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In our opinion: The American Dream

Published: Saturday, Aug. 17 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Those looking for solutions, however, should focus on efforts to encourage and sustain the nuclear family as the first defense against destitution. Certainly there are other things that can be done, including increased engagement with civic institutions and increased investment in effective schools. But the foundation for economic mobility begins with intact families.

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According to a recent poll, only 38 percent of Americans still believe that the American Dream is still within reach, with a plurality of 41 percent now saying that the American Dream is now impossible to achieve. This pessimism is confirmed by another study, which shows that those born to the poorest families in America have, at best, an 11 percent chance of breaking in to the top 20 percent of income earners.

It should be noted, however, that chances to move from the bottom to the top are higher in Salt Lake City than in any other urban area in the United States.

Several reasons have been suggested for Salt Lake's position at the top of the economic mobility list, but the primary factors focus on the ability to develop and maintain healthy social connections. According to The New York Times, researchers discovered that mobility is higher "in areas with more two-parent households, better elementary schools and high schools, and more civic engagement, including membership in religious and community groups."

Once again, research confirms a reality that has long been self-evident. Yes, education and other factors matter considerably, but the fact is there is no better bulwark against economic and societal challenges than a family where both a mother and father are present.

The New York Times reporting on the subject reflects that undeniable truth, however obliquely. The Times notes that "(r)egions with larger black populations had lower upward-mobility rates," while also rightly noting that race itself is not a correlating factor. What the Times did not mention is that almost 70 percent of black children are raised in homes without two parents. Communities of any ethnicity where kids grow up without a mom and a dad are going to find themselves facing obstacles to reaching the American Dream.

It's a hard road for anyone trying to rise out of poverty, and even in Salt Lake City, where people face the most favorable odds for success, statistics suggest that for every one that makes it, nearly nine more will not. We can and must do better. Those looking for solutions, however, should focus on efforts to encourage and sustain the nuclear family as the first defense against destitution. Certainly there are other things that can be done, including increased engagement with civic institutions and increased investment in effective schools. But the foundation for economic mobility begins with intact families.

The American Dream is only as healthy as America's families.

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