"The American Dream in the 21st Century: A Pre-Election Year Discussion," a panel discussion held at The Catholic University of America, was the subject of a Catholic News Service article. Several CUA professors participated in the discussion and were quoted in the article. See the story below.

American dream not the same for all, but it stays alive, panel says

From: Catholic News Service Date: April 4, 2007 Author: Patricia Zapor WASHINGTON (CNS) -- For different people, the "American dream" may be inspired by the Jetsons or the Waltons, or maybe by the quickly canceled reality show hosted by former pop idol Donny Osmond, suggested panelists at a conference on the topic at The Catholic University of America. But despite changing times and an increasingly cynical world, people still believe in something they consider the American dream, which these days may be less about material goods and more about emotional satisfaction, panelists said. Surveys show that people also believe the American dream is attainable for themselves.

Karlyn Bowman, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said at the March 28 conference that Americans not only are generally optimistic about achieving their goals, but they tend to be more satisfied with their lives than are Europeans.

"They feel they have made progress," Bowman said, and that their children will have opportunities they lacked. Nevertheless, recent surveys find that a majority of people believe the next generation will have a more difficult time achieving individual dreams, she continued.

"That could be due to the reality now being different, or it could simply be people's impulse toward nostalgia" for simpler times, she said.

William D'Antonio , Catholic University sociology professor and fellow at the university's Life Cycle Institute, which co-sponsored the conference, said that over years of opinion surveys "in good times and in bad an individualistic idea of the American dream thrives."

He noted that other cultures also may have a common cultural dream, but those may be easier to define. D'Antonio gave the example of a Croatian friend who was confident that the "Croatian dream" was widely believed to be getting a college education.

Michael Kimmage , an assistant professor of history at Catholic University, said that throughout the nation's history the idea of an American dream has been a unifying factor in the country, though often people who talk about the American dream "are using the same language to talk about different things."

Even a concept as simple as attaining a college education might mean for some people "everyone gets to go to Harvard," while for others it would mean "everyone can go to a state college or university," Kimmage said.

Whatever makes up someone's American dream, that dream is "not an unambiguously good thing," he said. "It is a haunting and disturbing part of our lives," because the ideas that go into one's dreams come from sources outside an individual's control.

The wishes of one's parents and the effects of falling in love with "the wrong people" factor into dreams people sometimes try to achieve that may not be the best for themselves. "On the other hand, they keep us alive," Kimmage said.

James Loewen , adjunct professor of sociology at Catholic University and author of "Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism," said the notion of living the American dream was how some U.S. community leaders rationalized policies requiring all African-Americans, Latinos or other minorities to be out of town by sundown. Loewen said he found more than 10,000 towns in the United States that had such policies in the last century.

He showed a newspaper advertisement hailing the advantages of moving to Mena, Ark. Among the attributes cited in the early-20th-century advertisement: "cool summers, warm winters, pretty homes, no mosquitoes, no malaria, no Negroes."

Nor were such communities only in the South. Loewen concentrated his research in his home state of Illinois, where he found 440 "sundown towns." Among the towns he referenced was Highland Park, Utah, one of many similarly named towns around the country, which Loewen said were all designed as "sundown towns."

Loewen said the notion that the American dream for white Americans meant living among only people who looked like themselves wasn't common until after 1900. Before then, many cities that later became segregated were well-integrated, including many in middle-class areas, he said.

Pollster John Zogby , who also is a senior fellow at the Life Cycle Institute, said polls show a trend away from defining the American dream as "the desire to acquire" in favor of a more "spiritual happiness."

"It's not about God," he said, "but more toward introspection, leading a meaningful life."

Recent surveys show that people's material expectations may be more modest, which could either be the cause or the effect of the fact that one in four American adults is in a job that pays less than a previous job, Zogby said.

Another factor may be an increase in those at "the other end of the spectrum. Those who've got it all and they're dissatisfied."

The number of people in that category isn't huge, Zogby said, but it's statistically significant in the context of other data about people's changing expectations.

###2007 (c) Catholic News Service www.CatholicNews.com Reprinted with permission of CNS