“The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. ... a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable …”
In 1931, James Truslow Adams coined the phrase The American Dream in his book Epic of America, defining an idea at the heart of the American experience for centuries.
We like to believe success can be achieved on merit and hard work. To many, that is the promise of America. But at the tail end of the Great Recession, many would argue their own version of the American Dream has been pushed far out of reach if not dashed entirely. Families and businesses are coping with trying times.
To tell those stories, we begin a new series for Patch readers: “Dispatches: The Changing American Dream.”
We’ve shed 27 percent of our construction jobs and 17 percent of our manufacturing jobs. Unemployment hovers around 9 percent locally. Drive down Oak Park Avenue in Tinley Park, and you’ll see more shuttered storefronts than you did five years ago. Grand development plans stalled in New Lenox and Orland Park. Job fairs draw record-setting crowds. In Frankfort, half-empty and totally empty upscale subdivisions — Lighthouse Point and Crystal Brook — stand as stark reminders of the slowdown. Everywhere in the south suburbs, vacant, foreclosed homes are silent sentries to economic trouble in established neighborhoods. Even the ubiquitous pizzeria isn’t immune—Connie’s, Gino’s East and Pizzeria Uno have all disappeared, as have a handful of locally owned pizza parlors.
Americans have always liked to think that if we work hard and play by the rules, we’ll have a chance to create a better life for ourselves and our families. But a growing body of economic data suggests the gap between the rich and the rest of us has grown dramatically, making it harder to achieve our own vision of The American Dream.
This month's Atlantic Monthly cover story asks "Can the Middle Class Be Saved?"
"It’s hard to miss just how unevenly the Great Recession has affected different classes of people in different places. From 2009 to 2010, wages were essentially flat nationwide—but they grew by 11.9 percent in Manhattan and 8.7 percent in Silicon Valley. ... In March, the national unemployment rate was 12 percent for people with only a high-school diploma, 4.5 percent for college grads, and 2 percent for those with a professional degree."
Citing a paper by MIT economist David Autor, the magazine notes:
"… from 2007 through 2009, total employment in professional, managerial, and highly skilled technical positions was essentially unchanged. Jobs in low-skill service occupations such as food preparation, personal care, and house cleaning were also fairly stable. Overwhelmingly, the recession has destroyed the jobs in between. Almost one of every 12 white-collar jobs in sales, administrative support, and nonmanagerial office work vanished in the first two years of the recession; one of every six blue-collar jobs in production, craft, repair, and machine operation did the same."
How are we adjusting to these challenges and opportunities? As our political leaders argue over how to resurrect our economy and what the role of government should be in our lives, we believe the compelling stories of the American people are being lost.
Your south suburban Patch editors will be joining almost a thousand other Patch editors across the country in finding and telling the stories of struggle, hope and inspiration that illustrate a wide range Americans' dreams, whether they are achieving them or losing them.
Dispatches is the start of a conversation built upon your stories. We hope you'll join the conversation and talk to us about the dreams you have for your country, your town, yourself — and the challenges you face in achieving those dreams.
If you have a suggestion for us, feel free to write me at email@example.com. You also may reach out to your local Patch editor. You’ll find his or her name and contact information at the top of this page.
Dennis Robaugh is editor of Patch's south suburban region. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Dennis on Twitter and Facebook. You can find Patch journalism online, via iPhone and Android apps, and in the Local section of the just-released Editions iPad app from Aol.