With this digital edition we explore the American Dream – a concept that suggests success is a result of an individual’s work ethic.
Shrubs surround the tin-roofed, wooden barn on my grandpa’s farm in Beattyville, Kentucky – a largely impoverished town in the southeastern part of the state. Missing boards and discoloration of the dark-stained outer walls record the decades of deterioration. After all these years, the inside of the barn built in 1947 still holds the thick aroma of dried tobacco – the staple of the family’s survival.
For $19 an acre, my great-grandfather bought the farm. But a large plot of rocky land in the Appalachian mountains doesn’t bring forth much profit. My grandpa’s family scraped by through selling tobacco and lumber. Although not very profitable, the land did provide for them, making them self-sufficient.
In 1954, my grandpa left the farm to join the army. When he returned to the states, he started working for General Motors in Cincinnati, Ohio. Navigating their way out of poverty, he and his siblings advanced into the working class because of the abundance of opportunities available to them. Through several jobs at a time, he was able to support his wife and four children.
Although it was never easy, in the 1950s and 1960s hard work really could mean success for some individuals. For them, the American Dream worked. Today, someone raised in my grandpa’s situation might never have left the poverty they were born into. The idea of a meritocracy doesn’t take into account societal changes, institutional discrimination, and economic downfalls that impact what people are able to achieve – even if they are hard workers.
With this digital edition, Ball Bearings explores the status of the American Dream. From individuals who say it’s achievable, to immigrants who came to America for a shot at success, and to those who say it’s never been achievable and never will be – we dissect what the American Dream is today.