In a post written almost nine years ago, I asked for your feedback on the validity of the so-called American Dream. That was a few years into the Tea Party movement and the economic recovery after the disastrous recession and financial meltdown of 2008-09.
Obama was President, Trump was yet to storm into our lives, and a worldwide Covid-type infection was only the stuff of Outbreak, a 1995 Dustin Hoffman movie.
At that point, a CNN poll had shown more than half of the adults sampled believed hard work and perseverance could lead to personal economic stability and personal happiness. I remember the comments readers attached to that post were not as positive; the "dream" was not seen as a viable possibility for many of our fellow citizens.
The concentration of wealth among a smaller and smaller group of the top tier Americans and the decline or stagnation of middle and lower-class wages, financial stability, and upward mobility seemed to say, "this dream is really not for you."
Fast forward to today, and I am surprised. Several studies over the last few years show more robust than expected support for the ability to achieve that status. 43% of those polled believe the traditional Dream is still possible. Yes, that number has slipped since the Covid shutdown experience, but more than four out of ten feeling positive startle me.
Most surprising are the numbers that indicate a fair number of younger adults are more confident than their elders in their path to whatever they define as success. From what I have been reading, these folks are the ones who have suffered the most in the aftermath of Covid.
Owning a house anytime soon is a significant hurdle. The tech industry is shedding jobs like a herd of buffalo sluffing off their winter coats. The rental and living cost increases are outpacing any growth these young people may enjoy.
Yet, their hope for the future, their abilities, and the power of perseverance remain potent forces. Maybe what the "dream" means has changed. Maybe their sights are set on different ways of confirming success than their elders.
The effects of climate change and all that might mean, the realization that buying stuff doesn't equal happiness or a personal path that defines success differently than older generations, is in play. Is it likely "The American Dream" of these people is a reboot of an old idea, more in tune with our place and time?
As a retired person, sometimes I feel I no longer have much "skin in the game." I am not in the same place, mentally and economically, as those striving for a better future. I don't want to move up the ladder, increase my financial clout, buy and spend more, or work harder to achieve that elusive dream.
What I just said doesn't mean I don't care, just the opposite. Not being directly involved in the day-to-day struggles gives me more time to think about where we are heading. It allows me to see the growing inequity creating a yawning gap between those at the top of the ladder and those on the rungs below them (and those who can't even get on the ladder).
If the American Dream I was raised believing was possible for all is now dead or no longer attainable by the majority, what does that mean for all of us? How will that perception change our daily life and our future? If that specific hope is no longer alive, what is taking its place?
Retirement is when many of us become more involved with our community, volunteerism, and family or see a wrong and try to do something about it. What we may be facing is the rules of the game are changing. The fundamental glue that holds us together may be a new formula we haven't fully grasped.
What brought this subject back to mind was a book I just finished: "The Day The World Stopped Shopping," by J.B. MacKinnon. The author argues that a culture built on constantly increasing consumption has no future. While this post is not the place to debate his conclusions, his thoughts made me wonder whether younger generations are adapting some of their "dreams" based on his points.
So, my ultimate question is whether the dream of an upward path for many and an economy that expands in a way that benefits us all remains valid.
Maybe even more important is if that path to success and happiness morphs into something different, something better suited to the world's condition today.
And, if so, should the American Dream be a phrase relegated to the history books while we attempt to find a new way to define a path forward that is built on a different foundation, a different measure of success?