Values like hard work, determination, and initiative have long been extolled as the all-access ticket to the American dream. This belief that each generation, through discipline and striving, could potentially find itself better off than the one before it has given the U.S. a world-wide reputation as the land of opportunity. This optimistic narrative is central to the bios of our most esteemed, modern day American heroes. From Steve Jobs to Oprah Winfrey, these ‘scrappy underdog’ success stories permeate the plots of our favorite television shows, novels, and films – affirming the notion that every citizen, born, naturalized, or other – has equal opportunity to achieve success and prosperity. But, what if the American dream that we hold so dear, is just that – a dream?

That’s the conclusion reached by Michael D. Carr and Emily E. Wiemers – two economists at the University of Massachusetts. The researchers analyzed earnings data and measured the fluidity with which people move up and down the income ladder over the course of their careers. What they found is that the decline of social mobility is very real. “It is increasingly the case that no matter what your educational background is, where you start has become increasingly important for where you end,” Carr said in an interview with The Atlantic. “The general amount of movement around the distribution has decreased by a statistically significant amount.”

Despite these findings, all hope for upward mobility isn’t lost. When people are able to move up the socioeconomic ladder, it’s usually attributed to three major factors:

Access to Services & Support

Studies show that kids born into poverty aren’t likely to succeed at school without help that targets their basic needs and family situations. When families in need, are given access to services that address their basic needs, it provides a clear pathway to a better life and an opportunity to break the poverty cycle for their families.

Education, Job Skills and Tech Training

The only thing more expensive than getting an education, is not having one.

2013 study by the Washington, D.C.-based think tank the Urban Institute found that education is still the best bet for breaking the cycle of multi-generational poverty. But in today’s economy, the concept of higher education has evolved far beyond just acquiring a college degree. Job skills apprenticeships, tech trades, and entrepreneurial training are the new wave. According to data published by the Labor Department in 2016, America has a whopping 5.6 million job openings, but not enough skilled labor to fill them.

Social Cohesion

Having a strong sense of community is huge component for moving out of poverty and achieving self-sufficiency. Engaging with peers through community-led activities, social events, peer-to-peer learning, and support groups, builds leaders and encourages positive engagement in the community.

This is why the work we’re doing at the Ford Resource and Engagement Center (FREC) is so important. Through training, support, and community cohesion, our strategy for social and economic mobility has the potential to transform neighborhoods, change lives, and make The American Dream attainable for the residents we serve in East Detroit.


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