A University of California, Davis professor has caused quite a stir by essentially saying that the American dream is a myth. We’ve always believed that America was special. That you could break out of your social status and be all that you could be. Not so, says Professor Gregory Clark. He says America has no higher rate of social mobility than medieval England.
Clark said he studied figures from the last 100 years but we’re not privy to those figures. He did single out illegal immigrants as being no more socially mobile than their parents but there’s a problem with using that group. First, the current avalanche of illegals is hardly 25 years old. The professor also doesn’t take into consideration the status of the illegal in the country he left. It’s hard to argue that they aren’t better off in America or so many wouldn’t have come. As to what happens to their children, they will certainly be at a disadvantage compared to legal immigrants. All the more reason we should insist people come to this country the right way.
He claimed black folks weren’t socially mobile, which is absurd if you’re looking at data over the last 100 years. With civil rights legislation and an awakening of the American conscience there’s no doubt that black citizens as a whole are much higher socially than they were 100 years ago. Is there a disproportionate number of blacks in poverty? Sure, but that’s another issue altogether. Government programs continue to trap too many blacks in poverty but there are far more rich black people than there ever has been in American history.
It is true that so much about us is shaped by our parents. The predominant deciding factor in which political party you’ll support is familial. There’s no question it’s harder to break that cycle but it’s done all the time, especially when it comes to social status. Even today we hear of people who are the first in their family to go to college. Most parents on the lower end of the economic spectrum strive to give their children a better life than what they had. That doesn’t mean it will always work out that way.
I would argue, however, that Americans, in general, have made fantastic strides in the last hundred years. I’ve been to third-world countries. Many citizens of these countries have hardly moved an inch from where their forebears were a century ago. Look at us as a country. Even the poorest live better than all but the richest citizens of a hundred years ago.
A study by the Heritage Foundation found that a typical household defined as poor by our government had a car, air conditioning, cable TV, a DVD player, an Xbox, a microwave, washer and dryer, ceiling fans, and a coffee maker. The study found poor Americans had more living space than average Europeans.
I suspect Professor Clark was trying to make a case that America never has been exceptional or extraordinary. That seems to be the modus operandi of many college professors. The data just don’t bear that out. Immigrants have been coming to this country for centuries because of the unique opportunity it offers. Those of us who are natives have several steps on the rest of the world just by being born here.
The professor is certainly right on one count. There’s no guarantee that you’ll break out of your parents’ social status. The difference in America is that you can. The opportunity exists for everyone. Whether or not you take advantage of it is up to you.