The American Dream Lives On

I’ve seen dozens of posts on the death of the American Dream.  You know, the house, white picket fence, dog and 2.5 kids.  The one where the guy works until he is 65 while the wife stays home and raises babies and frequents the tennis club and does charity work in her spare time. The one where at retirement they either have a fat pension, millions in the bank or perhaps both.   This is purportedly a myth, an anachronistic throwback to an earlier time, a time long long ago when dinosaurs and creatures known as Boomers ruled the earth.

The claims on the Dream no longer being possible center on a number of issues including high cost of college/student loans, lack of decent paying jobs, lack of opportunity to advance and a lack of affordable housing and tighter rules on obtaining house loans.  They are also sometimes portrayed as inherently less competitive in life due to being victims or poor parenting and the advent of the age of social media and digital overload.  So in short, against insurmountable odds  there just is no way they can achieve the American Dream the way previous generations did.

That is so untrue! Don’t get me wrong, the disadvantages are real inarguable truths.  But the idea that they represent some Great Wall of China impenetrable barrier is untrue.  There is a huge difference between something becoming more difficult and something becoming  impossibly  unicorn rare.

Full disclosure, I’m older than most in this space so I realize can’t use my own experience as proof that things can still work this way for you but I have lots of younger friends and three millennial kids that I can bring forth as expert witnesses because unlike me, they have current generation cred.  Since one of my side gigs is being an expert witness let me do this like we do in court.

“I call my millennial kids to the stand.”

“Raise your right hand, swear to tell the truth, etc.   How is life going for you, son?”

“Dad, it is going pretty great, I am heading to Tanzania in a couple of weeks for my last rotation of medical school and after that is over my wife is coming to climb Kilimanjaro with me.  I’ll be matching with my specialty in March and then headed off to six years of residency.  I guess we will sell our house since we probably won’t be coming back to the same city or maybe we’ll rent it to someone.  It took me awhile to decide on my career, I started of course in engineering and did that for six years while I put my wife through medical school and now she is doing that for me as I earn my MD.  We have some school loans but she makes great money and I will be earning at least a little soon so we are on solid financial ground headed forward.  Plus you and mom did teach us to avoid debt and invest for retirement so we are doing that as fast as we can.”

“Son, how much did Mom and I help you pay for school or really anything after high school.”

” Well Dad you didn’t pay for anything.  I had a free ride through college for my engineering degree and after that I was on my own.”

“Son, would you say you will earn more, save more and give more than I was ever able to in my life?”

“You’ve done pretty well Dad, but we will blow by you like you’re standing still in less than ten years, most likely.”

“Daughters?”

“Yeah Dad, you also didn’t shell out much of anything for our college and we also graduated with zero loans. Yeah, like bro we worked while in high school and college and learned to shop in thrift stores.  And we had free rides too including room and board through our four-year degrees because we had good grades and test scores. ”

“How did you get your advanced degrees after the scholarships ran out?  Did you rack up enormous school loans?”

“No student loans at all, Dad.  We both worked for the university to pay for our masters degrees.   We have good jobs, one with a pension.  One of us owns a house and one is renting but neither of us have any debt, except the house mortgage. We see marriage, kids and owning a house as near certain parts of our future.”

“I’ll call my last witness, Ms.M.  M you obviously have it going on for a millennial right now so I’m guessing you started out with rich parents, right?”

” You are hilarious, mi amigo.  I’ve told you my story on those many early morning six-mile runs we made together but I suppose you want these people to hear it from me.  Short version goes like this, at 16 I was literally starving to death in Mexico and in desperation ran away from home, crossed the river into the USA and started taking odd jobs.  I married and divorced from a bad man and ended up in your small town where I was working as a maid in a rich family’s home.  I had nothing, no family, no friends and no money.”

“Wait a minute M, you are now a Nurse Practitioner with four college degrees.  You are a wealthy lady, how did you get there in just a few years?”

“I did not really believe in the power of education but the lady I was a maid for nagged and nagged and finally dragged me to get my high school equivalent certificate and then convinced me to go to the community college and get my licensed practical nursing credentials.  I then got my RN, and then a BS in Registered Nursing and finally was accepted into medical school where I earned my Advanced Practical Nursing degree.  Along the way I married another Mexican immigrant, now a surgeon and a very good man, and we live in Florida.  Yes we are millionaires with no debt and yes we did all of that by ourselves with no financial help from anyone else.”

“So at the risk of leading my witness, M would you say you are living the American Dream?”

“Yes, it certainly feels like the American Dream, going from starving kid to medical professional.  From loneliness and poverty to a great life partner and wealth”

“I rest my case.”

