What is the American Dream? I don't think it has anything to do with a picket fence or 2.5 kids and a station wagon.
No, I think the Wikipedia article on the "American Dream" that references the following quotation by James Truslow Adams is a pretty good summation of what the dream should be:
The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.
This phrase was first used by Adams in 1931 in his book, The Epic of America.
The documentary, "Waging a Living," fully embraces that ideal expressed by Adams and exposes the harsh reality that a huge portion of Americans do not and will not attain this dream. The "dream" is altered by a seemingly inescapable loop of poverty that forces Americans to stay stagnate in their earning capabilities.
The movie, by filmmaker Roger Weisberg, follows four people over a period of three years. The featured individuals and their families share their struggles with job searches, limited or non-existent household funds, health insurance and health care, and job security and advancement. They become the physical embodiment of the poverty statistics that are peppered throughout the film.
The movie does a great job of illustrating how very difficult it is for someone to "pull themselves up by the boot straps" and step out of the darkness of poverty. The featured individuals are hard-working, goal-seeking people who attempt to gain more education and experience in the hopes of getting ahead in the workplace and in their place in life. These are full-time workers who do not have the financial means to cover their basic needs.
A single mother of five who works full-time and attends college part-time in order to earn an associates degree, utilizes the social services that are available to her only to discover that every step she makes to become more self-sufficient keeps her increasingly dependent on welfare aid. She says she is "hustling backwards" and that it seems the system is doing all it can to keep her a member of the working poor.
Filmmaker Roger Weisberg states that the term "working poor" should be an oxymoron. I'll go one step further and say it shouldn't be a part of the American lexicon.
I was raised with the edict that if one works hard enough, they will see their dreams come true and will live comfortably. The ironic part of that lesson is the fact that the members of my family quoting that line were themselves a member of the working poor.
Filmed in 2005, this documentary reflects the struggles still apparent in 2010. We still don't live in a country where every person can attain "the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position." Yes, life should be richer and fuller based upon the ability, desire, and application of one's work ethic. Unfortunately, this concept is not a reality for the more than 30 million Americans who struggle every day just to keep their lights on and feed their families.
What is your state's minimum wage? U.S. Minimum Wage Rates
Are you making a living wage? The living wage calculator is a great site that breaks down information by your county to help you determine exactly what you need to be bringing home just to cover your basic expenses or to "meet minimum standards of living."