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The Millennial American Dream 2.0 or is it a NIGHTMARE!*

Laura Criscione
People refer to The United States of America as the land of opportunities. This is because of the notion of “The American Dream”. It is comprised of the ideals that every citizen should have an equal opportunity to achieve success and prosperity through hard work and determination. James Truslow Adams defines it as the “dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to the ability or achievement.”Though, he emphasizes that it does not represent a quest for wealth or materials, but a vision for self-actualization and personal fulfillment.[1]

However, many things have changed over the years. The New American Dream 2.0 is different from the first. This new version is all about finding what you want in life and doing whatever you can to achieve it. It doesn’t necessarily refer to the original, like moving to the suburbs and having children while the father works. This new American Dreams varies for each individual person. It could mean for a woman to get her degree and start her own business, or for a couple to travel the globe as world photographers.  The American Dream 2.0 is all about pursuing your passions in life and taking on new experiences to find yourself in order to live out these passions. It is no longer as cliche as having the white picket fence in the backyard.

Despite this, many Americans believe that the “American Dream” is dead.  A large percentage of Americans, especially millennials, are anxious about their future due to economic uncertainty. They don’t believe that hard work and determination will guarantee financial stability.[2]  There are many obstacles millennials have to face that previous generations did not. “Millennials are the first in the modern era to have higher levels of student loan debt, poverty and unemployment, and lower levels of wealth and personal income than their two immediate predecessor generations (Gen Xers and Boomers) had at the same stage of their life cycles.”[3] Student debt has become a huge issue, because typically only the rich are financially stable to receive a higher education. Despite the use of scholarships, which are taken advantage of, students are left in a larger amount of debt as out-of-pocket costs continue to rise.

This issue leaves a snowball effect for millennials once they graduate college. Once they receive their degree, many millennials don’t have a job, or a decent one to support themselves, forcing them to move back in with their parents. “Many question whether their degree was worth the investment. Since 1985, college tuition grew by over 500 percent, rising significantly faster than the cost of healthcare, gasoline, shelter, and food. Nearly 70 percent of the class of 2014 graduated with student loan debt, with an average of nearly $30,000 per borrower.”[4]  This enormous amount of debt is extremely difficult to be paid back by new graduates who don’t yet have a stable job. Since millennials don’t have the funds to completely support themselves, it takes them longer to save enough money to move out of their parents’ home. This ultimately pushes back when they buy their first home and when they get married or start a family.

In conjunction with Generation Y moving out and starting families later, having children is a recipe for financial struggle. In the 1950s, it was custom for the father to work in order to support his family while the mother took care of her children and watched over the house. Today, it has become incredibly difficult for one parent to stay home due to all increasing costs. “Home and education costs increases, combined with wage stagnation, mean that families are struggling to make ends meet—and that neither parent has the luxury of staying home any longer. In fact, parenthood has become a financial risk. Authors Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Tyagi write that “Having a child is now the single best predictor that a woman will end up in financial collapse.”[5] 

The rise of entrepreneurship has increased over the years leading to more people leaving their stable jobs to start up something on their own. Those who choose this route have a passion to pursue and want a more work-life balance, wanting to be their own boss. Many millennials want to jump on this bandwagon because they are seeking more flexibility in their jobs.[6]  However, “government barriers to starting a new business have made it harder than ever for Millennials to chase after their versions of the American Dream. Government regulations have skyrocketed out of control growing from nearly 10,000 pages in 1954 to over 80,000 by 2013. The complexity of the tax code has also made it difficult to do business.”[7]  As described before, the new American Dream is about pursuing your passions to achieve your goals in life. But due to these governmental constraints, many people are having an even more difficult time starting their own business, whatever that may be, because of such regulations.

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, working adults received $6.00 for every $1.00 they contributed. However, this has exponentially declined in which now older people still working are making around 90 cents per $1.00.[8] Social security can no longer be trusted to ensure an easy retirement.  Working hard until the age of 65 and relaxing through retirement is now a thing of the past, unfortunately. Millennials are now on their own when it comes to saving up for retirement.

It can be seen that millennials are and will continue to struggle in the future. Growing up today is very different than it was for the Generation X. With all of the debt they accumulate and stress of financial instability, when will they get to making their own American Dream?

By: Laura Criscione


[1] "The American Dream." The Center for a New American Dream. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2016.
[2] Dickerson, Mechele. "Is the American Dream Dead?" Raw Story. N.p., 1 Apr. 2016. Web. 01 May 2016. 
[3]  Barnes, David, Wesley Coopersmith, Jordan Richardson, and Ja'ron Smith. 2016 State of the Millennial Report: A Review of the Challenges and Opportunities for Young Americans. Arlington: Generation Opportunity, n.d. PDF. 
[4] Barnes, David, Wesley Coopersmith, Jordan Richardson, and Ja'ron Smith. 2016 State of the Millennial Report: A Review of the Challenges and Opportunities for Young Americans.
[5]  Escow, Richard. "7 Facts That Show the American Dream Is Dead." Alternet. N.p., 22 Oct. 2014. Web. 01 May 2016. 
[6]  Wade, Sophie. "Behind the Rise of Entrepreneurship." Fortune. N.p., 12 June 2014. Web. 01 May 2016. 
[7] Barnes, David, Wesley Coopersmith, Jordan Richardson, and Ja'ron Smith. 2016 State of the Millennial Report: A Review of the Challenges and Opportunities for Young Americans.
[8] Barnes, David, Wesley Coopersmith, Jordan Richardson, and Ja'ron Smith. 2016 State of the Millennial Report: A Review of the Challenges and Opportunities for Young Americans.


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