Is America The Land of Opportunity?

What do you think of when someone says “America”? There’s “The Land of Opportunity,” “The Land of the Free” and “The American Dream.”

All of those ideas have inspired people since our country was founded, and rightly so. It’s the idea that anything is possible if you’re willing to work hard. That’s exciting, right? As kids we learn about people like Theodore Roosevelt, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. All of them instill in us the importance of independence, work ethic and self-sufficiency, values that are uniquely American.

Is that still the land we live in today? That’s not so clear.

Consider this: the socioeconomic status of a child’s family is now a better indicator that they will complete college than a child’s academic ability (Robert Putnam, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis). The problem with this is that the wealth of a family is not a choice a kid makes. It’s a circumstance they’re born into. According to this fact, a kid can work hard, play by the rules, possess innate talents and still be less likely to complete college than a peer of a higher socioeconomic status. That doesn’t sound like the land of opportunity.

We are a country that believes in “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.” The thing is, not everyone starts off with boots.

The wealth of your family or the region you are born into shouldn’t determine the rest of your life, but for some, it does. Low-income, high-poverty areas are often under-resourced communities. Those communities are more likely to have poorly-funded schools, unsafe neighborhoods, high unemployment rates and less access to quality food, creating an opportunity gap.

The opportunity gap means that the likelihood of our kids escaping poverty they’re born into is getting smaller and smaller. 

This has major impacts for our kids. Next week on our blog we’ll take a deeper look at that impact and how we’re responding.

Maggie Becker