People first spoke of the American Dream in 1931 when James Truslow coined the term in his book, Epic of America. At the heart of this dream is the idea that individuals must work hard to succeed. If they work hard, they will be successful regardless of background. It’s a meritocracy; even lower-class individuals can make their way with hard work. This concept of pulling yourself up by the bootstraps and working your way up the ladder has been ingrained into the minds of Americans since the Founding Fathers included the phrase “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” in the Declaration of Independence.

But the validity of the American Dream is up for debate.

Melinda Messineo, the chairperson of the department of sociology at Ball State University, says the idea of an American Dream shifted after the 2008 recession. Americans became accustomed to job loss, wage stagnation, and reduced homeownership. With that, if an individual works hard, his or her success is not guaranteed.

Ball Bearings spoke with three American citizens from different backgrounds to take a look at the different ways the American Dream might be perceived today.

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