The American Dream means different things to different people. For some, it’s a tangible achievement, like owning your own home. It’s paving your own way. For others, it’s more of a concept — you’re free to make your decision and guide your life as you see fit. Some people think of it as an ongoing, intergenerational tradition. We inherit the world, do what good we can, and hand it off to our kids.
Hopefully, we’re leaving it in better shape than when we received it, making life easier for following generations. Looking at the current state of things, though? No one would blame you for thinking the American Dream was dead — or at least on life support.
A recent analysis involving social mobility all but proves it. According to a working paper from the NBER, mobility is on a steep decline and the American Dream with it. Per that paper, only half of the children born in the year 1980 are better off than their parents were.
To put things in perspective, for those born in 1940, 90% did better than their parents.
Obviously, there are some big caveats here. Those born in 1940, for example, all had parents who lived through the Great Depression. So, it wasn’t hard to top them. There are many other criticisms and details to go through as well. But if you take a look at the state of the country — or the results of the past election — it’s clear that many people are struggling. And for many of them, the American Dream is out of reach.
Why is that? What’s happening to put the American Dream so far out of the grasp of so many? There isn’t an easy answer. In fact, volumes can be (and have been) written on the subject. But if you want a quick dive into it, here are five reasons the tides have seemingly turned on so many Americans.