Can We Achieve The American Dream In a COVID-19 World?

The Hill decided to address this question in their article “Can we keep the American Dream alive during COVID-19?”. It is an opinion article, and like most opinions needs to be read with a cautious eye.

The basic conclusion of the article is “Every American deserves the chance and opportunity to experience the American Dream, and we can do this if we embrace the digital future. By reinventing our economy to reflect AI and advanced digital technologies, we should be confident as ever that the American Dream and our best days lie ahead.” So according to the author it is possible if we embrace technology. Of course the author is President of a global digital company and equating the survival of the American Dream with an expansion of technology usage is a tiny bit self serving (okay, maybe more than a tiny bit).

Rather than reject the conclusion based on the author’s self interest, it is helpful to look at several key points he makes in the article as a way for you to better understand what the American Dream actually is.

We will rely on Xavier University’s seminal research into the American Dream as the basis for this review. For perspective, Xavier University has created the first (and only to my knowledge) statistically validated definition of the American Dream. It is absolutely fascinating research. The bottom line is researchers at Xavier University discovered the American Dream is actually a compilation of individual dreams. It can be described by 35 unique dimensions in the areas of Prosperity, Well-Being, Societal Relationship, the Diversity Acceptance, and the Environment Quality. These general categories are helpful for studying trends and determining the degree to which people feel they are achieving their American Dream. I have written a fair amount of the subject in this blog. But, a good, quick overview can be found in this article about the research.

From the article: “Before the pandemic, a 2019 Gallup poll indicated that 70 percent of Americans believed the American dream is achievable. Another pre-pandemic poll indicated that a majority of Americans were optimistic about the next generation’s future — and many believed that society benefits from a rich class of people.” The Gallup poll is pretty consistent with the Xavier University study. People have not given up on achieving their American Dream. Not in the least. But, there is no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic has placed unprecedented hurdles to people achieving their desired economic status and establishing/maintaining personal relationships (to name just two). Both relate to key dimensions in the quantitative definition of the American Dream. As an example, I recently had a friend mention her 28 year old son would eventually like to marry and have a family of his own. But, he is finding it exceptionally difficult to even meet like minded people his age because of the safety restrictions in place that restrict the operation of businesses (e.g. bars, restaurants, gyms). Until the pandemic is under control, it is doubtful her son (and other Americans with the same objective) will make much progress on these key dimensions of his American Dream.

From the article: “COVID-19 has given us the opportunity to reimagine the American Dream. We must reinvent ourselves and undertake serious digital changes in order to once again define America as a nation of real opportunity.” Any event that provides a meaningful disruptor in our life is a time for additional introspection and reevaluation of what is really important to us. But, it is unlikely to result in a redefinition of the American Dream. James Truslow Adams captured the essence of the American Dream in his best seller The Epic of America. The researchers at Xavier University think it is a good summary of what their work found. He described the American Dream as “a dream of a social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.” COVID-19 is highly unlikely to impact the desire to have access to opportunity and succeed based on your personal performance rather than current situation. In my opinion, the pandemic is more likely to reignite the passion of Americans to succeed, not dim it. A Gallup public opinion poll run post the start of the pandemic reinforces the correctness of my belief. Among other things, the poll concluded that The American Dream beats on in the heart of Americans today. Some 70% of U.S. adults say that if one works hard and plays by the rules, one can achieve the American Dream in their lifetime.”

From the article: “Rebooting the American Dream means that we must focus on our youth. We must leverage technologies like AI and powerful 5G online communication in order to reinvent education and equip the next generation with advanced digital resources to experience success in the new economy.” It is interesting how the author wraps the self serving thought about technology in the arms of the American Dream. I have no doubt focusing on creating opportunities for youth to succeed (e.g. improving access to quality education that can lead to a job) and/or providing access to emerging technology (the author uses 5G as the example, I’d be happy to see access to a high speed internet connection in rural and/or impoverished geographies improved) would help to better enable people to achieve their American Dream. But it isn’t that simple. To “reboot” he American Dream we need to get politicians to 1) understand what the American Dream really is, 2) identify the existing and emerging hurdles keeping their constituents from making progress in achieving their American Dream and 3) make choices in public policy, public programming and infrastructure investment designed to eliminate those hurdles.

Take a look at the Hill opinion article, it is worth at least a skim. And, take a minute to explore some of the other posts I have authored on the American Dream. If you really want to be part of the solution, encourage your local, state and national elected officials to read this post and learn more about the American Dream. By doing so, you give them the insight necessary to knock down the hurdles between you and achieving your American Dream. Fight for it.

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