A response to "Is the American Dream Dead?"

Views 150 | Time to read: 3 minutes | Uploaded: 11 - 11 - 2014 | By: Jarrett Catlin

Let me be clear: I believe in the American Dream. My father, after living on welfare in an Alabaman trailer park, worked his way through college to a master’s degree in biochemistry from USC. He is a living testament that success in this country is not reserved for the children of the rich and powerful.

That being said, I found myself wholly unsatisfied with Branton Nestor’s recent defense of the American Dream. Instead of focusing on social mobility, the key issue, he chose to instead make irresponsible conclusions regarding race and the government’s role in the economy.

In his second article, a supposed rejection of the notion that any, “insurmountably unequal starting points” exist in America, Nestor claimed to dispel the idea that racism exists in part because he failed to find any polls where respondents self-identified as racist.

Here’s the thing: no one ever self-identifies as racist. It is called the “social desirability effect”, where people seek to sound more socially acceptable when responding to polls.

Here is a real fact: of people born into the bottom 20 percent of our economy, whites are more than twice as likely to make it into the top two-fifths of our economy than blacks are, according to the Brookings Institute. Either race still is a significant inhibitor of social mobility, or blacks and other minorities are simply less willing— or perhaps too lazy— to take advantage of opportunities compared to whites. If we deny the role of race in social mobility, as Nestor claims, then we are left with being racists.

In his most recent installment, Nestor spent most of his ink affirming his affinity for “Reagonomics” and free markets, even going as far as claiming that the existence of a minimum wage is harmful to working individuals.

When he finally does address governmental assistance, Nestor bluntly condemns it entirely. Instead of highlighting which governmental programs are ineffective and why, he advocates for their disposal, since they are capable of creating dependency. Nothing quite like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

I agree that governmental assistance programs are bloated and can create dependency; I have aunts and uncles still living on welfare to prove it. However, government aid is also a powerful means of overcoming poverty, as my father (and many Westmont students) would not have been able to go to college without government assistance in the form of grants, loans and subsidies.

As I said before, I believe in the American dream, and not just because of my father. A Harvard research team has shown that social mobility exists much to the same degree it did a generation ago. Being born into poverty does not condemn one to remain there.

Whether or not hard work can still get you far in this country is a debate worth having. But let’s not hijack this topic in order to pretend that race isn’t an issue in America and spout diatribes against the government’s attempts to help the poor. The American dream deserves a better analysis than that.


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