Renewing the American Dream by Jack Crittenden (March 4, 2017)
The idea behind the American Dream is that each of us should find that if she works hard and plays by the rules, then she will have a life that is financially secure and heavy with opportunities for advancement and fulfillment. Moreover, the life of her children should be even better—more secure, more prosperous, more fulfilling—than hers. In his 1928 presidential campaign, Herbert Hoover encapsulated the idea of the American Dream with the slogan: “a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.” To buy chicken you needed some steady income; to cook it, you needed a pot and a stove that, in Hoover’s view of American prosperity, would be in a kitchen. Indeed, Americans would be so financially successful that there would be a car in every garage. Of course, most garages are attached or close to a house.
Today, many Americans find themselves checking to see whether they can afford chicken, let alone the house that holds the kitchen, the stove, and the pot. Today many Americans struggle to find adequate transportation, let alone a car in a garage. In 1965, when the American Dream seemed a reality to many, a CEO made 20 times what the average worker made. That means that a CEO could put 20 cars in his garages for every one car that a worker put in hers. Today that CEO can have as many as 400 cars in his garages for every one an average worker can buy.
Income inequality is not just a phenomenon between CEO’s and average workers. The children born in 1940 statistically earned more than their parents. But by the 1980’s, as globalization and technological advances took off, as educational attainment declined, and as governmental policies began to favor the rich, the income gap increased and over 50 percent of the young entering the workforce found their earnings well below that of their parents. The American Dream for the young and especially the poor was in trouble and still is. That trouble helped elect Donald Trump. How can we awaken that dream?