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No, the Streets are Not Paved in Gold

Updated on April 13, 2011

In the old days long before that age of global travel, it was rumored that America was so wealthy that their streets were paved in gold. In fact, many people in Asia call America "Gold Mountain" whose nickname came about when gold was discovered in the state of California in 1848.

So people come from all over the world seeking the wealth in America that was so rumored.

When they got here, some were disappointed. Life was not easy. And alas, the streets were not paved in gold. And there is not much gold in California any more. (California's budget deficit has grown to $25.4 billion as of 2010.)

It is true that $22,000 a year is an insane amount of money for people in other developing countries. Taking into account the high cost of living, $22,000 is the poverty level in the United States.

In an paper by the World Bank with a more detailed analysis, the abstract goes to say ...

"Millions of people emigrate every year in search of better economic and social opportunities. Anecdotal evidence suggests that emigrants may have over-optimistic expectations about the incomes they can earn abroad, resulting in excessive migration pressure, and in disappointment amongst those who do migrate."

Statue of Liberty
Statue of Liberty | Source

Immigrant Quote in Ellis Island

From 1892 to 1954, Ellis Island was the nation's busiest immigrant inspection station. It was the gateway for millions of immigrants to the United States.

On a plaque at the immigration museum of Ellis Island, the words of an immigrant was quoted. It says ...

"they told me that the streets in America were paved with gold, but when I got to America I realized that the streets were not paved with gold. In fact, they were not paved at all. Moreover, I was expected to pave them."

References of the quote can be found on page 103 of "23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism" and in the Ali Azizi's acceptance speech in 2007. Ali Azizi, winner of the Harold Keller Award was born in Iran and immigrated to the United States as a teenager. You can hear about his story by reading his acceptance speech linked here.

Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon | Source

Visiting America

Now in the modern age global travel and instant iPhone camera pictures, people know that the streets are in fact not paved in gold. But people still come in search for a better life than in their own country.

Others come to America as tourists. They come to see the great chasm in the rock. They come to see the whales in Alaska. They come to soak in the sun at the beaches in Hawaii. And they come to see the symbol of liberty.

They Come Through the Internet

Those who cannot travel there in person, they come though virtual reality. They use Google map to visit the seat of government ...

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC

They use street view to virtually strode down Hollywood Boulevard.  They want to see where they make the American movies that they have been watching through the years.

Hollywood Blvd

They use Flickr to search for "Elvis", "Mardi Gras", and "Burning Man" to learn the culture.


What They Do Not See

Although they know that the streets are not paved and gold, they still see wealth and prosperity.

But alas, what they do not see is the poverty and the desparate lives of many.

This was not what they come here to see. This part of the tour was not mentioned in their tour book. Their guide did not take them to this part of town.

About 15% of Americans are living below the federal poverty line at any given point in time. Roughly 40% of American fall below the poverty line at some point within a 10-year time span. The poverty line for a family of four in United States in 2011 is an annual income of $22,350.

Roughly 3 million people in the United States are homeless.  That is 1% of the population.  For more definitive numbers, see

Nevertheless, the poorest of the poor in the United States may still not as poor as the poor in other countries.

In fact, half the world lives on less than $2.50 a day -- that's over three billion people. Twenty-two thousand children in the world die each day due to poverty.

So they still will come. Welcome.


This essay was written for submission to the April's Hubpage content "So You Think You Can Write Online". The essay was written April 2011 and is only opinion at the time of writing. The statistics were obtained from the reference below. By the time you are reading, the actual numbers may have changed. It may have gotten better, or in fact it may have gotten worst.


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