Woodgrove High School
Third Place Winner, Virginia
The American Fantasy
For some, the American Dream is the notion that anyone can be successful in this country if they work hard, regardless of who they are or where they come from. For others, the American Dream is to live in a society where everyone is accepted and has equal opportunity and fair treatment. However, regardless of what the American Dream may represent to you, it’s more evident now than ever that the American Dream has become much more of a fantasy than a plausible dream. In the D.C. Metropolitan Area and throughout the country as a whole; economic and social mobility has decreased steadily for the last century, as income inequality has steadily risen. To say that two people from opposite sides of the economic spectrum have the same chances of being successful is ludicrous. The opportunities and resources afforded to a child of an upper class family would be nothing more than a farfetched fantasy for a child living in an affordable housing complex in D.C. This social and economic immobility and unchanging racial issues are perpetuated by a fractured education system, policies and legislation that help the rich, and age old prejudices that still cling to some areas of our country. Though the youth of Loudoun County and other high income counties enjoy success stories, they are still the exceptions, not the rule. Even within the city of Washington D.C. itself; the juxtaposition of million dollar townhouses within walking distance of some of the country’s worst neighborhoods emphasizes the striking polarity in this country between the haves, and the have-nots.
The American Dream is as broken as the structure upon which it is supported: the United States Education System. With policies in place that constantly help schools in wealthy areas and leave the poor forgotten; it’s not hard to understand why – according to a 2015 Washington Post Article – the graduation rate for Loudoun County Public School’s was 97.5% last year, while 45 minutes away in Washington D.C. graduation rates have never gotten above 60%. The way in which public schools get their funding is the root of the problem. Wealthy areas that pay more in taxes can afford better public schools with more expensive facilities, better teachers, and considerably more resources. In addition to that, the method of divvying federal funding as a function of how well your students score on standardized testing, again tilts the scales in favor of the rich. Ultimately, this is because the students in wealthier areas who were better prepared for these tests, will earn their school more money than the students in the poor areas will be awarded. In turn, the wealthier school will be granted more funding, and continue to get wealthier, while the poorer school district gets poorer. As a result of these differences in high school education, there are also discrepancies in college attendance and graduation rates. CNN Money reported in 2011 that 2/3 of all kids from families making $87,000 per year or more graduate from college, compared with only 1/3 of children from families earning $26,000 or below. Since nearly all well-paying jobs require college degrees or at least a high school diploma, these kids who grew up poor and dropped out of high school or college, will likely pass on their inherited economic misfortune to their children and the cycle will start all over again.
Today, it’s no secret that The United States is one of the top ranked nations in the world for income inequality; which makes sense, seeing how 1% of the population controls more than 90% of the wealth. The kicker is, though, that it gets worse and worse every year. Every fiscal quarter, the big corporations get bigger and bigger, and those who own and run them reap the benefits. As a result, every year it becomes harder and harder to start a small business and compete with these corporations, and the American Dream begins to fade more and more from reality. Not only is Washington D.C. not an exception to any of this, but within the city lies the root of the problem – Congress. By passing laws that favor the rich and large corporations, our congressmen and women look out for themselves while they’re in office, not the ones who need it. Our tax codes are purposely riddled with loopholes, if you’re wealthy enough to hire someone that knows where to look. Moreover, most legislation passed involving business and commerce is tailored to the corporations that can afford to hire lobbyists and fund campaigns, not to the small business owners or hardworking employees trying to live out their American Dream.
For most, the American Dream is about social and economic mobility, but for some it is simply social and racial equality. Though the Civil Rights Movement ended in the late 1960’s, there was a lot left unfixed and unchanged. The city of Washington D.C. actually epitomizes the lingering prejudice and segregation still found around some places within the U.S. If you were to ever look at a map showing different demographic groups within the District of Columbia, you wouldn’t have any trouble pointing out where each ethnic group lived. In fact, the demographic split in Washington D.C. is so drastic that you can point out where 16th Street Northwest is on the demographic dot map simply by looking at where the white population ends and the African American population begins. For those whose American Dream is to all live together, instead of segregated by race, moving out of the greater Washington area may be their best, if not their only, option.
The concept of the American Dream is something that is held dear to most Americans; which is why it is so hard for many to accept that it has been vanishing from realism. Denying that we have a problem in this country is the first roadblock standing in our path of correcting the issues in this nation and moving past them. It’s impossible to fix a problem that you don’t believe exists. In a world that is filled with endless media bombardments and overwhelming pop culture, people lose sight of the real issues. The challenges facing us as a society and as a nation, can be overcome. Our nation has never been able to proactively avoid problems, but we compensate for this lack of forward vision with grit, resilience, and steadfast resolve. The American Dream doesn’t have to be a distant mirage, if we, as one people, work together to preserve it.
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