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Where did the “American Dream” go?

Double frustration reached the Global North.

Two events, fortuitous but synchronous, motivate this reflection: a short that shows the concern of a middle-class American mother in relation to the present and future of herself and her two daughters; the concern expressed by a father from a country in the Global South regarding how to prepare his daughters and sons for the future, especially his teenage daughter.

In the short video, popularized by social media, the mother expresses anguish over the complex present for her, in retirement, and for her two young adult daughters, aged 25 and 28, with university education, with no hope of achieving their independence and sufficient income to cover their aspirations for their own home with the usual standard of living for a middle-class family. The mother followed the instructions of the “plan-program”: achieve the highest academic level since the economic future will depend on it, work hard, preferably in a large corporation, with the lowest possible job rotation, and develop a savings and investment plan to a dignified retirement, which guarantees health care, care, recreation, good nutrition, etc. in old age. The reality has been different, the loss of the purchasing power of her pension compared to the cost of living, health care and care for the elderly have led her to precariousness, it is likely that she will even have to sell her house due to disability. to honor the payments of the 30-year mortgage, obtained to finance the purchase of the same. Her two daughters still live with her, despite having stable jobs, in private companies, their salaries barely cover their expenses without the possibility of savings or investment, in fact they cover part of their consumption with the credit card, without forgetting the weight on your budget of paying your student loans. 

On the other hand, there is the concern of the father from the country of the global South, he is on the threshold between a contemporary adult and the older adult, he is an ICT professional, with solid academic training, with a wide and recognized career, a career ascending that allowed him to go from the technical-operational to the executive levels of a national company, he even managed to have participation in the social capital of the same, now, he begins his career as an entrepreneur. Aware of the flaws of the “plan-program”, taught-learned in her home and in the educational system, she seeks to encourage in her 16-year-old daughter an open mind, leave room for doubt and reflection, learn another language, obtain a good financial education, start in the business world at an early age, learn by working, expand your horizon of possibilities, prepare for a future of converging global crises and for whatever comes. 

Meanwhile, in the third decade of the 80st century, this frustration begins to generalize, doubly, in the middle-class American population, with its gradual impoverishment, in the countries of the Global South this frustration began in the 90's of the last century. Here, it is appropriate to raise the hypothesis that this is a global, systemic and structural problem typical of the economic and social model that was imposed. This is the so-called “sand society” already visualized by researchers in the 80's of the XNUMXth century when studying the possible impacts of the neoliberal stage initiated by the governments of Ronald Regan and Margaret Tacher in the XNUMX's of the XNUMXth century. In this hourglass-shaped society, the middle class disappears, a minority occupies the top, concentrating income and wealth, and a broad base of the population shares the rest, a very small and slow trickle for many.    

The question arises: where did the American dream go? Some will say, why the interest in addressing the issue of the American dream? Simply because it became the de facto standard of quality of life for everyone, people, countries, governments and States. How was it achieved? The answer is outside the intention of this writing, however, I invite the reader to answer this question.

Both cases allow us to raise some additional assumptions, such as: the crisis of the American dream has left it at that: just a dream, that is, it no longer materializes in reality, for many it has become a nightmare that trapped them; The shortness of the worker's productivity, in terms of income, is a maximum of 30 to 35 years, corresponding to the age range between 25 years and 60 years, lower in the case of women due to the structural inequality of jobs and salaries; the dilemma of looking for a job at the extremes of this range: “you are very young, you lack experience”, “you have a lot of experience, more than we are looking for, but there is also the problem of your age”. 

To add to the picture, the popular American doctor in holistic psychology Nicole LePera, in a recent post characterizes this society:

“Society pushes us from a young age to an existence in a chronic state of fight and flight. Run to school. Compete for good grades. Compete in sports. Achieve achievements. Improve performance. Our nervous system needs stillness, tranquility, play and creativity. “We are humans, not machines.”

How many of the readers of this article feel identified with the two cases presented? Do they feel their present is complicated and their future is uncertain?

Knowing what you know, with the experience and experience gained, if you had the opportunity to travel to the past, would you do things the same again?

