'American Dream' still within reach

Published on Friday, 11 July 2014 23:00 - Written by

When USA Today put a price-tag on “the American Dream,” it cherry-picked aspects and prices to make the claim that only one in eight Americans can ever hoped to achieve it.

The newspaper sadly miscalculates what that dream is, and why people are still spilling over our borders in search of it.

In an article on July 4, appropriately, USA Today rightly acknowledged the centrality of the “American Dream” to the average person’s daily life. We’re not working for the benefit of the government (though a sizable portion of our incomes goes to it), we’re working to create a better life for ourselves and our children.

“No idea is more central to Americans’ outlook than the American Dream — the belief that with hard work and the freedom to pursue your destiny you can achieve success and provide better opportunities for your children,” the newspaper says. “Historian John Truslow Adams, who coined the term, called it ‘the greatest contribution we have made to the thought and welfare of the world.’ It has inspired millions of people from every corner of the globe to come here in search of liberty and opportunity. But the financial crisis, housing bust and Great Recession have caused more of us to worry that the American Dream is out of reach.”

True enough. The recession shook our confidence in many institutions — including the government, which only grew in size and power while the rest of us were tightening our belts.

But losing confidence in government isn’t the same thing as losing confidence in America.

It’s the numbers that USA Today puts to the American Dream that are truly objectionable.

“An analysis by USA Today shows that living the American Dream would cost the average family of four about $130,000 a year,” the newspaper says. “Only 16 million U.S. households — around 1 in 8 — earned that much in 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.”

Exactly what does that price-tag apply to? Home ownership, a “good” car, education for two children, retirement savings.

“Home ownership is central to the American Dream,” says USA Today. “So, we took the median price of a new home ($275,000), subtracted a 10 percent down payment, then projected the annual cost of a 30-year mortgage at 4 percent interest. Total: $17,062 a year.”

The rest of the list is similar; a “good” car costs an estimated $11,039 per year (for a four-wheel drive SUV).

And “total federal, state, and local taxes were pegged at 30 percent for households at this income level,” the newspaper adds.

But USA Today simply gets it wrong. The American Dream isn’t about a $275,000 home and an SUV. It’s about doing better. It’s a quality, not a quantity.

“The American Dream is about living in a country where you can pursue your own definition of the American Dream freely and openly, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the freedoms of others,” says columnist John Nolte.

The American Dream is dead? Ask those refugees at the border if they think so.