Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Testing the American Dream: Having been told that it was extremely difficult for poor people to advance up the economic ladder in America, college graduate Adam Shepard conducted an interesting experiment.

He decided to start from the very bottom of the economic ladder, with "a gym bag, $25, and little else". He moved into a homeless shelter "on the wrong side of the tracks in Charleston, S.C." He set as his goal "to have a furnished apartment, a car, and $2,500 in savings within a year" without relying on his education or his former contacts.

He worked his way out of poverty, found work as a day laborer, made new friends, and landed a steady job at a moving company. He had to quit his experiment after 10 months because of learning of an illness in his family, "[b]ut by then he had moved into an apartment, bought a pickup truck, and had saved close to $5,000."

According to the article:
The effort, he says, was inspired after reading "Nickel and Dimed," in which author Barbara Ehrenreich takes on a series of low-paying jobs. Unlike Ms. Ehrenreich, who chronicled the difficulty of advancing beyond the ranks of the working poor, Shepard found he was able to successfully climb out of his self-imposed poverty.
Clearly, this shows the crucial role that a person's character, attitude, and work ethic play in whether he is successful or not, as opposed to the exact magnitude of material resources he starts with.

The full article tells more Adam Shepard's fascinating story: "Homeless: Can You Build a Life from $25?"

He has also written a book about his experience, entitled, Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream. It looks like his book has gotten consistently high reviews on Amazon.

Update: In response to this post, a lengthy comment thread has erupted here on, some supporting the overall conclusion and others attacking it for a variety of reasons.

Of the supportive comments, this one by "Minh-Duc" struck me the most:
Why bother with the experiment. Just go talk to immigrants. I arrived to the U.S. with a shirt on my back and spoke no English. I consider myself in the upper middle class now. This is the story that repeated itself a million time in the history of this great nation.

Speaking of family obligations; both of my parents were janitors, my uncle and aunts were (and still are) janitors. My uncle and aunt is even more successful. They put three kids through medical school.

"The American Dream" is a misnomer. It is not a dream. It is a reality.