[Guest article by Robert Nielsen, Ireland]
The American Dream is at odds with reality. America views itself as the “The Land of Opportunity”, the place where if only you work hard enough you will become rich. This American Dream has been the hope of millions of immigrants who come to America’s shores. Yet this dream is slowly becoming a myth. America is turning into a rigid class society where where you come from matters as much as what you know.
Americans like to pretend that there is no such thing as class. It is often assumed that all people are the same and have the same chance in life. The only division is between the hard working and the lazy. Yet studies show that half of a son’s income is determined by the income of his father. This is not the American Dream of equal opportunity, but rather the nightmare of class that only Old Europe was supposed to suffer from. The rich are born with significant advantages; America has a more rigid class system than even Britain.
The American Dream is at odds with reality.
Becoming rich and successful isn’t just about working hard, it is also due to the luck of birth. If you happen to be born Hispanic or African-American then your chances of becoming rich are significantly reduced. If you were born female or working class, then you must climb a mountain to get into the elite. Is it just a coincidence that the vast majority of CEOs are white men from privileged backgrounds?
The chart above (taken from a study of the American Dream) shows that if you had the bad luck to be born into a poor family, you will probably stay there. Almost half of those born on the bottom stay there and almost three quarters stay in the bottom two-fifths. It is though they are born with a glass ceiling above their heads, they can see the top, but they’ll never get there. Likewise, if you had the good luck to be born into wealth, you’ll keep it. Unless you think there is some genetic difference between those at the top and those at the bottom, then you must admit there is something seriously wrong here.
America has a more rigid class system
than even Britain.
How does birth give you so many advantages? Rich parents can afford to pay for the best private schools and private tuition to ensure their children get a head start. These advantages open doors into elite schools where the future movers and shakers are. These networks are crucial and often who you know counts as much as what you know. They can lend their kids money and hold them over until they start making money. Just as important as better education and contacts, with privilege comes confidence. The most striking feature of rich children is their level of self-confidence and belief that they can become doctors or lawyers.
If it is education, networks and confidence that keep the rich at the top, then it is the same factors that keep the poor at the bottom. With little money they cannot afford to send their children to the top schools but are stuck with the derelict under-funded schools. If you live in a working class area, you aren’t going to know many managers or employers who can help even get your foot on the labour market ladder. If your parents, didn’t know the right people, there is little chance you will.
America is bottom of the table
when it comes to social mobility.
Finally and just as important is the lack of confidence of working class people. What poor minority kid believes he will run a bank? What’s the point trying if you’re never going to win? They know the dice of life have been rolled and they’ve lost.
Americans believe the legend of the rag-to-riches stories, of those who were born poor but through hard work and intelligence made their fortune. Yet of those born in the bottom 20%, only 4% made it to the top 20%. The easiest way to become rich is to have rich parents. Hard work can only take you so far, but the race to success is not a level playing field where we all start at the same point. The path to success is a toll road. If you aren’t born to money, it’s hard to pay the toll.
America is bottom of the table when it comes to social mobility and the chances of the poor becoming rich. Although, it is never spoken of, America is in the grips of a rigid class system where the rich stay on top and the poor stay on the bottom, and elaborate barriers and privileges are created to keep things this way. If you want the American Dream, move to Denmark.