My great-great grandfather was born on the Chisholm Trail in Spanish Fort, Texas. He was the first in our family to be born on American soil. His parents had fled northern England in the 19th century to escape crushing poverty. They landed on the plains of what would become Oklahoma. They lived in Indian Territory, tending "the poor farm" until my great-grandfather graduated valedictorian and moved southwest to farm cotton in Levelland, Texas.

I was raised on fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and the belief that prosperity always comes to those who are willing to work hard. Like many other American families, I believed each generation was able to fare a little better than their predecessors. Until now. According to a recent study conducted by Pew, while 84 percent of Americans earn more than their parents, those gains often aren't enough to move them up the economic ladder. Those born at the top and the bottom quintiles are most likely to stay there. African Americans are more likely to be stuck in the bottom or fall from the middle quintile. Findings like these lead some top economists to say that the American Dream is nothing more than a fairytale.

And there's more. Though the Pew study suggested that a degree generally promotes upward economic mobility, about 1.5 million U.S. college graduates under 25 are unemployed or underemployed. And at an unemployment rate of 14.6 percent—double the national average—one in every seven Americans ages 20-24 can't find work. While experts say that college is still worth the investment, one has to consider how deeply this news impacts recent college graduates.

These harsh realities strike at what Pew calls a "defining element of our national psyche … the idea that all ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.