America promised us that if we work hard, we’ll have good lives. Hard work will take us to the promised land, including a house in the suburbs, a small family, a reliable car, a yearly vacation, and a retirement income to allow us to age peacefully.
That dream is dead.
Did Everything Right
One man vented his rage about the American dream in a popular Reddit community. The Original Poster (OP) says he did everything right, but it isn’t enough.
“I did everything they told me to do,” he stated, listing some things he did that aligned with the American dream: “Got my degree in something I love. Didn’t take out any student loans. Never got in trouble with the law.”
It wasn’t enough, though. Even without the massive burden of student loan repayments, OP can’t make it in today’s world.
OP’s surviving but not thriving. Despite his education, he doesn’t make a living wage in his state (Florida). He dreads each morning, knowing he must arrive at a job he hates just to maintain the bare minimum.
OP wanted kids, but he and his wife can’t justify the cost. They’re one catastrophe away from complete disaster. If one of them gets sick, the car breaks down, or something goes wrong with their housing, he doesn’t know how they will manage.
“Every night, I come home from work, and I just feel like crying. Is this what the rest of my life is going to be?” he asked into the Reddit void.
The Internet Commiserates
The Reddit community rallied around OP. Though they couldn’t offer genuine assistance, they assured him he’s not the only one struggling.
America is Not a Meritocracy
The American dream relies on the myth of meritocracy. America loves to sell itself as a place where everyone has equal opportunity and the best and the brightest are promoted, but that’s so far from the truth it’s laughable.
“Meritocracy has always been just a justification for inequality,” shared one user.
It’s not a meritocracy when poor kids can’t afford to get the education they need to escape poverty. It’s not a meritocracy when colleges use legacy as a factor for admissions. It’s not a meritocracy when certain groups of people are systematically prevented from getting ahead.
America may be a meritocracy for wealthy white men, but it’s not for anyone else.
Follow Your Dreams
One User had an interesting take on the problem.
“I’m following my passion because *** spending 8 or 9 hours a day doing something that makes me miserable if I’m not going to be able to afford to pay rent anyways,” they shared.
Young people increasingly opt out of work because it doesn’t provide a living income. They’re gaming, writing, creating, and doing things that bring their lives value instead. When work doesn’t pay enough to survive, why would you work?
The American Dream Was Real
At one shining point in history, the American dream was real and achievable (for white men, at least). If they worked hard, they could pay for college, which was far cheaper than now. They could afford a home with ⅓ their take-home salary. Workplaces offered pensions, rewarding loyalty.
It’s no longer possible in today’s world.
“American Dream has been dead since Reagan,” stated one user.
“It was a possible thing for the average person until around the mid 2ks,” added another. “Now you have to make 6 figures to have a basic.. crack den in a lot of cities.”
But it Was Always Propaganda
Although the American dream was achievable for a select few, it was always propaganda. Most Americans were systematically held back from achieving the dream.
“The American Dream has always been a lie to trick the have-nots into laboring their lives away in hope of “making it” one day.” shared one user.
“Even back in the old days, there were probably bunches of people who missed out on getting it, such as the way women were treated in employment, as an example,” added another.
A Degree in Something You Love
Many users latched onto OP’s statement that he got a degree in something he loved, saying that was his first mistake.
Things you love don’t pay the bills. OP should have gotten a degree in something that pays well rather than in something he loves.
However, with technology constantly evolving, it’s hard to figure out which fields will pay well four years after starting college and for a lifetime after that.
Other users said it’s a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself.
“We don’t value education. It’s only valued as a concept if it’s a way to make money,” lamented one user, adding, “Knowledge itself is not respected. Intellectual curiosity is not rewarded for its own sake.”
The American Dream is Dead
There’s no consensus about whether the American dream ever truly existed, but everyone agrees if it did, it’s long gone.
Hard work no longer guarantees success. The cost of living is so high that even people with decent jobs struggle to stay afloat. The working class is out of options.
Something needs to give soon.
Melanie launched Partners in Fire in 2017 to document her quest for financial independence with a mix of finance, fun, and solving the world’s problems. She’s self educated in personal finance and passionate about fighting systematic problems that prevent others from achieving their own financial goals. She also loves travel, anthropology, gaming and her cats.