Is there an American Dream?
By: Jaleah C. Price
Jaleah's American Dream:
Definition: A society where every citizen, no matter their skin color, has an equal opportunity to achieve their dream with hard work and determination. That means if you are poor you have the same chance as someone who comes from riches, or the opposite.
Capitalism: In a capitalist society free trade is preferable. The economy is under the influence of private owners who control the trade and industry instead of the government.The police, justice system and public projects are run by the government. Also the government defends the people. Instead of sewing clothes yourself, private owned businesses offer clothes that are already made. This is a faster and easier way to have clothing.The pros of capitalism are low prices, competition, hard work is rewarded and it allows the building of wealth and possessions. The cons are the quality of products go down, employees are paid less, there is no minimum wage, the society exploits people who can not compete (one person may have more than the other), there is uneven distribution of wealth, there are no taxes to pay for public projects and finally it creates of society focused on money and wealth. The American dream in a capitalist society would be, being wealthy because companies begin to raise prices but have low quality products. To add to that, everything is owned by private owners. What ever business owners make is being put only into their pockets; employees don't benefit as much, and neither does the government because there is no taxes.Those who are already at the top will stay at the top and those at the bottom will stay at the bottom. Those at the bottom will most likely stay at the bottom and never achieve anything higher, nor their American dream.
Socialism: A society that has taxes and is controlled by the government. The government owns most industries and controls businesses. Since the government owns the businesses every company has the same prices. Common property is more valuable than private property.The society supports the abolition of social class: "Everyone is equal." The pros of this society are all members share benefits, those who are not so wealthy can still participate with other companies who have more wealth, everyone is somewhat wealthy, and there are no social classes. One con of this society is there is no incentive to work hard, meaning even if you work harder than the next person there is no reward for it and both parties earn the same. Also, new members are seen as competitors for goods and services that are limited, there are higher taxes and the people have restrictions. Since everything in a socialist society is all the same the people would not be able to talk about an American dream because there is no room for improvement. When the American dream is thought of, it's thought of having the freedom to desire something higher, being able to work hard, be determined and have initiative so that when it's all over the reward will be achieving the goal at the end, which is the American dream. In this society if you have more or less, both parties are given the same reward. There is no competition or momentum to achieve anything greater than what's been given to you. You are basically stuck with what you are given and nothing more.
The Industrial Revolution first began in Britain in the middle of the 18th century. Samuel Slater, an early English-American industrialist, stole British textile technology and immigrated to the United States to start his own business. Before the Industrial Revolution in the United States, people did not travel outside of their small towns. People only bought goods that were made in by them or by locals in their town, and they made their own clothes one stitch at a time. Once the Industrial Revolution began between the years 1760 and 1830, people began to branch out from their communities. Factories were created and were powered by steam engines, an efficient source of power. People with no experience in working in a factory began to relocate from the rural areas to the city to work in hopes of landing a job as a factory worker. Instead of people having to sew their own clothes factories had factory-grade sewing machines to make clothes faster and easier. Outside the factories were huge smoke clouds that filled the air. Inside the factories employees worked extremely hard using new technology to produce products that were later being transported by train.
Along side adult employees were children as young as four. There were no laws that required children to attend school, nor were there laws that restricted the use of children during the Industrial Revolution. Children were paid less than adults but worked as much and as hard. Not only were adults working in an harsh environment but children were too. The children of the labor force did dangerous tasks such as cleaning machines. The living environment of the working force was low quality, overcrowded and polluted small apartments. Diseases flourished because of the unsanitary living conditions. Workers were constantly being injured because there were no precautions or guidelines set up to prevent workers from losing their limbs or going blind. While workers lived in overcrowded living conditions and worked in poor working environment, business owners were constantly making money off of them. The work force finally spoke out and wanted a change.
Between the years 1890 and 1920 the Progressive Era began. The United States worked to outlaw alcohol sale, adjust child labor and change immigration. Progressive reformers gained the support of college-educated people and set out to end corruption in the government, address the poor working conditions and improve them. They also sought to give the public a voice in government through the process of electing candidates to office, women's suffrage, etc. During this time minimum wage was enacted, child labor was restricted, factories were regulated and a law to improve working conditions was put in effect. Also during the Progressive Era laws authorizing an income tax, providing for the direct election of senators, extending the vote to women, and prohibiting the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages were adopted as constitutional amendments. Progressive reformers also sought to have access to higher education.
