Suppressing American dreams
Walking down the street in Akron, Ohio one may observe the crumbling red brick warehouses, lack of pedestrian foot traffic, and an overall sense of abandonment that plagues the city. The students walking through the quad at the University of Akron are looking to save money while earning a degree, and then to catch the next flight out of Akron-Canton Regional Airport to begin a life in one of America’s more exciting, prestigious, and prosperous cities. Ever since the burning scent of rubber and opportunity fled the city of Akron in the 1980s with the departure of B.F. Goodrich, Firestone, and Goodyear, the city has struggled to inspire its population to recover from such an economic blow. The problem is not that the American dream is dead, it is that the American dream has changed. But the city has not changed much since the beginning of the 20th century, despite the vast changes in the greater American economy over that same period. Young men like my grandpa can no longer step off of the boat from a war in Korea and into a reliable job at Firestone where they put in their 40 years, have six children, and retire on a sufficient pension plan anywhere in the country. So why should that be expected in Akron? Akron is not the only place in the country that has lost thousands of jobs to the flight of American manufacturing, but Akron has continued to live in the past while other cities have replaced this industry with jobs in finance, technology, and engineering.
Locals who are too selfish to let go of their nostalgia and desire to re-create the past, suppress the desire for a 21st century flavor of success. To them, middle class homes and well-paying blue collar jobs are the key to re-vitalizing a downtrodden city—not earning a degree and becoming a banker, engineer, or doctor. Striving for a professional, white collar career in Akron comes with a sense of guilt for succeeding while so many struggle to find work and move out of their parents' homes after college.
As a student pursuing a career in finance at a private school in New York City, I know the sense of guilt that accompanies success in Akron. At holiday family gatherings, no one understands why I want to pursue more education or internships when I could be saving money at Akron U. To a family who has never left Akron, only attended local schools, and only worked in blue collar jobs that no longer pay what they used to, dressing well or pursuing a life of significance makes me “stuck up” or a “try hard.”
This attitude is what keeps the students flowing from Akron U to Akron-Canton Airport, it’s what led LeBron James to “take his talents to South Beach”, and it’s what keeps Akron from resurrecting the hope for the American dream again. In order to inspire change, citizens of Akron need to be open to change, and to understand that success in this century will not look like success in the prior century. If successful entrepreneurs, financiers, and physicians are celebrated and encouraged in the community, they will be inspired to stay planted in Akron.
In the last few years, businesses and individuals have led the way in changing the attitude in Akron. In 2013, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Corporation, founded in Akron in 1898, opened its new Global Headquarters building on the East Side of the city. The new headquarters brings with it only a few blue collar manufacturing jobs, but thousands of opportunities in engineering, chemistry, and business. The city of Akron worked closely with Goodyear to make the new headquarters possible, and now the responsibility lies with the city of Akron to encourage its youth to obtain the education necessary to work in such jobs.
The recent shift towards a change in attitude also comes with the return of four-time NBA MVP LeBron James. In his announcement to return home, James stated that “In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.” His words describe the solution to the problem facing the Akron economy. No longer can a simple, steady, well paying job be the dream.