MADELEINE BRAND, host:
This is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand.
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
I'm Alex Chadwick. It's a good day to talk about the American dream, that speech by Martin Luther King that Madeleine mentioned earlier, the political dreams of Barack Obama.
BRAND: We're going to hear about the American dream now from two young reporters. They'll introduce us to four women, two mothers and two daughters. These women live within 10 miles of each other around Minneapolis, Minnesota. And, in many ways, they're very similar.
CHADWICK: For instance, they all see themselves as middle class. They worry about money, all of them. They value education so, yes, they're similar. But they live in very different circumstances. Carlyn Reichel begins our story.
Ms. CARLYN REICHEL (Reporter, News 21): Edina is one of the wealthiest cities in Minnesota, and it shows. The landscaping is lush, the lawns on the million dollar homes are neatly trimmed, and the local shopping mall is home to the only Tiffany's in the state. In some ways, this is the American dream realized, lock stock and designer handbag.
Ms. ZOEY WAINBERG (Edina Resident): Edina has the reputation of being a cake eater, that's what everyone calls us. Apparently we're rich, and so we eat cake. People say that Edina stands for Every Day I Need Attention, and growing up you know that.
Ms. REICHEL: That's Zoey Wainberg. Blond haired, blue eyed, and brimming with all the enthusiasm of 22. Zoey was born and raised in Edina, a place where money comes easy, and everyone knows it.
Ms. WAINBERG: Constantly, no matter where you are, you get charged for being a bratty, spoiled, upper-class girl; and for a lifetime's growing up it was different, because I wasn't that. I wasn't living in a monster house with 12 cars and, you know, my mom is a teacher.
Ms. REICHEL: The Wainberg home is certainly modest by some Edina standards. It's just a simple three bedroom, one bathroom rambler, stuffed with over 20 years of family photos and souvenir knickknacks. It's a welcoming and cozy space. And that's enough for Zoey's mother, Barbara Wainberg. She goes by Barbie.
Mrs. BARBARA WAINBERG (Edina Resident): Everyone's like, well, aren't you going to move?, don't you want a bigger house? No. We're fine with our house, thank you very much.
Ms. REICHEL: Not that the Wainberg's don't live a very comfortable life. They do. But rather than spending money on a larger home, or fancy cars, they've prioritized family trips to see the world and, above all else, education.
Mrs. WAINBERG: We will not have an estate to leave them, so I think that what I - the legacy we can give them is an education.
Ms. REICHEL: And, Zoey will graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire this December, debt free.
Ms. WAINBERG: I remember my dad saying, I'm paying for education because when you have kids, you'll pay for theirs. And that's, kind of, where that came from, that mentality.
Ms. REICHEL: Even though things are good now, and their household income is in the six figures, the Wainberg's life is still not free from financial anxieties. Even for upper middle class families today, the future is never certain.
Mrs. WAINBERG: I mean, I worry about it all the time. Because I stayed at a private school, therefore I didn't really have retirement, and we've been trying to work on that. Also benefits, my husband and I are self-employed so we have to self insure, and that's a very scary thing.
Ms. REICHEL: Still, Barbie and Zoey's lives are hardly marked by adversity. With the benefits of Edina and education well in hand, the Wainberg's have room to reflect.
Mrs. WAINBERG: I was talking with my daughter last night, and I was joking that, well, are we really the American dream? We don't make enough money, we're not flashy enough, we're not - and she said, but we are, mom. She said, you know, my bed at home has the quilt that grandma made for you and that you had on your bed. And we're basically kind of corny Norman Rockwell for the 2000s. And it is nice, and it is the American dream.
Ms. REICHEL: For NPR News, I'm Carlyn Reichel with the Wainberg's in Edina, Minnesota.
Ms. DREW HIMMELSTEIN: I'm Drew Himmelstein and just up the highway from Edina, North Minneapolis is a world away. The houses and lawns look very different driving through Jewelean Jackson's neighborhood.
Ms. JEWLEAN JACKSON (North Minneapolis Resident): So at one point everything that surrounded me on this block was in foreclosure. Dismal. You know?
Ms. HIMMELSTEIN: Jackson pulls up to her house; a plain, white two-storey, with a green yard.
Ms. JACKSON: And this is the back of our abode. Oh, we're going to go to the front though, yes.
Ms. HIMMELSTEIN: Inside, the foyer is filled with trophies that Jackson and her 17-year-old daughter have won in the beauty pageants they compete in together. A staircase leads up to their living space, a closed door leads to the downstairs apartment Jackson rents out for extra income. She comes from a modest background and is the only one of her seven siblings to have earned a college degree. She bought her home when her daughter was an infant, to try to claim her share of the American dream.
Ms. JACKSON: No one in my family is yet to get their 40 acres and a mule. And I looked at it as an investment and as something that I could leave for my child.
Ms. HIMMELSTEIN: But at 60, Jackson is still seeking financial stability. She doesn't have a regular job and has been on various forms of public assistance over the years. She refinanced her house a couple years ago with a subprime loan at an inflated rate. Then last year she got behind on payments, and the bank started foreclosure proceedings. Like the Wainberg's in Edina, Jackson thinks of herself as middle class.
Ms. JACKSON: I am told that I have middle-class values. I certainly don't have the middle-class checkbook. Does that mean that, to have the middle class values, that you want more for your child than you had? Does that mean that you truly do believe in education, which I do, and that I believe that that can make a difference in terms of your lot in life? Are those all the things that make you middle class? I guess if they are then, I am.
(Soundbite of crowd)
Ms. HIMMELSTEIN: At her high school, Jackson's daughter Thandisizwe jokes with friends and finishes up final assignments. Thandisizwe plans to be a lawyer and she participates in a dizzying number of after school activities and scholarship programs, to help her raise money for college. Her resume is eight pages long.
Ms. THANDISIZWE JACKSON-NISSAN (North Minneapolis Resident): I think that I have a state of mind that's middle-class, you know? That my financial situation is not, you know, so middle-class; because of how we act, you know, how we present ourselves, the kinds of things that we're doing. People would never know that we're actually struggling.
Ms. HIMMELSTEIN: Thandisizwe is hopeful for the future, even though her present day life is filled with uncertainties.
Ms. JACKSON-NISSAN: I think that the phrase American Dream is not meant for somebody like me. So, when I think of American Dream, I think of a family, a mom, a dad, a boy and a girl, white, blond hair and blue eyes. That's what I think of when I think of American Dream.
Ms. HIMMELSTEIN: Thandisizwe doesn't let her family's problems limit her personal ambitions. But they are a constant source of tension.
Ms. JACKSON-NISSAN: It's really sad that my mama works so hard and puts so much time and energy into the house and then, one day, it just might be somebody else's.
Ms. HIMMELSTEIN: Jewelean Jackson is determined not to let that happen, and foreclosure proceedings are on hold for now. Though her world is far from Edina, she is not so different from the Wainberg's. She believes that if she gives her daughter a stable home and an education, Thandisizwe will have just as much a chance as anyone of achieving her dreams. For NPR News, I'm Drew Himmelstein in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
BRAND: These stories come to us through the multimedia reporting project at UC Berkley. It's called News 21. And you can find out more by visiting our website, npr.org/daytoday.
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