THE BLOG

Keeping the American Dream Alive

03/17/2014 11:37 am ET | Updated May 17, 2014
  • Madeleine M. Kunin First Female Governor of Vermont; Marsh Scholar, University of Vermont

The American Dream has been the back bone of my life story. In June of 1940, my mother, brother and I took the train from Zurich, Switzerland to Genoa, Italy to board the SS Manhattan bound for America. A little more than a week later, we waved to our first greeter -- the Statue of Liberty.

It was war time. My widowed mother took this brave step because she wanted what all immigrant families have wanted for their children -- a better life in America.

We found it. This country has been generous to us far beyond our dreams. Never did my mother imagine that her daughter would become governor of a state called Vermont or that she would make her homeward journey to Switzerland years later as the American ambassador.

This is why it is hard for to accept that upward mobility isn't as powerful as we thought it was, according to a study by the Pew Charitable Trusts. When we arrived in America, first generation immigrants earned more than non-immigrants, but there has been a sharp decline since.

There is better news for second generation immigrant workers. In 2000, these immigrants made 6.3 percent more than non-immigrants, compared to 14.6 percent in 1970 and 17.8 percent in 1940. Upward mobility can be a hard climb, but immigrant families continue to display somewhat more success than than native born Americans in stepping up to the next rung on the ladder.

It's no surprise to learn that the realization of the American Dream depends on the country of origin and the level of education of immigrants The percentage of immigrants from European countries and Canada has declined while the percentage from Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean has increased from about half to three quarters of all immigrants.

Regardless of where they come from immigrants are drawn to American for almost the same reasons that brought my family to this country. Some come for safety, many come to escape poverty, and almost all who reach these shores have of a vision of the American Dream.

Our country, for all its challenges, continues to beckon families towards a better life as strongly as it ever did and America, for all its divisiveness, continues to do better when everyone's American Dream is realized.

The best way for me to express my gratitude to this country for enabling me and my family to become Americans, is to make certain that our doors remain open and the the American Dream stays alive.