American Dreams

American Promise

Feb 3, 2014

American Promise airs tonight, Tuesday, February 3 at 10:00 p.m. on PBS. Filmmakers  Michèle Stephenson and Joe Brewster documented the education of their son Idris Brewster and a neighbor Olawuseun Summers. Both were sent to Dalton, a prestigious and predominantly white school on Manhattan's upper east side. Stephenson and Brewster filmed more than twelve years of the boys' educational trials and successes.  Watch the goosebump inducing trailer below.

Sara Plourde

The statistics are grim. Since the late 1970s, incomes for the top 1% of Americans have quadrupled, while real wages for the bottom half of the workforce have stagnated. Just this week, Oxfam International reported that the 85 richest people on earth, now have the same amount of wealth as the bottom half of the global population. So what does this all mean for the American ideals laid out in the Declaration of Independence: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? In his latest book Who Stole the American Dream?  Hedrick Smith chronicles the dismantling of America’s middle class over four decades. Smith is a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and the author of many books, including The New Russians, and Rethinking America.

By looking at corporate and financial structures from an historical perspective, Smith contends that over four decades our middle class has been dismantled and that we have become two Americas.


  • Hedrick Smith - author, prize-winning investigative reporter and documentary producer. Among the books that Smith has written are The Power Game: How Washington Works and Rethinking America.

*Hedrick Smith will be appearing at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord on Tuesday, October 22nd at 7.

Fewer than 5 percent of Americans had completed college when historian James Truslow Adams first coined the term "American dream" in 1931.

Today, many consider higher education the gateway to a better, richer and fuller life. But for many kids growing up in poverty, college might as well be Mars, and the American dream a myth.

One American's dream can be another American's nightmare.

Consider: Some people long to live in big cities; others think cities have ruined the landscape. Some Americans love to drive big old honking SUVs; others see huge cars as pollution-producing monsters. For some people, the American dream is a steady office job. For others, the office is a sinkhole and the real dream is freedom from the office.

NPR is exploring what the American dream means to our culture, our economy and our politics. On All Things Considered, we explored what President Obama and Democrats think of the American dream. In this installment, the Republican perspective.

President Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney agree that the American dream is out of reach for too many people today. They disagree on how to fix the problem.

NPR is examining what the American dream means to our culture, our economy and our politics. On Morning Edition, we'll explore what Republicans think of the American dream. In this installment, the view from President Obama.

The American dream — the idea that in this country anyone can rise from humble beginnings and succeed — is deeply woven into our national psyche. It's a promise that draws immigrants to our shores. And it's a staple on the campaign trail.

In a nation as diverse as the United States, the idea of "the American dream" means different things to different people. Many associate the dream with intangible ideals like freedom of expression, freedom of religion, optimism and family ties. But the American dream has also long been associated with attaining a higher standard of living, particularly one that surpasses that of the previous generation.

America is the land of opportunity — that's the bedrock of the American dream. Many expect each generation to do better than the last.

That dream of economic mobility is alive and well for Pam Krank and her husband, Brian McGee. The two are proud owners of The Credit Department Inc., a successful business in the Minneapolis suburb of Mendota Heights.

"Mostly manufacturing companies around the world will hire us to study their customers and tell them how much ... unsecured credit they should grant to each customer," Krank explains.

The American Dream is a crucial thread in this country's tapestry, woven through politics, music and culture.

Though the phrase has different meanings to different people, it suggests an underlying belief that hard work pays off and that the next generation will have a better life than the previous generation.

But three years after the worst recession in almost a century, the American Dream now feels in jeopardy to many.

The town of Lorain, Ohio, used to embody this dream. It was a place where you could get a good job, raise a family and comfortably retire.

For many, the phrase "American Dream" conjures up images of a house, a car, a picket fence and 2.5 children.

But that's not everyone's American Dream. We want to know what it means to you, whether it's barbecues with the neighbors, volunteering, or enjoying your garden, your business or your place of worship.