The American Dream is not for Everybody?

The American Dream – the idea that anyone who is determined and works hard can get ahead – has long defined the promise of living in the U.S. Yet the reality is that “economic success” for so many Americans is determined to a significant degree by the wealth of their parents. The American Dream that hard work will lead to greater opportunity and a steady climb up the economic ladder is increasingly challenging to achieve, particularly for struggling low-income families and their children.

Our country has the most unequal distribution of income and wealth of all developed nations. For the millions who earn low wages and have few to no assets, narrowing pathways to the middle class and diminished hopes of getting ahead threaten the well-being their families and their children.

The federal poverty guideline for a family of four is about $23,550 annually. But, this number does not take into account regional differences in the cost of living – and as DC families know, the cost of living in our region is higher than most of the U.S. We wrote about the difference for a family living in poverty vs economic security.

While so much of our work is about children – as we are thinking about how to improve assets in neighborhoods -- we should be having a conversation about quality of life and paths to economic security for their families.

Families Need Assets to Invest in Their Kids

While a basic level of income enables parents to provide for their children’s day-to-day needs, what we define assets for families as critical resources, such as savings, home equity, life insurance and stocks and bonds, which allow parents to offer their children a better future. Research shows that family assets (defined as total net worth and liquid assets such as savings and mutual funds) positively impact academic achievement in grade school, as well as college attendance and completion.

Assets improve child outcomes in several ways. By helping families weather temporary economic hardships, such as job loss or high medical bills, savings and other liquid assets reduce parent stress and may improve parenting. Assets also give parents the financial means to invest in their children’s education. In short, helping families accumulate assets can increase their long-term financial stability, improve economic mobility and bolster children’s chances for success regardless of race or ethnicity.

How can we help more families and neighborhoods attain economic security? We can start by making sure every neighborhood is equipped with assets that support and serve families, especially working parents. Examples include reliable transportation options to get to work, high-quality affordable child care that can accommodate work hours, and neighborhood schools where students develop skills for success later in life.

DC Action’s 10 for 10 Campaign highlights neighborhood assets we believe MUST be available to DC children and their families to be able to improve child and family well-being and hopefully achieve the American Dream they all deserve!

We are also equipping community organizations and local policymakers with comprehensive data about the opportunities and challenges for families in their neighborhoods!

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