The Industrial Revolution and the Progressive Era are linked to the American dream. When the people from rural areas moved out of their small towns to big cities to work in factories, they went to achieve something better than what they had. Their American dream would have been being able to provide more for the family, especially children. The same goes for the immigrants who were seeking a better life in the Americans through hard work. Instead, when they reached the cities and the factories they were given diseases and injuries, which was killing them. The rich got richer and the poor got poorer, and potentially were killed by poor living and working conditions.
Fast Food Workers Movement/minimum wage
In 2012 over a hundred fast food workers in New York went on strike sparking an international movement. Workers demanded a living wage. They are fighting for their wage to be raised to $15 an hour and for the right to form a union or even raise the minimum wage. Strikes and rallies have been on an up rise in more than 150 cities and 33 countries on 6 different continents. Many republicans such as Scott Garrett, Keith Hall and Chris Edwards are against raising the minimum wage of $7.25. Garrett, Hall and Edwards all agree that if the minimum wage is raised there will be a negative effect, such as some may receive a raise in their salaries while others are let go because employers can not afford to keep all their employees, meaning some will benefit while others suffer. "Studies have shown, not mine, but independent studies have looked at minimum wage increased that generally what happens, especially service industries, when you raise minimum wage some people see their salary go up, those fortunate to keep their jobs, but other people get fired and end up unemployed," stated Scott Garrett (source: C-Span Classroom Deliberations). Those that will suffer are the low-skilled workers, who range from 16 to 25 years old, because they are the ones who will lose their job automatically. Also small businesses would be crushed by the proposal of raising the minimum wage, which would result in unemployment for the low-skilled workers. But then again, while the minimum wage is low, the cost of living is rising and over 3.5 million people are homeless, even if they have a job. Many low income and minimum wage workers can't make ends meet or even afford food and shelter. Wages of low income workers have not kept up with the cost of living and since the late 1960s the minimum wage has declined in value. The minimum wage has not kept pace with inflation, nor worker productivity, leaving the current wage 27% less than what is was in 1968 when adjusted to inflation. This results in low income workers unable to afford the things they need, such as housing, food and medical care. You simply can not raise a family on $7.25 an hour when the medium income in the country is $51,144 and a minimum wage worker only earns about $15,085. Mark Pocan, Christine Owens and Vice President Biden all agree that the minimum wage should be raised. "In order to have the economy truly prosper and truly recover we have to make sure that all people are benefiting and that all people see an additional wage," Mark Pocan stated (source: C-Span Classroom Deliberations).
Working at a fast food restaurant, in most cases, is not an employee's American dream. What the workers are asking for is a high wage so that they don't have the constant fear of being homeless, facing hunger or constantly worrying about how they're going to make ends meet. It also may be a benefit for those who are trying to become something greater and ultimately trying to achieve their American dream, for example college being student. Definitely being worried, depressed, homeless, starving, and barely making it, is no one's American dream.
The Great Gatsby Connection
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, connects to the American dream because many characters were searching or had their American dream. Jay Gatsby is an example of a character with an American dream because he started from rags, but then grew into riches. Even though he had a lot of money there was still one thing missing, the girl.
