How the American Dream has changed

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The origin of the American Dream can be traced to the Great Depression of 1929, when the nation faced economic problems leading to high living costs (Wolak & Peterson, 2020). During this period, James Truslow Adams wrote a book to depict what America should look like. In the Epic of America, Adams describes the kind of a free world that America can create for its people to ensure equality. The initial American dream comprised efforts among the people to ascend the ladder and become successful while maintaining peace fairly. Many immigrants from neighboring and faraway countries would come to America with the hope that this is the land of opportunities to achieve their dreams without many constraints. However, many immigrants recognized that the class discourse made it difficult for the people to work hard and grow towards their goals in their home countries. For example, revolutionaries in England complained of the lack of equal opportunities to grow through hard work (Jillson, 2016). Thus, the American Dream that promised freedom and equal access to growth opportunities welcomed immigrants from different parts of the world. The American dream has changed over the years, and its misleading promise differs from the reality of life in the country. It is, therefore, essential to evaluate how the American Dream has changed throughout time to what it is today.

Changes in History

During the colonial period, America became a land of equal opportunities for all classes. The issues of segregation were few as the employers mingled with their employees and discussed different topics. The employees believed they could acquire resources, including land, through consistent hard work. The expansion of America toward the west came with many changes to the initial American Dream. Many people struggled for land as there were rights for every person to own property. However, this landrace led to a lot of individualism among Americans. People worked hard to live on the frontiers and could grow plants in areas initially meant for pioneers and homesteaders. The competition would later define the American Dream as a struggle for material desires, reinforcing individualism among people. Therefore, it is essential to examine the origin and initial definition of the American Dream, the historical changes, and its current definition for American society through research.

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Franklin Delano Roosevelt brought new light to the comprehension of the American Dream. In his understanding, America was supposed to be a land of equal opportunities where everyone worked hard together to make the country a safe place for everyone (Jillson, 2016). The dream to have a healthy and safe future prompted the American’s improvement in the Second World War. They believed it was their right and chance to preserve the idealism of the American dream. FDR’s regime stimulated further involvement in the War as he set four central goals Americans had to fulfill to achieve the objective. These include freedom from fear, freedom of speech, freedom from want, and freedom of religion.

The Dream Today

Keeping up with the old-fashioned American dream was difficult due to the population’s use of credit cards for purchases, which also increased debts. As a result, people still struggled for survival, and life continued to be unrealistic as they relied on credit for survival, and saving became unnecessary. Furthermore, the early 21st century was hit by the mortgage crisis, whereby many Americans lost their hard-earned income. The economic recess prompted American President Barrack Obama to revisit their dream (Coskuner-Balli, 2020). Obama realized many Americans lost their homes, and young people could not live better lives than their parents. Hence, the American dream was inexistent and created the need to rethink and make the dream understood for the mutual benefit of all Americans.

A study by the Center for a New American Dream indicated that 77% of people believed in personal freedom as a vital aspect that will steer the realization of the dream. On the contrary, another 23% emphasized the significance of income and wealth creation as the right thing to tackle this dream (Boyack, 2016). However, the young adult population strongly believed that the American Dream was dead and nothing much could be attained as it looked difficult to move forward and surpass their ancestors` success. The middle-class American population with the mandate to navigate the dream has been shrinking in recent decades. According to the Pew Research Center in 2015, the young generation is no longer the majority driver of the American economy. The results show that only 120 million adults are of middle-class income, while over 121 million are upper- or lower-income earners combined (David et al., 2017). Hence, the income gap between the rich and poor has increased 3 – 7 times as much in the past four decades. The dream is speculated as something only a few can achieve, as owning properties such as land, vehicles, or homes, among others, is no longer attainable. Many Americans are still struggling even to wear stylish clothes. Even having a good life has become a dead dream that can only be real to a few wealthy citizens.


The past and current understanding of the American Dream is important in enlightening the public about America’s progress. The American Dream cannot be practically attained due to the prolonged recessions that have turned many citizens to only concentrate on feeding their families. A large American population has to prioritize things as they cannot achieve as much as they used to. Hence, schools, hospitals, and other vital social amenities have become accessible to only a few wealthy and middle-class citizens. The American Dream can only die when people stop believing in hard work and divert to being virtual millionaires without working. However, the dream is possible as the Americans struggle to possess more than they had before and change their lives forever by maximizing opportunities, promoting equal resource allocation, and creating employment with good wages.

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  1. Boyack, A. J. (2016). A New American Dream for Detroit. U. Det. Mercy L. Rev.93, 573.
  2. Coskuner-Balli, G. (2020). Citizen-consumers wanted: Revitalizing the American dream in the face of economic recessions, 1981–2012. Journal of Consumer Research47(3), 327-349.
  3. David, P., Gelfeld, V., & Rangel, A. (2017). Generation X and its evolving experience with the American dream. Generations41(3), 77-83.
  4. Jillson, C. C. (2016). The American Dream: In History, Politics, and Fiction. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.
  5. Wolak, J., & Peterson, D. A. (2020). The dynamic American dream. American Journal of Political Science64(4), 968-981.
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