Living the American Dream?

American DreamPrice tag for the American dream: $130K a year.  The first few times I encountered that statement on social media, I dismissed it.  Finally, I decided to check out the story or, more precisely, read Howard R. Gold’s July 4, 2014, USA TODAY article with that title.

While I hesitate to define the American dream solely in economic terms, I recognize it is the simplest place to begin.  Household finances have become an area of greater concern and awareness thanks to the Great Recession.  This trend is one that is likely to continue, and one that is aided by easy access to rich data sets about the economic reality of those in and beyond our borders.

According to the USA TODAY only about 1 out of every 8 households in the United States is financially able to live the American dream.  The dream, according to their calculations, comes at a cost of $130K a year for a family of four.  The dream is broken down further

  • Essentials – $58.4K (housing and utilities, groceries, transportation (just 1 vehicle!), medical, education, and apparel)
  • Extras – $17K (vacation, entertainment, restaurants, etc.)
  • Taxes & Savings – $54.8K (federal, state and local taxes; college savings; and 401K contributions)

Add in a second vehicle and subtract two kids and it appears according to the economic criteria, my wife and I are living (or at least financially positioned to be living) the American dream.  Even so, we don’t quite fit with any of the many assumptions of just how we spend or allocate our income.

So What?

I don’t believe that this level of income is necessary to living the American dream, but do understand that income below a certain level makes achieving such a far more challenging proposition.  More importantly the focus must be on something bigger: the traditional understanding that the American dream is about the longstanding American social ideals of equality, democracy, and the opportunity for prosperity.  A continued focus on prosperity — and even moreso on prosperity defined exclusively in economic terms — is unhelpful.

The American dream is evolving, and it is our responsibility to participate in the shaping of its future form.  The dream must be about our nation as a whole.  It must build on the ideals of equality, democracy, and the opportunity for prosperity, but need not assume they alone are adequate for forming or reforming the dream for a new era.   It is a dream not for 1 in 8, but for 8 in 8.

  • How do you define the American dream in 2014?  According to your own definition, are you currently living the American dream?
  • What is the role of religion in your understanding of the American dream? How well is your religion living up to and in to that role?

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