When Gatsby was a young soldier he fell in love with a wealthy girl named Daisy, but he did not care about her money. Gatsby knew even though they loved each other, money kept the two from being together. Sadly Daisy married Tom Buchanan, a wealthy man, and Gatsby was left heartbroken. Gatsby was willing to do everything in his power to win her over and set out to accomplish his "American dream." Once Gatsby finally came into riches he purposely buys a house across from Daisy's house, and watches a green light flash at the end of her dock across the bay at night. "Gatsby bought that house so that Daisy would be just across the bay" (p. 83). But the way he makes his money isn't the best. The story takes place during the prohibition and Gatsby is a bootlegger who sells illegal liquor. Gatsby throws these huge lavish parties at his home, but not to seek the company of strangers, but rather the company of Daisy. "I think he half expected her (Daisy) to wander into one of his parties, some night," says Jordan Baker, "but she never did" (p. 84). Gatsby casually starts asking people if they know Daisy and finally he runs into one. A man named Nick Carraway, just happens to be her cousin, even better, he is Gatsby's neighbor. Nick and Gatsby become close friends and Gatsby finally reunites with Daisy. The two, once again, fall in love. When Gatsby is under the impression that Daisy is going to leave Tom and start a new life with him he confronts Tom, but ends up disappointed. "He wanted nothing less of Daisy than that she should go to Tom and say: "I never loved you" (p. 116). Gatsby insists that she tell Tom that she doesn't love him and when she does finally does, it is not what Gatsby hopes for. "Oh, you want too much!" she cries to Gatsby. "I love you now -- isn't that enough? I can't help what's past. I did love him once -- but I loved you too." These words bite into Gatsby and once again his heart is broken. Gatsby, Daisy, Tom, and Nick all head back home, but on the way, Daisy runs into a woman named Myrtle Wilson, who happened to be Tom's mistress, on accident. When Daisy hist Myrtle she is driving Gatsby's car. Myrtle's husband learns whose car it is that hit his wife and sets out for revenge. After this accident Gatsby and Daisy never talk again, but Gatsby still has hope that she will change her mind and call him. He waited by the phone day and night, but she never calls. "No telephone message arrived but the butler went without his sleep and waited for it until four o'clock--until long after there was anyone to give it to if it came. I (Nick) have an idea that Gatsby himself didn't believe it would come and perhaps he no longer cared. If that was true he must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid high price for living too long with a single dream" (p. 169). That same day when Gatsby had been waiting for Daisy's call is the same day Mr. Wilson arrives at his house to seek revenge. Gatsby is shot and killed by Mr. Wilson for a killing he did not commit. The only true friend Gatsby had was Nick. Nick plans Gatsby's funeral and reaches out to many people, those who attended Gatsby's parties, colleagues of Gatsby and even Daisy, but no one attends his funeral. Only the ministers, Mr. Gatz (Gatsby's dad), an owl-eyed man who attended one of Gatsby's parties, and Nick himself attends his funeral. Daisy doesn't even send a single flower in recognition of Gatsby's death.
In the end Jay Gatsby's American dream was never complete because he never lived happily ever after with Daisy. Gatsby longed for his American dream. "Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter--tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther" (p. 189). He went about achieving his dream by being financially successful, bold and self made, but the life of Jimmy Gatz ended abruptly.
Is the American dream a reality for most Americans? No. In many cases the American dream is not a reality to citizens of the United States, especially those who are in poverty or barely surviving. There are those who work extremely hard, work day and night, for the dream of their family and themselves to rise out of poverty, but they are constantly faced with hardship and never reach their American dream. Referring to the Industrial Revolution, the American dream was not a reality for the working poor, which was a majority of the country. When people began to raise their voices the Progressive Era occurred. But even though things were improved during that time, there were still problems that still exist now, such as wages. Until 1938, there was not a national mandated minimum wage. In the present day many fast food workers work hard for their wage, just like the working poor during the Industrial Revolution and should be paid more for their labor. Workers do not earn enough to support their families or rise out of poverty. Workers can barely rub two dimes together because at the end of the day it's put towards bills, and when they do pay bills, some are so off that they have to sacrifice what bills they are and are not going to pay. When fast food workers finally raised their voices and reached out for help they were put down. As I said before, there are those who work really hard, but can't rise up because they are constantly faced with hardship, and which will ultimately lead to them to never achieving their American dream. Even though the Progressive Era was a period of improvement there was nothing set up to fight for workers earning a living wage. Back in the Industrial Revolution working conditions were poor and hazardous, along with living conditions. Now, even though working conditions have improved and living conditions a little, there are still hick ups. In the present day, housing that minimum wage workers and the unemployed can afford are available in poor neighborhoods. Living is not the best it could and should be. With the price of living going up and wages not increasing along with it, more and more individuals are becoming homeless. The price of living in Madison, Wisconsin is over $75,000 for a family of four, which is about $18,750 per person. Then there is an additional $9,000 for food, $18,00 for childcare, $7,00 for transportation, $5,000 for necessities and finally an addition of $7,000 more for taxes. A fast food worker, or any minimum wage worker, earns between $18,000 to $20,000 as an annual wage. A minimum wage worker can not afford the basic needs of living, nor rise out of poverty with what they are earning, which is why over 3.5 million people are homeless in the United States. In conclusion, the American dream is not a reality for most Americans, especially the 46.5 million people living in poverty.
"Digital History." Digital History. N.p., n.d. Web. 3o Oct. 2014.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott, and Matthew J. Bruccoli. The Great Gatsby. New York, NY: Scribner, 1996. Print.
"History.com." History.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 31 Oct. 2014.
"National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness." National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2014.
"Strike Fast Food." Strike Fast Food. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Oct. 2014.