The people of the United States love the idea of the American Dream. As an idea, it is great, a foundation of democracy. The American Dream is defined as “the ideals of freedom, equality, and opportunity traditionally held to be available to every American.”
However, in the United States, hard work does not equal success. The idea of great opportunities being attainable to all Americans is a joke. No matter how hard people in the United States work, where they will end up is usually defined by where they started.
For a few, hard work does pay off. Students work hard in high school and college, leading to a successful professional life. This is what people will think of when they think of the American Dream being accessible. The reality is that people are not significantly changing their social class through hard work.
Just like many things in the United States, there are different levels of hard work. Some hard work we think is admirable, whereas other work is looked down upon and not considered “real work.” Often times the people in these two different situations are doing the same amount of work.
For example, a middle class man who works a full time job at a “respectable” business is applauded for his hard work and dedication. People will commend him for all the great things he is doing. He is building his bank account, maybe saving to buy a new house. He will be able to send his children to college, while still living comfortably, and when he is old enough, he can retire to a comfortable life. When he gets sick, his work will pay for him to see a doctor.
On the other side is a lower class man working two full time jobs at places Americans consider “beneath them.” He will be working more hours than the other man, but not even making half the earnings. He has to work day and night to help support his family. People don’t have any real respect for him. Retirement may not be an option. He has to get Obamacare, or pay for his own insurance.
These differences can in some part be attributed to the minimum wage in the United States. Currently, San Francisco has the nation’s highest hourly minimum wage at $10.74 an hour. The highest statewide minimum wage is in Washington with $9.32 an hour.
What do they mean by minimum? Nobody really knows. It isn’t the minimum a person needs to live, because if that were true people wouldn’t need multiple full time jobs that pay minimum wage, they would just need one.
“Minimum wage” means nothing in the United States. The idea of surviving off of minimum wage with no benefits is laughable. According to the MIT living wage chart, a single person living in Ventura County with one child needs $23.96 an hour to make ends meet. The minimum wage is $8.00. Minimum wage is approximately a third of the living wage.
Fast food chains such as McDonalds use excuses in the United States as to why they cannot afford to pay more to their workers. This is simply a lie. In Denmark, these same companies pay their workers $20 an hour.
A shift in the amount companies must pay their workers would have a drastic impact on the United States. Businesses would still be making a profit, as shown in Denmark, and the workers would not have to rely so heavily on government subsidies to survive.
This small change would let workers live more securely, cut government costs while having no drastic economic impact on major corporations.
In the mean time, these corporations are using the concept of the American Dream to exploit their workers. By leading people to believe that if they work hard enough they will succeed, society is setting people up to be disappointed.
Hard work does not always equal success.
American society as a whole needs to make a shift in the way minimum wage workers are treated, and the values people instill. People in the upper class have many opportunities handed to them. Not to say that the upper class doesn’t work hard, but what makes them inherently more deserving of respect and success than those in the lower class?
Before the American Dream can be a realistic hope for people, the United States needs to show respect for work in general, not just the work we deem “respectable.” The American Dream is not always unattainable, but people need to accept that fact before progress can be made to fix it.