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American Dream

American Dream

Wide Awake and Worried: Today's American Middle Class

New edition of 'Pursuing the American Dream' due in 2016


Cal JillsonPersistent inequality, stubbornly high unemployment, outsourced jobs, skyrocketing college tuition and stagnant income growth have Americans anxious about the future. Has the American Dream -- the belief that anybody who works hard enough can move up the economic ladder -- become merely a talking point for politicians? How does a nation with increasing diversity and inequality keep the dream alive? Despite two long economic booms in the 1980s and 1990s, the dream has been fading for many Americans:

  • To save on labor costs, U.S. companies downsized mid-level managers in record numbers. Despite Obamacare, tens of millions of Americans remain without health insurance.
  • An increasing number of people are stuck in place economically, with downward mobility more common than the traditional upward mobility of American lore.
  • College degrees are obtainable mostly by those whose parents already have money or education.

In Pursuing the American Dream: Opportunity and Exclusion Over Four Centuries (University Press of Kansas, 2004), Southern Methodist University Political Scientist Cal Jillson explored the origins of this cherished American ideal and the modern impediments to achieving it. With up-to-date studies showing how the dream has changed over time, Jillson recommends ways to keep it alive in the 21st century, among them:

  • At 47 percent of the labor force, women need to be paid equal to men and have the same opportunities, despite leaving temporarily for child rearing.
  • The federal government can help middle class, working class, and poor families with college by increasing Pell Grants, tax rebates and offering free tuition for good students.
  • Expand access to Obamacare, Medicaid and state-run child health insurance plans to insure that struggling families have access to health care.
  • From housing to work to education, America needs to commit to affirmative action policies. Frequently asked by the national media to comment on politics, Jillson is an expert on the development of American political ideals, institutions and practices.

Jillson is at work on a revised edition of his classic Pursuing the American Dream. The revised edition will appear in late 2016. 

Since 2004, the American Dream has slipped further beyond reach for tens of millions of middle class and working class Americans. Jillson says that while his view of the American Dream has darkened over the past dozen years, a clear-eyed view of what the dream has meant historically will help us find a way forward. The goal of the revised Pursuing the American Dream is to help light that path.

Scholars and teachers of American Political Thought may be interested in how Jillson uses Pursuing the American Dream in his teaching. No satisfactory American Political Thought text is available, so Jillson uses Pursuing the American Dream to show how American Political Thought, and the American Dream as its central organizing idea, have adapted and evolved over the course of American history. Individual chapters cover American political and intellectual development from first settlement through the Founding period and the eras of Jackson, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, the 1960s, and on into our own time. The new edition of Pursuing the American Dream closes with an examination of the ambiguous impact of Barack Obama on the American Dream and a detailed set of policy prescriptions for keeping the Dream alive and, one hopes, vibrant for this and future generations.

Pursuing the American Dream is Jillson's sixth book. It can be ordered from the University Press of Kansas by phone at 785-864-4155 or from their website at

To learn more about Jillson's media activities, call SMU News and Communications at 214-768-7650 or email

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