Is there a better time than during a Labor Day weekend to take a look at the American Dream? I don’t think so, especially since, at least in my opinion, the American Dream of days gone by does not resemble its image in today’s society.
Yes, when you read the comparison there is a touch of tongue in cheek, but even humor has its base founded in reality. I’m just not sure how much of this is going to be humorous instead of disappointing. Let’s take a look at the American Dream of years gone by — that stereotypical 1950’s image almost cut from a Norman Rockwell painting.
Now, I didn’t grow up in the 1950’s, but the idea of the American family and individual having the opportunity to go as far as their talents could take them with the sky being the limit was what I grew up on. So, here is a snapshot look at what the American Dream was composed of until, say, 15 years ago. Seems like a likely place to start although I can’t pinpoint when things changed. They just did.
— Americans knew they could find a job that would give them an opportunity to increase their earning potential.
— People knew they could one day own their own home outright, paid off, because their earnings would outstrip the increase in cost of living.
— An education may have been a luxury, but it was in no way indicative of the type of lifestyle a hard worker could provide for his family.
— Workers knew they could retire some day and enjoy the fruits of their labor.
— Americans could confidently exercise their rights without repercussion.
— Families could have one breadwinner, allowing families to be more centered around the home and children raised by their own family, not babysitters or daycare facilities.
— You worked for your pension, provided by your employer for your efforts and loyalties, not a 401k at the whims of the market.
In essence the old American Dream was attainable and provided a family-centric lifestyle. It wasn’t necessary to be a doctor, lawyer or banker to have an income that allowed not only for an opportunity of prosperity but an opportunity to actually save money on a weekly basis.
Now, let’s take a look at what it appears the American Dream has become. To me it doesn’t appear any of it has to do with prosperity but mere survival.
For many of the same people who would have prospered in years gone by this is an age where the American Dream has become something different, ugly, and in many cases, an untenable situation.
— Americans now will take any job they can find. Washington touts our economy and its opportunities but the reality is wages are subsistence level at best and there is little to no upward mobility as the concern for the worker has been replaced by the placement of human characteristics upon lifeless entities such as “the company.”
— Our youth no longer exercise their rights. Rather they prefer safe places where this practice may be avoided to protect their feelings and allay their fears from the thoughts of others.
— An education is no longer a luxury. In today’s economy the lack of a college degree is the equivalent of a high school diploma and quickly moving toward graduate studies replacing a four year sheepskin.
— College is available, if you’re willing to be tied to debt for 20-plus years. The cost is becoming prohibitive — if not already — with finance companies reaping the benefits of the increased costs.
— Many will now never retire as the losses in 401k’s and other retirement plans with each market stumble and fall leaving an uncertainty as to the future. There is no longer a gold watch ceremony, just retirement from a career to become a greeter from Wal-mart to pay the bills, especially the costs of medications.
— Children are raised by strangers. Mothers have to take jobs, even if they aren’t a single parent, because maintaining a household — mortgage/rent, insurance, debt, clothing and feeding kids — is beyond the capability of most with earnings as low as they are.
— The average worker in America has not seen a raise in over four years, yet the cost of living rises each year, making it impossible to keep up, leading to the proliferation of debt.
This list could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. They — the “they” being the powers that be — want you to believe things are good for you. Just take a look even 20 years ago and you will see this is not the case.
Seems to me the American Dream has become the American Waking Nightmare that apparently never ends, even when you are awake.
D. C. Moody is a staff writer for The Easley Progress, The Pickens Sentinel and Powdersville Post and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper’s opinion.