Hoarding the American Dream
We love to think of the possibility of the American Dream: that anyone can rise from where they are in life to make their life however they want it to be. But is that truly possible or are are there some out there who are hoarding the American Dream?
The Pursuit of Happiness
One of the most inspirational movies of 2006 was the movie, The Pursuit of Happyness. Will Smith plays Chris Gardner who struggles to make ends meet. As a single father he’s dedicated to his only son and does all he can to provide.
As he pursues his dreams, he finds roadblock after roadblock. He can’t find work and is eventually evicted from his home. He fights against all odds to make his dreams come true.
In one iconic moment, he shows up to an interview unable to change into anything other than an undershirt and jacket.
At one point in the interview, already thick with tension, the interviewer asks, Chris, “What would you say if a guy walked in for an interview without a shirt on… and I hired him?”
Chris replies: “He must have had on some really nice pants.”
It’s the kind of movie that makes you feel you can overcome anything. But is this still possible for the average person, or are some hoarding the American Dream?
The Change in Economics
By the time the average student leaves college, they will have nearly $40,000 in debt. That equates to over $1.5 trillion dollars in debt and is nearly twice as high as it was just over a decade ago.
At the same time, many of these people that are fortunate enough to go to college are leaving college for jobs that pay minimum wage. According to The Balance, using the MIT wage calculator, for the cheapest city in the country $10.31 would be the lowest livable wage for a single person. This is over $3 more per hour than the federal minimum.
Although some student debt is federally backed, there are a lot of people making money off private student loans. There are other people making money off the people they pay the minimum. People are getting squeezed from both sides as the rich get richer.
Hoarding the American Dream
The sad fact is that the people that benefit the most from education – the rich who own the companies people will work for – are the ones who pay the least.
<chart from twitter>
Unless students are well off, they leave college with a huge weight of debt they often can’t shake and go to work at companies like Amazon who pay no taxes and balk at the idea of having to chip in to a system that educates the workforce they employ.
Education helps everyone <link> – teaching math to the cashier who scans your groceries and English to the person who edits your news. Yet the people who are paying more and more for education are getting less and less from it. Meanwhile as the poorer are struggling, the rich and well off are flourishing and hoarding the American Dream. There are solutions.
Companies and company owners have a responsibility to their employees, their communities, and their customers. Squeezing every dime out of their employees first from removing themselves from paying for education, then from paying them less than they need to live is stifling the American Dream.
Martin Luther King Jr once said, “it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.” We’ve come a long way from the civil rights movement where that was often a metaphorical truth.
At the same time, a man who charges someone to learn how to make boots, charges him interest on the debt, then employs him for less than he needs to live is still hoarding the American Dream.
Restoring the American Dream
If we want to restore the American Dream, companies and the well off need to understand that they can’t just profit off of others without contributing to their well being. They have a responsibility to the people that make their success a reality.
Companies and the well to do should pay their fair share of taxes. Additionally, just as a parent with more children has more expenses, the wealthiest out there has seen their success from more people and owe more back. Even Warren Buffet, one of the richest Billionaires in the world agrees. He said that “the wealthy are definitely undertaxed relative to the general population”.
Companies should pay taxes when they make significant amounts of money. They should contribute to education so the people they depend on have the skills to carry out their jobs without shouldering huge amounts of debt. They should pay their people a livable wage.
As long as some people are hoarding the American Dream it will be harder and harder for others to succeed, but if the people who benefit the most from the average worker contribute fairly, then success will be the norm and not the exception.