On a personal note: American Dream and poverty

Wednesday’s posting sparked a fair amount of discussion. And maybe some of us come from different backgrounds different experiences, and thus a different point of view. I really don’t tend to have these discussions with my close friends. Mainly because my close friends share the same working class background (‘cept Nora) and sometimes part of the family drama that we left back home includes members who would be classified as poor. There is no need, or desire to dwell on their condition, and it may result in no desire to dwell on it here with non-family members.
To check what my background was I gave mom a call yesterday. “Poor, lower-middle, lower-middle, well compared to my family, poor,” she said. I asked her what she considered herself now. “Lower-middle.” I would call my sister to check her status but that seems a little mean. She lives in public housing.
From my aunts and uncles to my own family the American Dream, or at least parts, have been available. In some it has been lived out, struggled for, and in cases, achieved. My grandparents were North Carolina sharecroppers, my aunts and uncles went to college, putting themselves through with a mix of summer jobs, scholarships, the GI Bill and other support. Mom unfortunately mom didn’t go to college, so she didn’t go forward. From my point of view my aunts and uncles lead comfy middle class lives, and were able to provide for their children and put them through and keep them in college. Coming from the poor/lower-middle range with a combo of scholarships, loans, grants and emotional support from my parents (who mind you, didn’t save one red cent for my education) I was able to go to college. With college and then grants to go to grad school and then taking out another loan and working part time to go to grad school again, I am the woman I am today. So you have two generations that have raised themselves up.
In my background are friends and family and people I went to school with, with their own struggles. I compare notes with other friends who have similar intimate characters in their background. The movement from one situation to another, from poor to middle class is not theoretical, when it is observed closely over time in the lives of people we know on a deep level and in our own lives.
That upward movement is not easy. It takes something inside to persevere and fight, as well as opportunites that society provides. America is the land of opportunity. Pell grants, state colleges and universities, small business loans, programs for first time homebuyers, FHA loans, Vet benefits, tax incentives, social security*, etc provide just some of the opportunites. I am so lucky to be born here.

*Yes, the program will be gone by the time I get 65 but it frees up parents and their siblings from having to directly support 100% my grandparents’ living expenses. I hope that it will remain solvent long enough to support my parents, so I (and maybe my sister) won’t have to deal with all of my parents elder care expenses.

2 thoughts on “On a personal note: American Dream and poverty”

  1. Hey Mari,

    i really enjoyed reading this post. I’m madly getting ready to return to DC and am in a rush or would say more.

    I guess in Australia there are very very few people who would consider themselves ‘poor’ even though there are many more rich americans and a lot more money here.

    This in itself (rampant middle-classness) is another problem all together…but a less desperate and immediate one.

    I guess I just feel that education and healthcare for everyone should be a right. Be it for humane reasons or be it for selfish reasons such as, at least then people won’t be as inclined to take desperate measures (such as prostitution,robbery, selling drugs on my corner, etc).

    anyway, see you round.


  2. If I remember correctly there are robberies, prostitution and drug use in Socialist countries in Northern Europe where they do make an effort for universal education and healthcare.
    Human nature is so complex.
    So why is middle classdom so bad? I’ve been poor, I’ve been middle class, middle class is sooooo much better. I’d be happy to try rich on for size and if you happen to know some billionaire who’d like to trade places for a week, I’m game.

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