Re-Thinking the “American Dream” for the Millennial Generation

The millennial generation—that’s us, right? The next generation of super stars, cultural icons, and CEOs, ready to conquer the world because, as we’ve been told, the world is at our fingertips. We are young, restless, and ambitious, with greater access to education and more platforms to innovate than any previous generation. It’s what we have been told by our parents, what we hear from the media, and what we have each internalized to the point that the “American Dream” has seeped so deep under our skin and into our veins that it must be true. And to some, in truth, the ‘dream’ still exists in full… …but to others, the “American Dream” feels like fallacy, a scam, and well, just distant to our current lives. Our generation lives in a world where the ‘dream’ seems to be on a fragile island, ready to break apart any second by the enormous challenges in America—both domestic and foreign—that have seemingly put ‘our’ chance to drive off with the “American Dream” stuck firmly in neutral. Our TV screens and Twitter feeds are filled with an almost superfluous amount of news headlines detailing the spiraling U.S. (and world?) economy, a broken and partisan political system, wars across the world with tyrant dictators, increasing healthcare costs, failing K-12 schools, and of course, that haunting unemployed statistic. The “American Dream” seems to be just a line in our old history textbooks, at best, a reachable albeit unrealistic scenario and at worst, a terrifying nightmare.

For example, in the realm of education, according to the USA Today, more student loans have been taken out the last year than ever before in U.S. history as the total amount of outstanding loans will surpass $1 trillion for the first time. These numbers are not skewed by inflation or an increase in the number of students attending colleges, but by the increasing cost of college coupled with a fervent belief in the “American Dream” to pursue education in the first place. For example, the amount of money borrowed through student loans has increased by 63% just in the last decade (via the USA Today)! Yet, while the salaries earned between college graduates and non-graduates remain stark, holding a B.A. degree or higher no longer guarantees employment and has not provided a buffer in the current recession. For example, another USA Today report states that the unemployment rate for college graduates is the highest since 1970; while this assuredly can be attributed to America’s economic instability, previous recessions in the 1990s did not affect college graduates like today’s recession. Our degrees cost more but are worth less—is that the “American Dream” we were once promised?

However, this is not a blog post on economic policy or to dissect higher education policy. You can ‘Google’ these numbers yourself (a term and a process which our generation helped create and popularize in the first place). Instead, it is a blog that is intended to do the opposite—to help us, this generation, move forward. This post is about rethinking the “American Dream” in the context of our lives, to re-conceptualize how we interpret the idea of supposedly unlimited opportunity that in reality, seems quite limited amidst our independent struggles on a day-to-day basis. In many ways, the Millennial Generation have helped create this incredible new world of Facebook, per se, but somehow, seem to be the ones to reap the least amount of benefits. Therefore, we must speak out, we must band together, we must amplify our voices as a generation of peoples inspired to change the world and to better it for ourselves and for others. The “American Dream” still exists, but only if we fight for it—we must critique it but still hope for it, re-framing it to fit the challenges of this generation, of our generation, the Millennial Generation.