The American Dream

May 29, 2012

The American Dream has always meant opportunity -- the idea that anyone can make it here. Woven through our politics, culture and family histories, the simple phrase lifted and sustained Americans for generations, and its promise inspired millions to come to the United States in search of a better life. Yet this collective ideal has always been fraught, as the country struggled to extend opportunities beyond white men to African Americans, women, Latinos, gays and lesbians, those with disabilities, and others.

Today, with millions of Americans out of work, the conversation is often focused on the economics of making it. A good job, a nice home and car, and the chance to do better than one's parents have all long defined the American Dream. And as the Great Recession staggers to a close, the dream feels out of reach to many and the gap between rich and poor now is greater than ever.

NPR News and Alabama Public Radio explore the American Dream in the 21st century, talking with a wide range of people around the country and the world about what the American Dream ideal means to them, and its conflicts and contradictions. The series launched with a conversation on Weekend Edition Sunday on May 27, and will continue over the next several months.

Tomorrow (May 30th) on Morning Edition, White House correspondent Scott Horsley reports on the American Dreams of Republicans.  On All Things Considered, NPR's Ari Shapiro will fill us in on the American Dream of Democrats. 

Future stories in development include:

  • The role of the car as status symbol in the African-American community and measure of "making it," from NPR's Sonari Glinton.
  • Housing/home ownership and the American Dream, from NPR's Chris Arnold.
  • Is each successive generation climbing the education ladder, or are doors being closed? NPR's Claudio Sanchez reports.
  • How the factory job once held the full promise of the American Dream, and where it stands today, from NPR's Don Gonyea.
  • From Mark Twain to Toni Morrison, from Modern Times to The Beautiful North, the American dream drives narratives for generations of American artists. NPR's Arts Desk explores the resonance of this theme for a handful of artists working in diverse disciplines, possibly including music, literature, film and visual art.
  • The American Dream in film, from NPR's Bob Mondello.
  • A look at the American Dream from many personal perspectives -- young adults, immigrants, citizens of other countries, and veterans.
  • NPR Music asks music writers to pick one song that best represents their version of the American Dream, to curate a stream of songs for the series. NPR listeners will also be asked to submit songs that represent their American dream.