Thanksgiving and the American Dream

The term American Dream was coined during the Great Depression by the historian James Truslow Adams who said it was:

“That dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.”  He added, “It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

Dreamers and innovators, outcasts and misfits have populated America for centuries – a place full of contradictions of all kinds.  We are fiercely independent, but willing to lend a hand to others in need.  We are deeply religious, but of multiple religions, evolving doctrines and affiliations.  Creative, full of drive and hope, but stirred at times by fears of change and decline.

With tens of millions of Americans jobless, enormous holes in our personal and government budgets, and political scandals that don’t seem to quit, we are restless and uncertain about the American Dream, while we posture as though confident and bold about our political views.

As I anticipate my teenagers arrival from college for Thanksgiving, I am thinking about our tradition – going around the table and inviting each person to talk about something they’re thankful for.  We’ve heard answers that are profound, profane, pithy, long-winded, painful and joyful.  Often about our dreams for ourselves, our families and friends and our country.

Thinking about REDF’s list – it’s all about that American Dream.  So here are a few of the small victories that we are thankful for this year.  Each one fires us up to meet our goal of creating jobs for thousands more people so that they have the opportunity to achieve….regardless of birth or position.  Each one meets the test of a public worried about costs and wanting America and Americans to succeed:

  • Resources and assistance will now offer help with housing and jobs to foster youth who have no permanent family to help them transition to independence.  California’s new legislation does not add to State costs – because it allows us to tap existing federal funds available for this purpose.  About 5,000 foster youth age out of the foster care system each year in California and estimates are that roughly half end of homeless, and many jobless.   National research demonstrates that every dollar expended on former foster youth ages 18-21 will produce a $2.41 return to the public coffers.
  • Believe it or not, a 2010 report shows an overall decline from 49.1% to 47.4% in one-year recidivism rates for California parolees since 2005, the year “Rehabilitation” was added to the California Department of Corrections (and Rehabilitation) title and mission. Because more than 100,000 offenders are released in California each year even these slight changes in recidivism rates mean that the families and children of about 1,500 more people have a parent home for the holidays – not locked up. Lower numbers in prison = lower costs.  Jobs are proven to be key in reducing these numbers farther.
  • The nonprofits that REDF has worked with over the years to create businesses put about 550 people to work in this incredibly tough economy, pushing past 5,700 the number that these social enterprises have helped move into the workforce over time.

What are you thankful for?  How does it connect with the American Dream?