Is the ‘American Dream’ dead?

Lately I have been wondering: Is the original “American Dream” dead and will there be a new Christ-centered one? Many of us baby boomers grasped the idea of college, career, family, house, and retirement. A life of success, fulfillment and fun, with big: houses, cars/SUVs, vacations, activities, and the wonderful life in the suburbs.

Things didn’t go according to plan for many people. We spent and borrowed too much, and we lived the large life that didn’t lead to success and happiness. The economy of the last 15 years didn’t cooperate either–underperforming stock market returns, unemployment, underemployment, jobs shifted overseas, and the demise not only of manufacturing jobs but also of higher paying middle level positions. Sometimes unfortunate things of life threw us curve-balls too.

The American Dream for many didn’t lead to happiness but contributed to epidemic divorce, obesity, substance abuse, and one of the highest anti-depressant consumption rates on the planet. Was it a dream or a nightmare?

How did we get here? During the first 450 years – The Original American Dream since the 1500’s, was the pursuit of life, not hindered by oppressive religions and governments where only a few people held most of the wealth and real estate. The opportunity to be one’s own person and own land, start a business, and provide for the family’s basic needs of food and shelter excited many people to immigrate to the New Land.

In modern times the post WWII society and Dream evolved to building wealth, accumulating things, consumerism, big homes in the suburbs, and retirement in leisure – now that people lived long enough to retire. We built great colleges, got advanced degrees, worked for The Company for the bulk of our careers. Yet for many of us, our careers have fallen off track: Companies got bought out and raided in the 80’s and 90’s as exemplified in the 1980’s ‘Wall Street’ movie. Many companies were forced to get rid of retirement pensions in the wake of competition in the 90’s. In the wake of NAFTA, companies moved to the Far East or south or north of the border, sometimes just to stay alive because of labor costs.

Enron like corporate and government greed and mismanagement has led to financially insolvent governments, large corporations, accounting firms and quasi-governmental agencies  in the 90’s and 2000’s, leading up to the worst financial condition that America has been in since the Great Depression of the 1930’s.

For many American’s, while our careers stagnated due to many of these causes, we continued to spend and not save. With no emergency funds we lacked the ability to weather a financial crisis, many even exhausting retirement accounts. Even prior to the recession, the average 401(k) balance was around $50,000 for people in their 50’s.

Is the economy going to have a major turnaround and lift us up on a new wave of prosperity? Is some new technology or green energy discovery going to bring us into a new age where we can once again capture the hope of a financial successful American Dream?

I’m wondering lately if within the Church a new dream might emerge: one based on values and not greed; one centered on community and not individual wealth; one with capitalism and freedom, not government control or regulation; one that lifts not just the upper classes but the poor; one with better education in the inner city and the suburbs; one that ties new small businesses and communities. This is one I hope will emerge.

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