Author explains how upper middle class hoards American dream

​From left, Reeves, Hudson,Rosenfeld and Boshara

​Are you a dream hoarder? If you’re in the “favored fifth” of income distribution, the top 20 percent, you may be, says Richard V. Reeves.

Reeves is a Brookings Institution scholar who wrote the book “Dream Hoarders: How the Upper Middle Class is Leaving Everyone in the Dust, Why That is a Problem, and What to Do About It.”

Let’s say you and your spouse make more than $120,000 a year, and you also have a child. By helping your child succeed, you actually may be denying opportunities for a less fortunate child, Reeves says.

“I am here in part to frame an argument in a way that I hope provokes,” he told the audience at a book event and discussion September 20 at the Washington University in St. Louis’ Brown School.

“What is dream hoarding, and who’s doing it? Dream hoarding is using your position of power – institutional, political or economic power – to rig the system in your favor and/or the favor of your children,” Reeves said. “Who are the dream hoarders? Probably you, as well as me.”

Reeves is a senior fellow in economic studies, director of the Future of the Middle Class Initiative and co-director of the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution. In 2017, Politico named Reeves one of the top 50 thinkers in the U.S. for his work on class and inequality. 

Reeves detailed some ways to reduce opportunity hoarding, and he acknowledged that they would require a change of heart for many: a recognition of privilege among the upper middle class. He proposes curbing exclusionary zoning in residential areas, widening the doors to post-secondary education and abolishing legacy admissions, and opening up internships. 

“Every college placement or internship that goes to one of our kids because of a legacy bias or personal connection is one less available to others,” Reeves writes. “We may not prefer to dwell on the unfairness here, but that’s simply a moral failing on our part.”

The event also included a panel discussion among Reeves, Jake Rosenfeld, associate professor in Washington University in St. Louis’ Sociology Department, and Darrell Hudson, associate professor at the Brown School, with questions form the audience. Ray Boshara, director of the Center for Household Financial Stability at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, moderated the panel.

The Center for Social Development and the Center for Household Financial Stability at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis organized the event featuring Reeves. Washington University’s Clark-Fox Policy Institute, Sociology Department, and the Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government, and Public Policy served as co-sponsors.

Play the game
Are you a dream hoarder? Play this game to find out. The goal is to see if you can help your own child without hurting the chances of someone else’s. Here’s a sample question: "Your child is applying to your alma mater, but he/she has a low SAT score. You know that your legacy status—and a sizeable donation to the school—will help his/her chances of getting in. Do you make the donation?"