The American Dream is Alive and Well – Among Orphanage Alumni!

Issue Briefs | Welfare

No. 202
Thursday, December 15, 2016
by Richard B. McKenzie

Over the last several years, national media have reported discouraging news on the survival of the American Dream. One study found that a sizable majority — just under 60 percent — of Americans have lost hope that they will achieve the American Dream. They are even more discouraged about their children’s futures. A recent study suggests a cause: The percentage of Americans earning more than their parents did at the same age has plunged since the 1970s.

Many Americans believe the economic system is “rigged” against them and their children. They accept as fact that only the wealthiest of Americans have improved their financial condition over the last half-century at the expense of all others — and that upward economic mobility has been and remains hamstrung by entrenched poverty, crime and welfare dependency, and an array of trade, regulatory and tax policies designed to benefit top income earners.

In contrast, surveys and interviews I conducted from the late1990s to as recently as summer 2016 found a substantial majority of Americans who came of age in orphanages, or “children’s homes,” from the 1920s to the present — and faced multiple family and foster-care hardships — believe they have lived, and are living, the American Dream.

The critics of modern orphanages — in contrast to 19th-century Dickensian workhouses — range from Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) to novelist J. K. Rowling, and their prescriptions include eliminating such institutions in the United States and discouraging Western support for them in developing countries. There are surely institutions that provide poor care, inadequate education and harmful environments for their charges, but most of the orphanage alumni I have surveyed avow that the list of hardships they have overcome did not include their orphanage experiences. Indeed, a substantial majority express deeply felt affection for their stays in their “homes” and claim their orphanage experiences contributed to their success.

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