Can you still make it in America?

Kai Ryssdal (left) at the Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago.

Four years after President Barack Obama took office amidst the slogans of "hope" and "change", the unemployment rate is well off the ten percent it used to be early in the president's first term. And yes, the economy has actually been growing for more than three years.

But numbers don't mean anything to people who still feel like they're stuck in a recession. Numbers don't help the people who are struggling on the path to the middle class and economic security. To them, even the idea of economic security can seem impossible.

So Marketplace traveled to Chicago, where the Obama presidency started, to begin his second term. Broadcasting live from the National Public Housing Museum just off Michigan Ave., a place where the perils and the promise of America can be seen and heard.

It's a place where the question "Can you still make it in America?" is very real. The only way to get the answer is to go out and ask people. We visited the Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago to do just that. Listen to the radio segment in the audio player above, and hear from more Chicago residents below.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
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Not if the incompetent 40 to 50ish idiots making $40 to $60,000 dollars per year continue to throw their younger and more able co-workers under the bus!!! It's actually pretty pathetic watching someone shake at the thought of losing the highest paying job they conned their way into; by utilizing faulty and innaccurate qualifications. It really isn't about the hardest working person making the most money; it is the most shiftless and lazy who get other people to do the work... and then claim credit for the work accomplished.

A lot of hope out there…

I think with people don't realize is that there is an awful lot of fate or luck involved when somebody makes a big. Or even makes it at all, these days.

Computers, and by extension robots, I'm making humans obsolete. I predict there'll be fewer, and fewer jobs years ahead.

We will need a fundamental shift in the way people live. Right now, large corporations are making all the money, and the little guy has none. It seems to me that we may have to tax large corporate earnings a whole, whole lot and distribute the proceeds to people just to live. Perhaps they can have remedial jobs, perhaps not.

We certainly need fewer people.

Our youth must be very cautious today regarding debt. It's far too easy to borrow with the government now guaranteeing the financial contracts of education, housing and transportation. This country is trying to recover from a debt crisis by issuing more debt than ever dreamed possible. Shun these predatory lenders.

America Will Make It. The unemployment problem requires a two-way-road solution:

Students need to learn skills that will prepare them for the jobs that are out there and, at the same time, professionals and companies need to let students know about what they should learn while in school. We have created a forum that encourages that type of collaboration at the community level with www.lendexperience.com

Give back to your community today, share your experiences and help solve the problem of structural unemployment.


The question you asked was "Can you still make it in America?" I believe the question you MEANT was "Can you still earn $60,000 a year working 40 hours (or less) a week with only a high-school diploma?"

Here are some words of wisdom to live by: "Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in slave labor." -- Proverbs 12:24

Our fatal flaw is that (we) Americans are so addicted to comfort and leisure that we don't notice that the rest of the world is gradually eating our lunch!

If you took all the time we spent in 2012 playing X-Box, watching American Idol, shopping at Costco, playing World-of-warcraft, surfing the web, goofing off on Facebook, watching ESPN1, 2 and 3, watching the Biggest Loser, etc. etc. -- if you took the sum total of all that time and instead spent it: learning a foreign language, taking a class, getting a degree, getting an advanced degree, learning a musical instrument, babysitting for a working mom, teaching someone to read, volunteering at a civic organization or even going to the gym -- then 2012 might have seen some real GDP growth -- not just the propaganda growth as stated by the Fed. But this is why our standard of living is noticeably (and precipitously) declining.

"Making it", to some degree, involves getting our fat a**(es) off the sofa and back into the fight!

I think the main problem is that many people haven't found a passion in life that could help society as a whole. Students and graduates need to have a better understanding about what they want to do in the future, so that they can make the steps to prepare and stand out amongst their peers. We're trying to help students and graduates find this passion on www.lendexperience.com.

No, you can't make it in America anymore. No one, especially women, are making enough money to buy a house, buy a car, go on vacation or do any of the things that we have come to believe we deserve because we worked for it. Sexism is still very much alive in the American workplace. Women continue to make less and less money - we can't afford much beyond getting our basic needs met, although even that is questionable. There are women in this country and in Massachusetts - who go hungry. And I'm talking about single women, not women with children. Men resent it when women enter the work place; they still think we are taking their jobs away; they have families to feed and that's more important than OUR needs. Our obligations to landlords, banks, doctors, grocers, etc. is deemed less crucial and less important than a man's. And if we don't have a man to take care of us, well, what's wrong? Why don't you? Ageism is also very much a part of the American work force today. Not much has changed - the reality is that women earn less money over their lifetimes and have less access to housing and jobs. We live longer than men and we live poorer than men for most of our lives. So, no, because of sexism and ageism and the refusal of this society to ensure that women earn decent salaries, I don't think you can make it in America.

Of course you can make in America. The only ones that seems to be having a hard time making it are the Americans. I mean the all true 100 percent Americans. I came to this nation as million of other foreigners and have made it. It is simply amazing how easy it is to get a "free lunch" in this great country. You can have all the help you need if you do work or study moderately. It doesn't even has to be hard. I just wonder why so many real Americans are not making it in America? I think they just don't want to make it and have someone else take care of them. Lazy.

The path to the 'American Dream' no longer relies on a lifelong job with the same employer. Most Americans are now either temps, contractors, or p/t workers with no benefits.
Self-employment/virtual business is the best option.

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