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Is the American dream attainable?

November 19th, 2011 at 12:56 pm

As I catch up on my reading, Time had a story about what people think about the "American dream." It asked if people think it is attainable for today's youth, or has it become impossible?

How thought provoking! I've been talking about this with a lot of people and it is interesting to listen to their comments. Some people say they feel it is not attainable like it has been in the past because the economy is hindering the upward movement.

Yet others say it is still in one's reach, but people have to be willing to work hard and look for ways to reach it.

I'm going to agree with the latter. The reason I believe this is I think people can still move up and better themselves. I think it can be difficult and challenging. However, I also think people need to prioritize what their dream might be. Plus, they need to work for it, not figure it will be handed to them.

For example, I have a friend who works two jobs. Neither job is super high paying, but could be adequate. She still runs out of money. She rents, drives a beater, and complains about her situation. I have encouraged her to budget, open up a savings account, and not rely on credit cards. A few years ago she wanted to buy a house and went to the bank to be pre-approved. When she told me how much she was pre-approved for, I told her not to spend that much because it would keep her from having any disposable income. She looked at houses and since they weren't what she wanted, she never bought one. A friend of mine had a stroke and her daughters sold her house -- very reasonable and far less than what my friend had been pre-approved for. But, since it wasn't "perfect" she didn't want it.

Another friend of mine works one full time job. It's not anything that is going to make her rich -- in fact she makes less than the aforementioned friend. But, she owns her home, bought a used car where she can afford the payments, and saves up for things. When she bought her house, she bought it at a reasonable price and fixed up what she needed to fix up to move in and has been working on it since. She will probably never be wealthy, but she feels she has done very well and is satisified with her life.

I think in a lot of cases, the person needs to figure out what their dream is and then work towards it. Yet, I think it is that four letter word that is hindering many: work. There are those who feel "entitled" to a fancy house, big car, and large salary.

If watching some of the house hunting shows are any indication, many people are not willing to buy a house and fix it up -- they want a house with all the bells and whistles like what their parents have, the parents who have worked over 40 years to achieve what they want.

I think today's economy reflects this mindset. Another friend laughs at me when I tell them we have a regular savings, a Christmas club, a vacation savings, and then another account that we put money in for whatever thing we are saving for, be it a fridge, dishwasher, or now, a new furnace. I guess immediate gratification brought about by credit cards has made saving and anticpating a thing of the past for many.

So, I wonder what others think. Is the American dream attainable, or is the youth of tomorrow doomed?

9 Responses to “Is the American dream attainable?”

  1. SusanT Says:

    The American Dream is still attainable. I think we may have sold our children a bill of goods over the last few decades though, by giving them way, way too much, praising them way, way too much, and not adequately preparing them for the realities of starting out in life.

    DH and I had no toys, no little luxuries, no nothin' when we started our adult lives. Our parents had given us no indication it would be any different though, so we just dug in and started building our lives, careers and wealth, including paying to put ourselves through college. In a million years it wouldn't have occured to me to compare someone else's comparitively wealthier lifestyle to mine as a justification for a pity-party. If someone else seemed to have more than we did, we could generally pinpoint the reason - more education, better people skills, longer working hours, or they were simply living beyond their means. We surely didn't think we couldn't have same if we were willing to pay the personal price.

    Many of our children, my own included, were raised to believe everything they did was wonderful (remember, we gave them trophies just for showing up to practice and being part of the team). Real life is hard and I don't think many were prepared for that after leaving the next. Most of the Occupy Wallstreet folk are young - I think that's very telling. It's also very sad, but I feel I bear some of the guilt for not adequately preparing this generation for the realities of life, and explaining there are no guarantees in life, but there sure are amazing opportunities if you are willing to buckle down and go after it.

  2. retire@50 Says:

    I agree the dream is attainable, but just like everything else in life you have to pick and choose what you want most. Usually you can't have lots of free time and lots of money. It's usually one or the other or not enough of either.

    I also think people's expectations of what it means to have the 'American Dream' are unrealistic due to TV and magazines. I often watch House Hunters and I see these young couples buying houses for $300 - $400 K. They have to have granite countertops, they have to have huge garages, they have to have hardwood floors, they have to have crown molding and new window and on and on. Some of these expectations are ridiculous for young people starting out, whatever happened to the concept of a starter home, where you got something you could live in and gradually fixed it up and then moved up as your income grew?

    The same is true with electronics and other items. People think they have to have huge TVs, cellphones, ipads, $60 jeans and $300 handbags.

    Part of the reason our parents could afford a better lifestyle was they didn't buy beyond their means, they lived with a lot less until they got more income to buy bigger. Unfortunately that was when most kids start seeing the better quality things in their lives and think they can go straight from their parents lifestyles to having the same on their own. They don't realize it took their parents 20 years to get there.

    It still comes down to individual responsibility and drive. At least in America we have opportunities to improve our situations, whether we use them or not is another thing.

  3. monkeymama Says:

    I'll just have to say I agree with the others, otherwise I have to write a book. Big Grin

  4. monkeymama Says:

    To be clear - yes the dream is very attainable. We live in such a short-term thinking and *want it now* society. Which has been the downfall of many of my peers. They've traded their future financial security for a lot of stuff today.

  5. thefrugallery Says:

    The "American dream" is still attainable, but I think that people are redefining it out of necessity. In order to survive, I believe people need to reevaluate what is important to them. This recession has been good in the sense that it's forced people to make changes. It has been humbling for many people, but if they can stick with the changes they've been forced to make even when things improve, they are setting themselves up for a very prosperous life in the future.

  6. baselle Says:

    Life
    Liberty
    Pursuit of happiness

    That's all we really any of us are offered. If you look at those guidestars and you personalize for yourself "the how", the American Dream is attainable. Personalizing that how is critical - far too many people follow what other people set for them as goals. Notice that house and car and all other residual crap is not called out on the list.

  7. Anton James Says:

    Hmm, well my guess is that the Chinese debt-fueled american dream is still possible and that is that imo.

    The generation preceding this one have all sold your souls to the devil.

    ATB
    Ant

  8. rob62521 Says:

    Anton, it is frightening, especially when you see how many folks never give it another thought to even look for American made products to keep Americans working. Although some people think they have to have everything right now instead of working towards a goal.

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