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.”
“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.