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Chasing the American Dream: Understanding What Shapes Our Fortunes
     

Chasing the American Dream: Understanding What Shapes Our Fortunes

by Mark Robert Rank, with Thomas A. Hirschl, and with Kirk A. Foster
 

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The United States has been epitomized as a land of opportunity, where hard work and skill can bring personal success and economic well-being. The American Dream has captured the imagination of people from all walks of life, and to many, it represents the heart and soul of the country. But there is another, darker side to the bargain that America strikes with its

Overview

The United States has been epitomized as a land of opportunity, where hard work and skill can bring personal success and economic well-being. The American Dream has captured the imagination of people from all walks of life, and to many, it represents the heart and soul of the country. But there is another, darker side to the bargain that America strikes with its people — it is the price we pay for our individual pursuit of the American Dream. That price can be found in the economic hardship present in the lives of millions of Americans.

In Chasing the American Dream, leading social scientists Mark Robert Rank, Thomas A. Hirschl, and Kirk A. Foster provide a new and innovative look into a curious dynamic — the tension between the promise of economic opportunities and rewards and the amount of turmoil that Americans encounter in their quest for those rewards. The authors explore questions such as:

-What percentage of Americans achieve affluence, and how much income mobility do we actually have?
-Are most Americans able to own a home, and at what age?
-How is it that nearly 80 percent of us will experience significant economic insecurity at some point between ages 25 and 60?
-How can access to the American Dream be increased?

Combining personal interviews with dozens of Americans and a longitudinal study covering 40 years of income data, the authors tell the story of the American Dream and reveal a number of surprises. The risk of economic vulnerability has increased substantially over the past four decades, and the American Dream is becoming harder to reach and harder to keep. Yet for most Americans, the Dream lies not in wealth, but in economic security, pursuing one's passions, and looking toward the future. Chasing the American Dream provides us with a new understanding into the dynamics that shape our fortunes and a deeper insight into the importance of the American Dream for the future of the country.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This engaging and thought-provoking combination of thorough scholarship, narrative journalism, and policy analysis will resonate with readers interested in understanding American poverty and opportunity." - Library Journal

"Rank and his colleagues achieve two important tasks in this book. They describe, in the words of average Americans whom they interviewed, what the 'American Dream' means. And then they show, through creative analyses of the hard data, how much that dream is being thwarted by the political economy of 21st century America. It makes for a poignant contrast." —Claude S. Fischer, PhD, Professor of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley

"Over the last generation, the ideal of the American Dream and the reality of the American economy have increasingly clashed. In this informed, and engagingly written book, Mark Rank takes us deep into the minds and lives of Americans of all walks of life as they build-and sometimes watch crumble-their own dreams. A powerful portrait of the ups and downs of a riskier and more unequal economy." —Jacob Hacker, PhD, Stanley B. Resor Professor Political Science; Director, Institution for Social and Policy Studies; Yale University

"In his exceptionally important new book, Chasing the American Dream, Mark Rank shows how rising economic inequality has distorted the meaning of the American dream and circumscribed the opportunities of ordinary Americans. Rank combines interview and focus groups with the life history method he pioneered in earlier work to show the astonishing rate at which individuals move in and out of poverty and affluence and how initial advantages and disadvantages translate into patterns of cumulative inequality which define their lives. Written with exceptional clarity, illustrated with vivid individual stories, this book will engage scholars, students, and non-specialist readers who want to know what is happening to the elusive American dream." —Michael B. Katz, PhD, University of Pennsylvania, author of The Undeserving Poor: America's Enduring Confrontation with Poverty

Winner of the 2016 Society for Social Work and Research Book Award

Library Journal
04/01/2014
Inequality and lopsided wealth distribution are quickly becoming the explanations for what ails today's United States. For many the antidote is to "'restore the American dream," i.e., create pathways to affluence and wealth. Here Rank (Herbert S. Hadley Professor of Social Welfare, Washington Univ. in St. Louis), Thomas A. Hirschl (sociology, Cornell Univ.), and Kirk A. Foster (social work, Univ. of South Carolina) offer a timely and intriguing perspective on the contours of these paths. Using survey data, economic indicators, and case studies, they look at what people mean when they talk about opportunity. The authors employ academic research to uncover the substance behind the Horatio Algeresque idea that one can rise from rags to riches. But the book does not rest only on these questions: it focuses closely enough to further examine how the concept is actually lived by people. The authors highlight the importance of not just material markers but also psychological traits such as hope and optimism as components of favorable circumstances. The disconnect between rhetoric and reality is what the authors call "the American Paradox:" the idea that collectively we call for a chance for all but often provide it in unequal measure. VERDICT This engaging and thought-provoking combination of thorough scholarship, narrative journalism, and policy analysis will resonate with readers interested in understanding American poverty and opportunity.—Ahmer Qadeer, Brooklyn

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780195377910
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
03/28/2014
Pages:
232
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet the Author

Mark Robert Rank is the Herbert S. Hadley Professor of Social Welfare at Washington University in St. Louis. He is widely recognized as one of the foremost experts and speakers in the country on issues of inequality, poverty, and social justice. He is the recipient of numerous awards, and his research has been reported in a wide range of academic and media outlets.

Thomas A. Hirschl is Professor of Development Sociology at Cornell University. He is the Director of the Population and Development Program, coordinator of the Program Work Team on Poverty and Economic Hardship, and Director of the Teen Assessment Program. His scholarly focus is on social class differentiation in contemporary society.

Kirk A. Foster is Assistant Professor of Social Work at the University of South Carolina. With a background in social work and theology, he researches how people with little or no income can use the resources available to them to make systematic change.

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