doesn’t stand a chance at the job interview because the lady next to her has a better list of references, a lifetime of experiences, and well, that winning smile.

I think this second story is true for many Americans, and one couldn’t say that the girl in the second story just needs to work harder or be smarter, but unfortunately that is what our society tells us. What people overlook is the fact that this girl has worked hard all her life, and in many ways much harder yet has achieved less and has less privileges than the girl in the first story, who represents the minority in the U.S. Lack of easy access to infrastructure and technology does put us at odds in the competitive job market and social ladder. And yes, I don’t care how many times people say this isn’t true, the more “American” you look, the more chances people are willing to give you. I don’t believe our system is really based on equality and that if we really, really want it and work really, really hard for it, we’ll get it.

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