Is The American Dream Dead?

A few days ago on Morning Joe, the CEO of Gallup (the polling company) expressed surprise, if not dismay, that the American Dream has changed. According to polls, Americans no longer define the Dream as "peace, a home and family, religious freedom..." Now, they long for "a good job." I am not kidding. That is the new American Dream, according to Jim Clifton, who wrote The Coming Jobs War. You can watch him talk about it in this video.

I think we dream of a good job because it represents a means to attract a mate, pay for food/shelter/health care (well, maybe not health care), and afford to have children.

And if that's true, I think we Americans are in deep trouble.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Consider Maslow's Hierarchy. No longer are we concerned with such lofty (self-actualization) goals as world peace and religious freedom. Now it appears we've dropped down the pyramid to survival goals: food, shelter and family.

If you're over forty, you've seen the change during your own lifetime.

When I was in high school, I was capable of getting straight A's but I was immature. Most of the time I cut classes, smoked pot and turned in my work at the last minute. After graduation, I enrolled in community college, but dropped out after one semester, at age nineteen, to get married. I found a full-time job as a low-level filing clerk, with the best pay I'd ever earned. Little by little, I worked my way up. It took me eighteen years to get my bachelor's degree, attending school at night while building my career. I became a Human Resources executive, a fulfilling career where I earned great pay and benefits, and a nice retirement.

In my family, going to college wasn't critical. It was desirable, seeming to offer a vaguely "better" future, but my three siblings found well-paying professional careers without a bachelor's degree.

Those days are gone forever. Now, the younger generations must focus like lasers from preschool on up to land that "good job," which only lasts until the next merger.

My dad, born in 1924, was virtually an orphan. He attended thirteen schools before dropping out of high school to be a welder in a ship yard. When he met the classy dame who would become his wife, she encouraged him to apply for a job at Bank of America, where she worked as a teller. He did, and over the next several decades worked his way up to management, thanks to a good work ethic and the training provided by his employer.

 

He managed banks! Back then, it was a respected profession, a notch below doctor. At one time Dad was single-handedly bringing in 60% of the loan business at the Chino, California branch.  He put us four kids through Catholic school on his salary while Mom, now a full-time homemaker, sewed all our clothes and made a home for us. In 1949 they bought a brand new house in Whittier, California. It consisted of two bedrooms, a den, and one bathroom. We had a detached two-car garage and a big back yard, where us four kids played (swing set and sand box; remember, Boomers?)

In 1982, Dad retired as a bank executive. He was able to fund a decent if frugal retirement for Mom and himself, and when he passed away three years ago, he left her in good shape financially. Not rich. Minds her pennies. But good.

The highest degree Dad ever earned was a GED.

I don't object to competition or capitalism, but I do fear for my kids' and grandkids' futures. I worry that the experience of Boomers and our parents will be viewed as an aberration on the American Timeline, unrelated to their own reality. The American Dream will be seen as a charming fiction, just something the old folks reminisce about, like five-cent ice cream cones and affordable medical care.

 

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