The Young Person's American Dream

Co-authored by Mikeal Parsons

As young people, trying to make something out of ourselves, it seems that the inevitability of fending for ourselves has now manifested into a reality. We feel the drive to be successful firsthand, and we are constantly looking for what can be "the key" to success in America. Naturally, understanding the infamous American Dream seemed like a good place to start.

However, the American dream is abstract and constantly changing, so it seems that the only fair definition to apply to it is to define it as the opportunity to succeed, presumably through hard work and dedication. There are no restrictions on how hard someone can work, so it seemed simple to us: we need to work hard in college, and in return be on the fast track to achieving success. The naiveté of this statement now seems embarrassing.

First of all, it discriminates from the very beginning. The so called "opportunity" to go to college is not equal, and the environment into which people are born is unfair. Some people must work harder at ages 5-18 battling inept public schools and lack of parental guidance and economic resources. Yet even after overcoming these circumstances, the cost of attending a 4 year university is still too pricey for the everyday student, averaged at $30,000 a year according to College Board.

According to the earlier definition of the American Dream, those who worked harder should be more successful. Instead, in reality, those who work the hardest to overcome the worst economic situations must now work even harder to arrive at the same point academically as middle to upper class high school students, with additional worries such as how to finance college. Simply, the American Dream is diluted from birth.

But let's pretend those who worked hard in grade school are now going to a college whose prestige reflects the students' hard work. They graduate with the average student debt of $25,000. However, these numbers are also deceptive and favor those in higher economic standings, as they may receive help from their parents in paying off student loans. Let's pause for a minute, and realize that we have taken something for granted-- the idea that if you work hard you will be able to go to college. In fact only 47% of those on the poverty line enroll in college, and 11% of those who graduate remain in poverty.

Efforts to curb student debt have been proposed but were voted down, notably by senate minority leader Mitch McConnell. At a meeting with members of McConnell's staff, they claimed this lowering of interest rates on college students would be passed to small businesses and corporations in the form of greater taxation. This defense of corporations by elected officials derives the following: if education is not the way to opportunity, then it must be corporations.

Small businesses, more so than larger businesses, have always been a result of the American Dream and opportunity. So, it seems fair that those who were fortunate enough to prosper from opportunity in America shouldn't be burdened with imposing taxes and should serve as employers to continue to benefit themselves and others pursuing the American Dream.

The problem is not typically with small businesses but with large corporations: These are corporations that have profited so greatly from the free market of America that they have surpassed competition in their respected fields and begun to monopolize their industries. If our representatives are working to protect billion-dollar corporations, there must be a good reason to value them over students, right? These corporations must be doing something to help close the gap between rich and poor. Are they? Nope.

In fact they are pushing out competing small businesses by underpaying employees and lobbying for votes from the Senate and House for legislation that favors large businesses over people. An atrocity, we have come to realize, but it gets worse; not only are they stifling opportunity and democracy, oppressing those most in need of opportunity, and completely rewriting the meaning of the American Dream, but some even claim that there is no lack of opportunity at all.

Take for example the major conservative think-tank in Washington, The Heritage Foundation. Heritage's stated mission is to "formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense". They develop publications involving many issues they have a financial interest in and send them out to lawmakers, effectively having a direct role in decisions the lawmakers will make in the future. The Heritage Foundation is funded by large corporations and people such as the Koch brothers, and have a prominent standing among conservative politicians in Washington, although they claim they don't lobby - according to Heritage they just send out "factual" information based on studies they have done, that they feel everyone should know. In the past, they have halted their own party's proposals intended to combat poverty in America.

Take for example Heritage's newest scandal: their chief economist Stephen Moore was caught using incorrect statistics to mislead readers about the relationship between tax cuts and job creation in the United States. Moore wrote an article in The Kansas City Star attacking economic policies in states like New York, Illinois, and California. The Kansas City Star published a correction to Moore's op-ed saying that he "misstated job growth rates for four states." If it's so easy for the foundations chief economist to spew out false information to the public through a newspaper, how difficult could it be for them to send out false information in their publications sent to politicians in Washington?

The fact that one think-tank can have so much influence on policy, is scary. These traditional, conservative values, are ruining our future and halting our potential success. There are many other people, businesses, corporations, and politicians we could point out but the central idea of our argument is this: How are we to succeed in a country that is being halted by these so called "traditional values?" How are we to overcome think-tanks that release false information out to the public that ruin new legislation to move us forward as a country, not backwards? If this continues, we students, the future of this "American Dream" we all have different ideas about, will be deterred not only in regards to college affordability, but deterred when it comes to getting out of college and finding a job that will help us repay our loans, support our families, and contribute to society. This leaves us with two questions that we aren't sure anyone can answer: Why do these groups have so much say in our future in a negative way and how are we supposed to succeed in the American Dream with these groups fighting against us? And most importantly, when will our voices be heard?

It's time to find a way to help young people struggling to make their way in this world without the fears of unmanageable debt.