"The reason they call it the American Dream is because you have to be asleep to believe it," George Carlin.
Many are conditioned from birth to believe that America is the land of equal opportunity, but an online data tool offered to the public for the first time on Monday shows how far the distance can be between where you are... and the American dream.
This map, a screenshot from The Opportunity Atlas, a big data and analytics firm - empowering policymakers and civic leaders to create targeted local policy solutions that revive the American Dream, shows household income in 2014-2015 for 20.5 million Americans born between 1978-1983 who are in their mid-thirties today. In areas that are redder, people who grew up in low-income households tended to stay low-income. In the regions that are bluer, people who grew up in low-income households tend to achieve the dream.
According to NPR, Harvard University economist Raj Chetty and a team of researchers created this tool - the first of its kind because it blends US Census Bureau data with data from the Internal Revenue Service. The findings are compelling and show the missing link between geographical area and economic mobility.
Chetty said that people born in the 1940s or '50s were guaranteed the American dream, but today, for much of the millennials, it is more of a fantasy.
"You see that for kids turning 30 today, who were born in the mid-1980s, only 50% of them go on to earn more than their parents did," Chetty says. "It's a coin flip as to whether you are now going to achieve the American dream."
Researchers hope this map will aid communities and knock down barriers that prevent people from climbing the economic ladder. They want policymakers to use this data and offer new solutions on a localized level.
Chetty explains the information can help pinpoint regions where younger generations are climbing the income ladder and "the places where the outcomes don't look as good." He also found that if a person moves out of a neighborhood with worse prospects into to a neighborhood with better outlooks, that move increases lifetime earnings for low-income children by an average $200,000.
For instance, the household parent income in Cockeysville/Hunt Valley, Maryland is $62,000, but just roughly 20 miles south in decaying Baltimore City, some parts have a parent household income of approximately $19,000 to $29,000. In the last decade, politicians in Maryland have attempted to smooth out the massive inequality in the region by providing Section 8 (housing) to low-income city folks in the county. The report did not touch on Baltimore flight, as many have escaped the opioid and murder-plagued city, the population has hit a 100-year low, exacerbating the inequalities divided by a city/county line. As for Baltimore, obtaining the American Dream depends on if your parents are living in the city or county.
Glancing at the Rust Belt and Southern US, decades of de-industrialization have decimated the household income of parents, virtually erasing the prospects of obtaining the American Dream for millennials. From Michigan to Georgia, parent household incomes are some of the lowest in the nation.
The next view is San Francisco and Silicon Valley, where the region has become a widely accepted center of the computer industry since the 1970s. Tech has been influential in the modern economy, thus boosting parent household incomes in the region. In return, strong households have provided an easy glide for millennials to climb the ladder and obtain the American Dream.
Last month, we explained more than 80% of American families define the American Dream as financial security and homeownership, and more than half think this dream is unattainable, according to the latest State of the American Family Study released by MassMutual.
The bottom 90% of Americans (remember the middle class was wiped out) are trapped with insurmountable debts, including auto loans, credit card debts, payday loans, and student loans. Only one if four families have enough emergency savings to cover more than six months of expenses.
The American Dream is starting to look a lot different than before. This time around, there is no white picket fence, and if you were to believe the American Dream -- you would need to live in a high-income zip code.
As for the majority of Americans (living ex. high-income zip codes), the land of equal opportunity does not exist.