And that is my version of why I think the Dream lives on.  No doubt it is just one side of the argument.  And, sure, it is tougher now than it was for me and my small set of examples do not adequately represent the millions of millennials struggling against odds I didn’t have to face. But the fact is most of the millennials I know, and I know a lot of them, are living lives that resemble mine at their age without a lot of obvious differences.  They have jobs they enjoy and are making nice salaries, buying houses and having kids just like their parents did.  And some of them like my, running amiga, can just drop the mic and walk away after they tell their story.  

13 Replies to “The American Dream Lives On”

  1. Love this post, Steve! Using the “court-format” was a fun idea. As a non-US citizen living in Denmark, I also mostly hear that the American Dream is dead, but I think you presented some interesting cases in favor of the American Dream. Looking forward to reading more from your side.

    /Carl

    1. Thanks Carl! I’m excited the site is up and I’m getting comments. I’m sorry I took so long to respond but I was hiking remote parts of the Arkansas Buffalo River country to frozen waterfalls this week with my wife and I was mostly unplugged from the digital world.

  2. Wow. Steve. Three kids with scholarships! You must have done something right with your parenting. Congrats to all of you. These are all great examples of taking control of your future. Sure, if you graduate with $200K in loans and no career it’s going to be hard. But nobody has to be in that spot in the first place.

    1. My wife gets the credit! As a stay at home mom she was really encouraging to set high standards but also praise good results. I maybe contributed to the genetic IQ but the real decisive factor was generating a love of learning and that was all my wife’s.

      1. I get a bit annoyed with people using the term “scholarship” when in fact it’s financial aid. There’s nothing wrong with receiving financial aid from expensive schools (who charge wealthier families more tuition to fund aid) but it has nothing to do with academic achievement as acceptance is not based on ability/inability to pay. True academic scholarships are rare and exceptionally difficult to attain (and can be awarded to the rich). The term “scholarship” has been used to replace financial aid to make recipients feel better but it’s really misleading. Why should we feel apologetic for accepting aid? The more fortunate contribute more to society in taxes, tuition, etc… There is nothing wrong with that and there should be no shame in accepting aid, and we should also acknowledge it gratefully to those who’ve contributed more to make it possible. It’s what makes America so great. Let’s call it what it is.

  3. I loved this post. While reading the saying came to mind “where there’s a will there’s a way”. Writing about this topic from a foreigners perspective is still on my list. Keep up with writing, you definitely have it in you. Looking forward to reading more 🙂

    1. I think the perspective you’ll have will give you a very interesting approach to the topic. You should write on it. Thanks, Steve

  4. Steveark, welcome to the community 🙂 By the way, you really have to get rid of this “admin” user name – you are after all – Steveark!!!

    Ok more to the point, great post, I think you’re right, the challenge is real. However, I also think we fondly remember the past. We forget the challenges. Pain now is much worse than pain before. So when confronted with pain now, we fold and say the past was easier. Well maybe, we don’t really have any objective way of measuring this.

    Statistics? Sure they help but any real scientist would readily give you the drawbacks.

    In any case, people have done it before, and we too will figure it out. 🙂

    1. I agree, the admin name is annoying, so since you brought it up, how do I do that? I’ll poke around and look for the setting, I did a lot of coding in my distant past but it was not internet related so while I’m very computer literate I’m a total novice at webhosting and WordPress. Good point about the nostalgia factor, if I think about my parents who were the greatest generation depression babies they achieved FI in spite of being born so poor that most of us couldn’t conceive of living the way they did. And then my dad was put on a train when he had never been out of state in his life and sent to California, where he was put on a ship and sent to the South Pacific to fight the Imperial Japanese Navy. After surviving that but losing a few fingers he went to college on the GI bill, married and became a millionaire eventually though he never made much money. Compared to me he had it a much harder path but then again he was a much tougher man.

      1. 🙂 Im not sure how to convey this in an internet comment but your response made me smile. I’m sure you know what I mean. When I was little we joked that we could buy a few more houses with grandma – she was so frugal. But that’s what the depression did.

        In regard to your admin question. First, let me say that I’m in the same boat as you. I have computer skills but this was foreign to me. Its also very overloaded with apps and companies trying to hook you. Its not easy to navigate at all! About the question at hand, I believe that you are logged into WordPress as admin. Whatever account you are logged in gets tagged as the owner of whatever content you create – posts and comments. Simply log in as another account. Also try not to call your admin “admin”. There are a lot of attacks on WordPress that guess admin is the username. Pick anything else. Then get WordFence and block any admin login attempts. Watch the number of blocked users grow 🙂

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