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Lane: The American Dream… depending on where you live

BY JOE LANE | MAY 15, 2015 5:00 AM

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The American Dream is one of the more connotation-laden phrases in U.S. history. Throughout the past couple centuries, individuals and families have flocked to the United States for this one simple aspiration. It was the phrase, “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” that created this American Dream and has driven millions to the United States.

But, as it turns out, Thomas Jefferson’s inclusion of the phrase carried with it even deeper meaning. It is as if Jefferson was saying that the American people are not entitled to happiness itself but to the ability to achieve happiness by their own doing.

According to a recent study, however, some may not even have this chance, let alone a chance at true happiness and prosperity.

Last week, the New York Times published an article about a study that measured the impact of where one grows up on the earning potential of such an individual. The results of the study were rather astounding.

It should come as no surprise that where one grows up certainly affects the individual later in life.

The study revealed that where you grow up has striking correlation to future earning potential. And, moreover, it shows how the discrepancy in some areas may contribute to some of the unrest and rioting that have consumed the media cycle for the past few months.

Take Baltimore, for example. According to the study, individuals who grow up in Baltimore in the lowest 25th percentile for income are likely to make, on average, $4,510 less than a comparable American at age 26.

Baltimore is — not surprisingly given recent events — home to one of the largest discrepancies in income for young men in the country. The study explains that young men who grow up in areas like Baltimore will face an income approximately 35 percent lower, on average, than young men across the country.

The article provides a possible explanation for the scenario that unfolded in Baltimore the past few weeks. “The feelings heard across Baltimore’s recent protests — of being trapped in poverty — seem to be backed up by the new data.”

“Trapped in poverty.” The mere utterance of the phrase makes even the most financially comfortable individuals have an overwhelming feeling of claustrophobia. To be trapped in poverty, not by your own actions, nor by who your parents are, nor by the content of your character, but simply by your geographic location is the unequivocal opposite of the American Dream.

Some areas of the country, of course, fared better than others. The state of Iowa, on the whole, actually does quite well in improving the lives of individuals that grow up in poverty. In Johnson County, specifically, such individuals will make 7 percent more by age 26, on average, than others in similar scenarios around the country.

However, even Johnson County has room for improvement. Just next door, for example, impoverished individuals growing up in Cedar County will make 22 percent more, on average.

The numbers presented by the study provide an interesting look into the root causes of some of the recent unrest around the country. While a lack of upward mobility may only be partially to blame for the riots, it cannot be ignored.

Going forward, presidential candidates and government officials will be faced with the difficult task of addressing this issue. Fundamental to the United States is a set of core values, perhaps the most important of which is the American Dream. Before addressing the laundry list of other concerns, we must ensure its survival.


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