Do you believe that this situation is temporary or terminal, does it lead to a paradigm shift?

Do you believe that if you are well and the vast majority around you are wrong, your condition will be sustainable over time?

Data and cases, real and fictitious, to illustrate

.-The story of an American film that presents a fictional reality sheds light on the subject:

“Jerry Maguire: Seduction and Challenge”, 1996, starring Tom Cruise, in the role of Jerry Maguire, sports agent; Cuba Gooding Jr., playing Rod Tidwell, an American football player and only client of Maguire and Reneé Zellweger, the former co-worker, partner in the firm that Maguire created when he was fired. The expression “show me the money,” repeated incessantly by Rod Tidwell, gives us a clue: work relationships are only commercial relationships, whose only value is the exchange of money, the rest is unnecessary.

.-Multiple employment in the United States, a reality behind the employment figures

Headline: ““I am selling my blood”: millions in the US cannot make ends meet with two jobs”, Michael Sainato, 5-11-2022, The Guardian.

Cashe Lewis, 31, of Denver, Colorado, works two jobs and is currently trying to find a third job to cover the recent $200 rent increase on her apartment. By day, she works as a barista at Starbucks and by night, at a convenience store, six days a week, on her day off, once a month, she sells her blood to make ends meet.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of September 2022, 4,9% of the more than 164 million American workers held two or more jobs, more than 7,7 million workers. This figure contrasts with the US Census, whose estimated rate is higher, 7,7% of the total number of workers, that is, 13 million. Worse still, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, in the annual survey it conducted in 2019, estimated a higher number of multi-employment workers, 16,4%, around 26,5 million. These workers have shifts of between 50 hours and 70 hours per week. These estimates may be underestimated because they do not consider, often due to lack of data, self-employment and jobs held by illegal workers.

.-The myth of retirement

According to the firm NerdWallet, cited by the CBS News article, dated 19-4-2024, written by Aimee Picchi, titled: “Many Americans want to stop working at age 60 and live to be 100. Can they afford it?” (Many Americans want to stop working at 60 and live to 100. Can they afford it?), the average retirement savings balance for people who are between 55 and 64 years old is US $185.000, this means that they will have an annual income , if you retire, of US $7.400, to this amount would be added the social security pension which is in the order of US $22.800 per year, totaling a monthly income of US $2.515. Furthermore, 3 in 10 Americans over the age of 59 do not have a penny saved, meaning they will only receive the Social Security pension. In this regard, Professor Teresa Ghilarducci, of the New School for Social Research in New York, told CBS MoneyWatch that only 10% of retired Americans, between 62 and 70 years old, are financially stable.

Let's see if that income is enough to pay the mortgage of a medium-sized house in the US, according to investment analyst Charlie Bilello, this is the payment history from April to April, it is increasing from: US $1.480 for 2020, US $1.690 for 2021, US $2.400 for 2022, US $2,550 for 2023 and US $2.890 for 2024. That is, it has had an increase of 95% in the last four years. Will it be enough for the retiree with the monthly income of US $2.516 mentioned? If the retiree has a special health condition, he or she will be worse off.  

For comparison, the median weekly wage for full-time workers in the United States for the first quarter of 2024 was US$1.139, a monthly income of US$4.500, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). .

Charlie Bilello, in a recent post from his account on X (@charliebilello), indicates that for 37 consecutive months annual inflation (CPI) has been above the 3% threshold; Likewise, he points out that the housing (rent) component of inflation in the country, for 25 consecutive months, has been above 5%.

.-The forgiveness of unpayable student debt in the US.

 It is estimated, according to a press release dated 8-4-2024, from the White House, that unpayable student debt affects 30 million Americans, for which the Biden-Harris administration has proposed a plan for its forgiveness. Among the actions is the cancellation of runaway interest on 25 million borrowers, who owe more than they originally asked for, remember interest on interest, and capitalization of new debt. Cancellation of student debt for 2,5 million borrowers who began repayment more than 20 years ago.

What to do?

.-Wait, in the following reflection some approaches-recommendations compiled from various perspectives will be shared to “Learn to live” in this complex world with an uncertain future.

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