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Checking in on the American Dream

As we approach the long holiday weekend to celebrate the 4th of July, we thought it might be a good time to reflect on  what is often called the “American Dream.”  There are different definitions for the American Dream, but a key component of any definition has to do with opportunity.  It’s the idea that no matter what circumstances a person is born into, he or she can achieve whatever they set out to do.

A key concept of this is the idea of economic mobility: that a child born into a poor family can someday be wealthy.  When we look at the data on economic mobility, previous studies have found that being poor as a child increases your likelihood of being poor as an adult.  This  stems from the fact that a child born into poverty generally has greater challenges than his or her wealthier peers, starting even before birth, with things like maternal stress and access to adequate prenatal care.  The experiences build on one another starting with access to preschool and continuing throughout the K-12 years until children reach adulthood less prepared to be successful than their higher income peers.

Recent research found that while most Americans still exceed the income and wealth of their parents, those gains are not always enough to move them up the ladder relative to their peers. In fact, more than 40 percent of Americans raised in the bottom quintile of the family income ladder remain there as adults, and 70 percent remain below the middle, with African Americans being more likely to be stuck at the bottom  across a generation.

When we look at our statistics on poverty by race in Nebraska, we see that troubling disparities persist here in our own communities. Black, Hispanic and Native American kids in Nebraska are much more likely to live in poverty than White kids.  Last year, our child poverty rate went down slightly, but it went down for White and Hispanic kids while it ticked upward for Black kids in the state.

We have much to be thankful for going into the most American of holiday weekends, but we still have a ways to go in ensuring that the American Dream is truly alive and well for all Nebraska kids.  We hope you are planning to join us for our Race Matters Conference in December where we will dig deeper into some of these disparities and talk about how we can continue to work toward becoming a state where all kids have the best possible opportunity to succeed.


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