Student Voice


July 12, 2024


Inequality hinders success for low-income Americans

February 28, 2013

The American Dream is something that was very important to the generations before us and many people today are still striving to achieve it.

People tend to have this idea that all Americans are created equal and everyone has an equal opportunity to rise to the top, succeed in life and ultimately experience that American Dream. However, every single day in the United States the American Dream is crushed by our lack of both meritocracy and upward mobility. The idea that America is a meritocracy, where people’s abilities, hard work and good attitude will lead to success, is a myth.

The large gap between the elite and the poor continues to widen and hinder mobility. Access to education is not universal and there are many other factors that facilitate and immobilize success, and that is why America is not actually a meritocracy.

An article, titled “Mobility Impaired” by Scott Winship, explains that 40 percent of children born to parents in the bottom fifth in income distribution will stay in that bottom fifth as adults. This is not just a chance happening. There are definitely specific reasons why this is the way it is. A child who is born to a wealthy family is already farther up the success ladder than one born to a poor family.

The child cannot choose which family he/she is born into and must then live with the implications that will have on his/her life. Children whose parents are financially stable are able to provide for them the essentials needed to climb farther up the ladder.

These children may get to the top because of hard work and their abilities, but often the only reason they have the chance in the first place is because of how and where they grew up.

Many people who grow up in poverty tend to make the same bad choices as their parents before them. As I look around in the community I grew up in, a small community in one of the poorest counties in Wisconsin, kids who I grew up with are ending up in jail, dropping out of college, having kids very young without being married, etc.

These consequences for bad choices are very similar to those of their parents. It seems to be a vicious trend where these children live similar lives to their parents almost as if it was all they knew. They do not do anything to change their lifestyle and that is often because they had no ability to.

People may say that the reason someone is in poverty or working a minimum wage job is because they did not work hard enough, or have the skills and abilities needed. That is the problem with our society. People do not realize that if America was a perfect meritocracy that would be how it worked, but these people may have all the merit needed to move up the ladder and may have worked very hard, but are hindered by their situations.

So, why exactly are these children who are born into poverty and low-income households not moving up the ladder? One explanation is lack of access to education.

If people cannot afford to barely buy food for one month, how can they send their kids to college? The problem is not that children do not want to go to college. The problem is that financially they have no opportunity to go. The rising cost of college tuition and the increased number of people in poverty ensure that more and more students will miss out on an opportunity to go to school and get a degree that will help them to get a job. If they do not obtain a good job then they will not have very much money and will therefore likely be in poverty just barely scraping by.

The inequalities in our society are the leading cause to lack of mobility and meritocracy. People who are born into a family of a higher income bracket have more and better opportunities than those born into a lower income bracket. How can people rise out of poverty if the cost of college continues to rise or health care continues to be inaccessible?

Brittany Flatten is a senior majoring in journalism and minoring in international studies. When she graduates from UW-River Falls, she wants to become a foreign correspondent in Brussels, Belgium.