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Preserving the American Dream

Storymap Shares Americans’ Experiences with Social Mobility Programs

SOURCE: AP/Marco Garcia

Lillie Gonzales, a small business owner in Hawaii, and her family rely on food stamps, a program that is at risk due to steep budget cuts in Congress.

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One of the most prevalent ties that holds Americans together is the American Dream, the belief that life should be better for everyone, according to achievement and regardless of fortuitous circumstances of birth or social position.

Now, the American Dream is in danger.

The steep budget cuts proposed in Congress place our dream at risk. Successful federally funded social programs that aid low-income families are at risk of being severely curtailed. Programs such as WIC, SNAP/food stamps, housing vouchers, and Head Start have helped many Americans overcome adversity and get their life on track.

More than 43.5 million Americans live below the poverty line, approximately $22,000 for a family of four. With the employment rates as high as they are, 7.6 percent for white non-Hispanics, 16 percent for African Americans, and 11.9 percent for Latinos, cutting these federal programs out would be devastating.

Congress needs to hear the voices of the everyday Americans who strive to hold on to their American Dream with the help of these programs. In order to get these voices heard, Half in Ten, a national campaign to cut poverty in half in 10 years, and the Coalition on Human Needs have launched The Road to Shared Prosperity. This interactive storymap is a resource for the public as well as for advocates, press, and policymakers interested in hearing the voices of low-income Americans and other vulnerable groups as the budget debate proceeds.

This initiative allows Americans such as Maurice Randle to tell their story. Randle grew up in a low-income neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio with a drug addicted mother and an alcoholic father. He fathered a child in high school and started selling drugs to provide a household income. When Randle turned 21, he joined Youthbuild, a youth and community development program that addresses a variety of issues facing low-income communities such as homelessness and unemployment. The program allows low-income young people to work toward their GEDs and learn job skills so that they may be able to better serve their communities.

Through Youthbuild, Randle became sober and clean, acquired an education, and gained a different perception of life. Randle now lives in Pickerington, Ohio with his family. It was his access to this human needs and job-training program that allowed him to improve his living conditions. The extent of this impact, however, does not end with him. Programs like Youthbuild allow our future generations to await a brighter future. Maurice Randle attests to this, “Because of Youthbuild the generations that come from me will be different.”

Youthbuild, as well as the Special Supplemental Nutritional Program for Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, a cost-effective federal program that provides nutritious foods to low-income pregnant women, new moms, babies, and children under five who have been identified as nutritionally at risk, is on the budget chopping block. Margaret Saunders, director of WIC Services at CEDA, the Community and Economic Development Association, is also a contributor to the storymap. She has personally witnessed the wide impact of the WIC program in the Chicago metropolitan area. Her agency assists more than 46,000 clients a month with social service programs such as WIC.

The typical client at Saunders’s agency is a recently unemployed young mother who has never sought federal assistance. “Traditionally, it’s the mother of young children that calls [to inquire about WIC] and the family income has stopped, or she’s been laid off, whether her partner or spouse has been laid off and the family is in panic,” said Saunders. “WIC is a program that is often the first entry into the whole network of social family support.”

The House of Representatives recently passed legislation to decrease the budget for the Special Supplemental Nutritional Program by more than $650 million in FY 2012, the equivalent of kicking between 200,000 and 350,000 women, infants, and children off the program. The majority of Americans see the injustice of the proposed Republican budget plan. Nearly two-thirds, 64 percent, fear the Republicans’ deficit plan will take away needed protections for the poor and will “protect the rich at the expense of everyone else.”

The truth is that these programs level the playing field. They give those who were dealt the short end of the stick a chance to excel and become a better version of themselves. It allows them to have a shot at the American Dream.

This project relies on individuals to speak up and tell their story. If you or someone you know has a story, please SHARE YOUR STORY and make your voice heard.

Léalo en español

Natalia Mercado Violand is an intern at American Progress.

To speak with our experts on this topic, please contact:

Print: Katie Peters (economy, education, poverty, Half in Ten Education Fund, women's issues)
202.741.6285 or kpeters@americanprogress.org

Print: Tom Caiazza (foreign policy, health care, LGBT issues, gun-violence prevention, the National Security Agency)
202.481.7141 or tcaiazza@americanprogress.org

Print: Chelsea Kiene (energy and environment, Legal Progress, higher education)
202.478.5328 or ckiene@americanprogress.org

Spanish-language and ethnic media: Tanya Arditi
202.741.6258 or tarditi@americanprogress.org

TV: Rachel Rosen
202.483.2675 or rrosen@americanprogress.org

Radio: Chelsea Kiene
202.478.5328 or ckiene@americanprogress.org