The Dream Is Dead
Why the newest generations have given up on the American dream
Before I started high school, my mom moved my brother and I around seven times within the same town. I had believed moving so frequently was normal until told differently by friends from school. It wasn’t until years later that I realized my mom had a huge spending problem, along with this strange obsession with finding the “perfect house”. A big reason we never could stay somewhere for too long was because each house had its own flaws my mother couldn’t accept. The house either had too much yard, not enough yard, was in a busy neighborhood, was too far from school, or became too expensive in the long run. Our last house’s flaw was just that of the latter, and we ended up having to claim bankruptcy. We moved into my grandparents’ house and it wasn’t until high school when I found out how poor we were. All my life I was told we were “doing well, but on a budget” and suddenly we were now “barely middle class”. While this news was a bit hard to swallow at first, it later helped me reflect on what financial goals I had for myself.
One thing I decided right off the bat: the American Dream was dead and gone. There was no way I was going to end up like my mom-attracted to a dream that promised much, but resulted in little.
Here are some images that depict the ideal “American Dream” circa 1940's-1960's:
To understand why the dream itself is a failure, we first have to know what exactly the dream is. Think white picket fence, a family of four, a nice family car, and a cosy house in a friendly neighborhood. All of that, backed by the ideology that one can “pull themselves up by their boot straps”, is THE American dream. One crucial component I left out, however, is that this dream was made for white Americans only.
This belief that everyone- no matter their socioeconomic background, race, or ethnicity- could live the ideal American lifestyle with enough hard work put in, is what fueled the consumer culture of the 1950's. After WWII, consumerism sky rocketed, along with birth rates and patriotism. Even prior to this, though, during the Depression, images of a desirable lifestyle had been circulating around the U.S., such as this one below-
Notice the irony in this photo itself as a line predominantly made up of African-Americans waits (probably for bread or soup handouts) in front of this white American family of four who are all smiles. The message above, “World’s Highest Standard of Living”, seems to mock those in the current lowest standard of living waiting below. In hindsight, it’s clear that the myth that is the American dream was created solely to boost morale and spending amongst “down on their luck” Americans. Still, this tactic worked. People like my grandparents, for instance, baby boomers, bought into this story of building (and buying) themselves into a lifestyle full of happiness and leisure. They now have years to go on their mortgage, are both retired and swimming in debt, own a gas-guzzling family car, and are in pain from decades of labor. From the outside, they are the living and breathing example of old baby boomers still living the dream. From within the inside, however, they are suffering and stressing. This is hardly different from my parents’ generation, generation X.
While my mom eventually moved into an apartment after regrouping her finances, my dad finally went on to buy his own house at the fresh age of 50. Despite having denounced the American dream and all the values he doesn’t agree with, my Dad has seemed to be overjoyed with this new chapter in his life. Perhaps the thought of simply owning his own land was appealing enough to him. Regardless, there is a major shift in attitude toward this dream we’ve come to accept.
Here’s where things get interesting: studies have shown that younger people don’t aspire to live the American dream. In fact, many don’t even believe in it. This leaves older people puzzled because without the dream, what do Americans have to strive after? Is the dream really dead, or it is just changing?
To answer this, we have to see why people are turning their backs, and how exactly this is changing American culture forever.
As briefly mentioned earlier, the American dream was mainly coined to raise morale in white Americans. Over the years, though, politicians have exploited this desire of living to earn the trust of struggling minorities in the U.S. The sad truth is, your background and where you were born into plays a big factor in just how big you make it in this country. And while equal opportunity sounds real comforting, it’s actually a fallacy that is finally gaining attention and bringing an end to the dream.
With newer generations comes newer revolutionary ideas, and so, this is my generation’s counterculture.
We no longer wish to work for the rest of our lives in order to pay off a mortgage or car payment. Instead, there’s a new real estate market appealing to us young people called, “tiny houses”. While these houses may seemed a bit cramped and unconventional, they’re very cheap and allow for more spending to be done on traveling or whatnot. Aside from house choices, many young people are actually being driven towards city lights rather than suburbs. Many are also waiting on marriage or kids until a far older age. And, on top of all of this, many more are very aware of how unrealistic and painful the dream can be to strive for. Having witnessed their parents or grandparents struggle (just as I have), they know better than to follow the same track.
Now, whether this way of thinking is killing the dream, or simply giving it a new twist, I think it is up to each individual person to decide.