The belief that if a person works hard enough she can become financially successful, regardless of existing barriers to opportunity, is integral to the American mythos of meritocracy. But a 2011 Pew Charitable Trust poll found that many Americans—whether they are living in cities, small towns, or rural communities—share pessimism about upward mobility.
Rural communities experience higher rates of poverty and lower rates of college completion than urban communities, making upward mobility for rural students more difficult. What do students in rural communities think about the American Dream? Does it exist, is it attainable, and what role does education play in their climb? I spoke with students from rural communities about the American Dream and what it means to them. Below are highlights from five of those interviews.
Madison Ortega, 10th grade—Morehead, Kentucky (population: 6,845)
In middle school, we had an assembly about hunger and poverty in Eastern Kentucky, and they had these numbers, and they’d have students stand up, and they’d be like, “this is how many students in your school could be facing hunger or could be facing poverty.” I find that that is a big issue in our community, living in Eastern Kentucky. I grew up when I was little with both parents, and when I was in first grade, my parents did get a divorce. Neither of my parents went to college. My mom actually went for a little bit, but she never graduated, and my father didn’t go at all. I now live with my mom, and we actually recently moved in with her mom, so it’s the three of us. My mom’s going back to college at our town’s university, Morehead State. That’s exciting. We’ve been low income my entire life, especially since I’ve just been living with my mom, because she hasn’t had a job, we’ve kind of just been living off of child support and what not.