Trending on Facebook is the story of Milton Hershey. It’s one of those stories that has a picture and a caption set to music, kind of like a silent movie, telling the tale of how Milton Hershey a poor boy from Pennsylvania built an empire. Not only did he build a chocolate empire, he built an orphanage, housing, parks and churches for the workers at his factory. He was a true American success story. The film urges us to never give up on our dreams!
While this story of Mr. Hershey is inspiring, it made me think if it is true of the America we live in today. Do Hershey stories happen in America anymore? Can a working class person with just pure ambition and perseverance rise to a super elite status?
In the article Restoring America’s Economic Mobility from Imprimis- A publication from Hillsdale College, Frank Buckley recounts how Marx, in the Communist Manifesto, wrote “the history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles” and in the capitalist society of the 1850’s America “the classes existed but were in constant flux and reflux, constantly changing their elements and yielding them up to one another.” So for someone in the lower class, there was a chance that they could move up to the upper class, by opportunities and hard work.
Buckley goes on to share that the social mobility in the U.S. is in fact at a standstill. Measured empirically by the Pew’s Economic Mobility Project, the probability is high that children of parents in the top ten percent of the upper class of U.S. Society will continue to be in the same class, whereas children from the lower class will also continue to live in the same lower class. In short, the richest parents raise the richest kids and the poorest parents raise the poorest kids. Compare this to Canada and Denmark where the economic mobility is high and the children of the top ten percent are more likely to descend into the middle-class and children at the bottom ten percent are able to move up into the middle class. According to Buckley, the reasons behind America’s inability to have social mobility is linked to educational systems, immigration laws, regulatory burdens, the rule of law and corruption. Just looking at the issue of the schools, Buckley points out that America’s K-12 public schools perform poorly compared to the rest of the First World.
The article goes in depth in explaining the issue of class struggles and the reasoning behind them, but reading this gave me pause, to the truth about the American dream, and to the reality that my children will not be allowed the same opportunities as other children their age who may be in a different economic class. I do not regularly analyze deep political issues, but for some reason this article hit me at a different level and asked me to think about issues that I would not have given any thought to otherwise. For me, this was an opening to engage, to think, and understand; and in doing so, make changes to the way I view the world I live in.
The first feeling that came to me was despair. I was saddened that this is happening here in my home. It felt as if there was little hope. I want more for my children than to feel stuck in the mundane. I want them to feel empowered to not only rise socially, but also to make a difference, like Hershey.
But then I was reminded of the hope we have in Jesus. How he is calling us to serve, to love and to sacrifice in His name. What we have right here in America is a different kind of opportunity, the opportunity to share His love to those in despair. Psalm 37:25-26 says “I was young and now I am old yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be a blessing.” I will strive for this righteousness so that I, in turn, can be generous and lend freely. That gives me hope.