A growing number of people are now bemoaning the death of the American Dream. Among EEs, this sentiment has existed for years.
A couple of weeks ago, Yahoo Finance circulated some disturbing results from a survey it conducted of 1,500 Americans between the ages of 18 and 64. While a majority of those surveyed—53 percent—said they still viewed America as the land of opportunity, a full 41 percent said they felt the American Dream was out of reach.
The American Dream—that idea that through hard work and innovation anyone can prosper in the U.S.—is a critical component of our national fabric. But the concept appears to be under threat on multiple fronts.
I have a hunch that these results are partially skewed by the undercurrent of negativity running through current events. Indeed, the Yahoo Finance survey found that 63 percent of respondents believe the economy is getting worse (including 72 percent of respondents over 55).
Occupy Wall Street protestors march in New York's Zuccotti Park. Source: David Shankbone, Wikimedia Commons.
The U.S. economy has been sluggish at best for going on four years now, and unemployment remains stubbornly high. As a nation we have been running huge budget deficits, adding to a an already staggering national debt, and we keep hearing that there is going to be a reckoning. To make matters worse, rather than working together to address the issues, our national elected officials have completely failed to provide leadership, choosing instead to use their positions to advance their political ideologies and prepare for the next election. The Yahoo Finance survey found that only about one-quarter of the public is confident that President Obama and Congress can fix the financial crisis.
Not exactly a rosy picture, is it? Indeed, we have been hearing for years that the economic situation in the U.S. is as bad or worse than it has been since the Great Depression. Against this backdrop, it's a wonder that the Yahoo Finance survey did not reflect even greater pessimism about the state of the American Dream.
But the U.S. has basically been hit by recessions of varying degrees near the beginning of every decade since the 1860s. While the Great Recession that began in 2008 was admittedly more severe than most (hence the name), I have a hunch that if the Yahoo Finance survey were conducted during any of these periods it would find similar levels of pessimism. Were the Yahoo Finance surveyors to go back in time and conduct the survey in, for example, early 1982, with unemployment in the neighborhood of 10 percent, my guess is it would find just as much despair about the state of the American Dream as exists today.
Flash forward to late to 2000, just before the dot com bubble deflated in earnest, when President Clinton told Congress and the American people that the state of the union was "the strongest it has ever been," and I'd venture to say you'd find a lot more people feeling pretty upbeat about the American Dream.