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Chasing the American Dream: Understanding What Shapes Our Fortunes Hardcover – April 1, 2014

ISBN-13: 978-0195377910 ISBN-10: 0195377915 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (April 1, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195377915
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195377910
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 0.9 x 6.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #266,336 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"This engaging and thought-provoking combination of thorough scholarship, narrative journalism, and policy analysis will resonate with readers interested in understanding American poverty and opportunity." - Library Journal

"Rank and his colleagues achieve two important tasks in this book. They describe, in the words of average Americans whom they interviewed, what the 'American Dream' means. And then they show, through creative analyses of the hard data, how much that dream is being thwarted by the political economy of 21st century America. It makes for a poignant contrast." --Claude S. Fischer, PhD, Professor of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley

"Over the last generation, the ideal of the American Dream and the reality of the American economy have increasingly clashed. In this informed, and engagingly written book, Mark Rank takes us deep into the minds and lives of Americans of all walks of life as they build-and sometimes watch crumble-their own dreams. A powerful portrait of the ups and downs of a riskier and more unequal economy." --Jacob Hacker, PhD, Stanley B. Resor Professor Political Science; Director, Institution for Social and Policy Studies; Yale University

"In his exceptionally important new book, Chasing the American Dream, Mark Rank shows how rising economic inequality has distorted the meaning of the American dream and circumscribed the opportunities of ordinary Americans. Rank combines interview and focus groups with the life history method he pioneered in earlier work to show the astonishing rate at which individuals move in and out of poverty and affluence and how initial advantages and disadvantages translate into patterns of cumulative inequality which define their lives. Written with exceptional clarity, illustrated with vivid individual stories, this book will engage scholars, students, and non-specialist readers who want to know what is happening to the elusive American dream." --Michael B. Katz, PhD, University of Pennsylvania, author of The Undeserving Poor: America's Enduring Confrontation with Poverty

About the Author

Mark Robert Rank is the Herbert S. Hadley Professor of Social Welfare at Washington University in St. Louis. He is widely recognized as one of the foremost experts and speakers in the country on issues of inequality, poverty, and social justice. He is the recipient of numerous awards, and his research has been reported in a wide range of academic and media outlets.

Thomas A. Hirschl is Professor of Development Sociology at Cornell University. He is the Director of the Population and Development Program, coordinator of the Program Work Team on Poverty and Economic Hardship, and Director of the Teen Assessment Program. His scholarly focus is on social class differentiation in contemporary society.

Kirk A. Foster is Assistant Professor of Social Work at the University of South Carolina. With a background in social work and theology, he researches how people with little or no income can use the resources available to them to make systematic change.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Ethan Felder on May 24, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Professor Rank presents a compelling and powerful portrait of the American Dream and the forces that have converged to make it harder to achieve. Through a combination of interviews with Americans from all walks of life and extensive statistics, Professor Rank convincingly argues that a fair and equal shot at the Dream is far from a reality in America, why this is the case, and how it is only getting worse. The stories told in the book are thought-provoking and candidly describe the twists of fate that shape lives in the most profound of ways. I highly recommend this book.
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Format: Hardcover
The American Dream, for us little people at least, is about motion and progress, in the life of the working middle-class, which began after WWII, but which has, for the past four decades, become fraught with cost of buying loss, unequal income distribution and wealth concentration.
According to the authors, the U.S. leads the developed world in income inequality. We’re number 1!
And so begins seventy-five interviews.
Hardly surprising, Those Who Rule Over Us have begun to outsource quality paying jobs with wages, reducing the ability of the average worker to “pull himself up by his bootstraps,” creating part-time jobs, lower income, reduced savings, reduced health care, etc.
For most, economic disaster is merely a step away due to downsizing, health issues, etc., while Wal-Mart replaced manufacturers as America’s largest employer, bringing us back to the now politically popular income divide.
The American Dream offers better times ahead, home ownership, a vehicle, enough… Not vast wealth. Just enough.
A USA Today article by Howard R, Gold dated July 4, 2014 indicated the American dream costs $130,000 (gross) a year per family. Good luck with that when the U.S. Census Bureau indicates the 2012 U.S. median family income is $50,099.
Just as in education where the biggest single indicator of success is parental financial health, quality employment often depends upon the economic health and even neighborhood of family. The bootstrap business is hardly 100% successful.
And the book asks, are there enough opportunities for all and are the opportunities fair and open and answers “no.”
If there is indeed a problem with this book is that no realistic method is offered to get us all to the opportunity of achieving the American dream. But, yet, no on else has either.
This is a powerful book which should be thoughtfully read by everyone.
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Format: Hardcover
This book has changed my perspective on the social context of American life. The authors develop a clear, yet nuanced, sense of what lies at the root of the modern American Dream. These ideas give us a window into not just the realities of life in the US in the early 21st century, they help us understand how Americans perceive what "shape their fortunes" as well as their economic challenges. The book expertly exploits both an insightful set of interviews that covers a remarkably broad set of American experiences along with careful quantitative analysis of large longitudinal data set to explore how the insights from the interviews generalize to the broader population. Rank and his co-authors identify important ways in which the aspects of the American Dream are fragile, but they also document a surprising spirit of optimism among almost all of their interview subjects, considering the difficult economic times in which the interviews took place. There are themes here that will resonate, and create food for thought, among readers across the political spectrum.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Many write about the American Dream, but for Mark Rank and his co-authors, writing wasn't enough. To get to the true understanding of the Dream, they traversed the United States, talking with Americans from all rungs of the socioeconomic ladder, collecting their stories. And it is through their stories that this book takes life. In reading the book, we meet Matt, a minor league baseball player, Jim, an auto assembly worker, Rachel, an attorney and judge, and many more Americans working daily to achieve the Dream. These meaningful personal stories of lives in struggle and in privilege highlight and enhance the very good data used by the authors to demonstrate trends in all aspects of the Dream. While this book should be required reading for high school, college and graduate students, it is also perfect for a non-academic audience.
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