The death of the American Dream

By Sheila Slofstra

February 1, 2020

For years people have dreamt to achieve the American Dream: go to the States and make it through hard work, determination and sacrifice, but how relevant is the American Dream in today’s world? How achievable is the unachievable? Is the longing desire to make it in the States still there?

The American Dream through time

The term came to a rise in popularity in 1931 when historian and writer James Truslow Adams wrote in his book The Epic of America: 

“The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

This definition of the term carried on to the 1940s when it was more commonly used  in advertisements, plays, books and articles on to 1944 when a shift occurred within the American Dream. The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 AKA the G. I. Bill, was a newly introduced law introduced for returning WWII veterans that provided several benefits which included housing and the opportunity of getting a college education. It caused the rise of suburban growth in the 1950s since incomes were increasing and many veterans were able to get low interest loans due to the G.I. Bill, as a result these veterans build houses in suburban areas. 

The suburban living was promoted through television shows like Leave it to Beaver and I Love Lucy, and carried through the 70s and 80s. The American Dream started to get a different meaning to many, since people started to associate it with homeownership. 

It all changed when the 90s hit, the rise of technology influences the American Dream greatly. Everyone was in need to have a cell phone, computer, television, and video games. The dream was to have power, and status, and how to show it off with the great invention of technology? People craved a sense of individualism, to stand out of the crowd, which was hard because in order to do that they needed to work harder, and more money. 

And again, the American Dream has changed with the economic crash later in the 2000s. The desire of power and status shifted to the idea of financial security vs. gaining more things. 

Millennials 

Now, many millennials believe that the American Dream is death. The financial insecurity of the debts of student loans and credit cards leaves graduates and others with an unsure financial security for themselves and their families. In a way, the American Dream has a sense of ‘doing better than your parents did before you’ all through time, yet it is more difficult to achieve for millennials who have to pay college intuition fees that are being higher than ever before. In fact, it has been raised over 500 percent since 1985, and according to studies: “rising significantly faster than the cost of health care, gasoline, shelter and food,”. For that reason, many millennials believe it is death because they believe that even with hard work and sacrifices, their American Dream is unachievable. 

Overall, the definition of the American Dream has changed severely over time, I would say it is not necessarily death. The American Dream has been redefined in history, and will continuously in the future.  

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