May 14

Has the American Dream Lost Its Meaning?

Maureen Golga

The American Dream.  The concept has been the cornerstone of countless PR campaigns.  Yet last week, I found myself wondering if the American Dream has a consistent, unified meaning anymore.

I was at a roundtable led by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation on the economic challenges faced by single parents in America.  Over and over again, participants referred to the desire of single-parent families to achieve the American Dream.  But it meant something different to each speaker: 

  • Ruby Bright  talked about how single parents see achieving the American Dream as providing greater opportunity for their children;
  • Michelle Singletary, personal finance columnist for the Washington Post, spoke about how Americans need to adjust their concept of the American Dream, from one that is about accumulating wealth and keeping up with the Joneses to one that’s focused on being satisfied and content with what one has; and
  • Anna Greenberg talked about how research in recent years shows that older audiences see achieving the American Dream as owning a home and having savings for retirement, while younger generations view it less in financial terms and more in terms of being free to do what they please.

If the definition of the American Dream varies this widely within a crowd focused on the economic empowerment of low-income parents, then how widely does it vary with other audiences?  Is it time for a renewed discussion in this country about the core of the American Dream? And, is there a role for us as communications professionals to help lead this conversation?  


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