Fading America: Disappearing Dream – Emerging as Developing Nation

Fading America by Damian Gadal - flickr.com/photos/23024164@N06/8016946814/

Fading America by Damian Gadal – flickr.com/photos/23024164@N06/8016946814/

When did you first realize that the so-called American Dream has died?  Or, put in nicer terms, when did you realize that the American Dream as understood in a popular sense is realistically attainable for a shrinking portion of those living within the borders of the United States?


A few hours before writing this post I had a lengthy conversation with an older Baby Boomer.  This person is greatly concerned that the current President is providing many people with false hope about the likelihood they will achieve greater financial success as his plans become policies.

A few days before writing this post I was surprised when Generation X Presbyterian pastor shared his thoughts on this topic on social media.  He grew up with the assumption that endless economic growth was a given and that each generation would do better than the one before it.

A few months ago I wrote about the “Fading American Dream.”  In short, that blog post points to research showing that every birth group since 1940 has experienced a decline in the likelihood of making more money than their parents.  The percentage chance a person has of doing better than their parents dropped each decade from 92% for those born in 1940 to 50% for those born in 1980.

A few years ago I wrote about the cost of living the American Dream. Back in 2014, research suggested  that only about 1 out of every 8 households in the United States is financially able to live the American Dream. This Dream then required an income of at least $130K a year for a family of four.

Happening Now – The Two Americas

A few weeks ago Lynn Parramore published an eye opening article titled “America is Regressing into a Developing Nation for Most People.” Parramore’s piece summarizes key takeaways from Peter Temin’s new book: The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy (MIT Press, 2017).  Temin, Professor of Economics Emeritus at MIT, sees that the United States has already split into two countries

  1. The 20% for whom the American Dream is alive and well.  These folks are part of FTE sector (named for finance, technology, and electronics, key industries enabling its success).  These individuals are the ones who “make plans, influence policies, and count themselves as lucky to be Americans.”
  2. The 80% for whom the American Dream is not attainable. The world these people inhabit is not frequently visited by the 20% nor is it well understood by them.  These individuals find themselves in an environment that is rapidly regressing toward conditions that look a lot like those found in developing nations.

So What?

I don’t know what percentage of Americans Temin might place in each of the two Americas if we rolled back the clock to 1980 or to 1950, but am sure the distribution would grow more equal with each move back in time.  Likewise, it seems clear that if things continue as is it is reasonable to expect we may reach a 90% and 10% split by 2030 or even sooner.

As someone who has spent his whole life in the America where the American Dream is alive and well – at least economically – I am challenged to better understand the growing inequality.  I must not only know about it, but must maintain connections with those living across the economic continuum.

And, as a person who follows the Way of Jesus I must continue to speak up for the rights of all people.  I must do my part to bring about God’s realm of justice, love and peace on earth as it already is in heaven.

  • Do you think of the American Dream as alive and well or as no longer attainable?  Does your view match with what should be the dominant view of the America you live in today?
  • Many people think of the American Dream in economic terms.  How would you expand it to encompass other measures of human flourishing?
  • How does your faith inform your thinking and/or activism related to the growing economic inequality in America?

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