Political Science


Kristin Johnson

Advisor Department

Political Science




American Dream, inequality, income, socioeconomic status

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A quote from Irving Kristol states: “Democracy does not guarantee equality of conditions - only equality of opportunity.” If Kristol’s quote holds true, do all American citizens have an equal chance of succeeding? This is the question that my project attempts to answer. In studying political science and following current events, I found myself drawn toward the issue of equality in the United States. The idea for my project was sparked by my encounters with research regarding inequality in our nation. I first became aware of the issue after reading Jonathan Kozol’s, Savage Inequalities, in which the extreme differences in public education were addressed. The item was again brought to my attention in my American Politics course, where I read that the likelihood of citizens to participate in politics was affected by socioeconomic status. Again, the issue was highlighted by the Occupy Wall Street movement, which protests the extreme wealth gap between the 99 percent of Americans and the wealthy 1 percent that controls a third of the nation’s wealth. The issue I wish to cover in my project is not new, but it is certainly ripe for discussion, especially with the state of our economy.

The main goal of this multi-faceted project is to put a spotlight on the “American Dream.” While many studies and articles focus on the growing wealth gap, it is also pertinent to examine the ability for low-income citizens to climb the socioeconomic ladder. If all the wealth is concentrated at the top, can the average citizen still pull himself/herself up by his/her “bootstraps?” If a citizen of this democratic country is entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, one must be given the chance to capitalize on individual abilities. In the United States, this generally requires a sound education, access to post-secondary education, financial support, and a voice in the political system. Utilizing journals, newspaper and magazine articles, government reports, and other informational hubs (e.g. Pew Research Center), I attempt to determine the life span of the American Dream through a series of academic publications. Each publication focuses on one aspect of equality, e.g. socioeconomic status, quality of education, access to political participation, etc. I demonstrate that equality can be thought of in more than just monetary terms.

In exploring the feasibility of the American Dream, I first establish that socioeconomic inequality is prevalent in the United States. The income gap between the highest and lowest economic quartiles has increased substantially in the past decade. Next, I examine the disparity in levels of education across socioeconomic classes among primary and secondary educational institutions. Then, I look at access to political participation and its connection to education, socioeconomic status, etc. I will continue to add additional topics as they are completed. Each installment will be included on the project’s website, which includes an informational section on the Starting Line and adds a multimedia dimension.

Although the Starting Line is a living project, it appears that for the majority of Americans, social mobility is continually declining. Although I find that inequality in the United States is pervasive, I hope that any reader/viewer will draw his/her own conclusions on the matter by expanding upon my research and drawing upon personal experience.