10 Ways The American Dream Is Slowly Ruining Americans’ Dreams

The American Dream costs ~$130K a year while median household income is only $50K

no, the streets are *not* paved with cheese

The American Dream is defined as the idea that every citizen of the United States gets the same shot at success and prosperity as long as they put in the hard work and stay determined to achieve. The specifics of the American Dream may be different for different people, but some of the same factors routinely come into play: earn better-than-average pay, have a family, own a home, and enjoy the prosperity well into retirement.

The cliché “I’m just living the dream” may seem like a fair way to tell acquaintances at a family reunion barbecue that things in your life are going fine; but in all actuality, this may be the strongest cry for help anybody can make. “Living the dream” implies that you are in the painstaking process of trying to attain pay, family, home and prosperous retirement — which is to say that you’re engaged in a lifelong struggle to grasp something more or less unattainable.

The American Dream is ruining Americans’ dreams. Here’s why.

1) We graduate from college into a graduated repayment plan

The first step in achieving the American Dream is earn some money. Lots of it. So to get a leg up, you have to get an education. Forget the rock stars and the athletes and the actors and Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and … okay, fine: going to college doesn’t guarantee success. Really, if you take the time to finish, it could just put you in a deep financial hole that you might not ever be able to get out of.

With two-thirds (67%) of students graduating in debt and 65% of high-debt students surprised by or misunderstanding the borrowing process Americans chasing America’s dream are in crisis. The majority of borrowers are paying back debt well into their 30s and older. A lot older, in fact: 3% of households headed by someone age 65+ are still paying student loans, which total $18.2 billion as of 2013. Not only will the memories of frat parties and football games serve as a reminder that the college was supposed to be the time of your life, you may also get a monthly bill until retirement to refresh your fond memories. No need for nostalgia this day and age. You’ll get some of it in the mail every month.

2) The shelves of the job market are bare

Even after completing the first step at achieving the “American Dream,” graduating college, people will probably end up with a sub-par job. Working while in school to modestly pay off certain bills or save money has become a necessity with nearly 4 in 5 students working an average of 19 hours a week, but that same job may be as good as it gets for the bachelor’s degree recipients of today. More than half of 2014 college graduates are in jobs that don’t require a degree at all.

Because of this, more than a fifth of college grads are in jobs that are low wage, meaning they earn less than $25,000 a year, simply because there is a greater supply of college graduates than there are jobs for said grads in the work force. It’s like finding a needle in a haystack, and job searchers are the needle while employers are allergic to hay with no need for a needle.

Even when a person is one of the lucky few to land a job related to their field of study, that person will most likely hate their job. A mere 28% of workers under 25 were satisfied with their employment last year. This is probably due to the fact that nearly 75% of employees aren’t even fully engaged while at work. So, if we do some math that doesn’t really make sense and mash together some statistics, that means more than 100% of people are either miserable or not really doing anything.

3) The water cooler could be a lot cooler

What’s a main reason that people are so discouraged or disengaged in the workplace? Water cooler talk. 14% of employees say gabbing at the water cooler is the biggest waste of time in the office. The mundane task of answering dead-end questions like, “Crazy weather, huh?” or“Mondays, right?” seem to eat away precious time in a person’s pursuit of the American Dream. The small-talk becomes a welcomed break from the daunting lifelong task at hand, however humdrum the conversations.

However, think about what little time we have on this earth and consider the amount of time we waste chasing what seems to be a near-unachievable dream. With that in mind, would you really want to waste time taking that water cooler break to shoot the breeze with a co-worker about the weather? Dream on.

4) Our income comes in small doses

Whatever a person’s job situation, most likely their income level will never be enough for the American Dream standard. Put it this way: the American Dream costs roughly $130,000 a year, but the median American household income is roughly $50,000 a year. An average person earns $80,000 less than the minimum necessary to achieve the American Dream quality of life.

Double a majority of household incomes and these individuals still couldn’t achieve the American Dream.

Most everyone can remember being told they could be whatever they wanted when they grew up. That may be true, but for a majority of people what they do will generate a little less than half of what they were imagining, in terms of finances. So don’t bank on whatever that childhood idea was.

5) The metaphorical weight on Americans’ shoulders can become actual extra weight on our bodies

It all starts at the beginning of the American Dream chase. Researchers at Auburn University found that 70% of students in a study packed on pounds by graduation, some up to 37 lbs. They attributed it late night studying fueled by vending machines, fattening cafeterias and overall lack of activity. Apparently, college is a place that’s booming with opportunities: (supposed) career development and future health risks.

So you studied hard to get through college to begin your quest of the dream all the while packing on a few lbs. Now what? Americans are spending less time at work, but they are using that leisure time to be sedentary and enjoy electronic entertainment. Basically you’re getting fatter as you read this sentence. (Sorry about that.)

But it’s not just sitting around that’s the problem. Trying to save money on food, i.e., cheap food, fast food, and unhealthy groceries, are part of the ordeal. Americans spend less than one-tenth of their disposable income on food. Trying to make up for the roughly $80k difference between your paycheck and the dream is a terrifying reality, and food seems like an easy place to save some spare change. Unfortunately, that thought process is going to give you a spare tire.

I don’t mean this as “fat shaming.” The sad reality is that most Americans can’t afford the type of food that is most beneficial to their health.

6) Housework makes work-work look good

Part of the American Dream is not only financial prosperity but building a family and home. Well, that home could be just the thing to rip that family apart. Sharing household chores is a top three issue related to successful marriages. The friction of who’s going to mow the lawn, clean the dishes, or do the laundry becomes so unbearable it makes work seem like a place to get away and rest.

The homes that Americans work so hard to get as part of the dream are what are pushing Americans away from their families and back to the jobs they hate. Think about that for a moment. Americans work jobs they hate to buy a house they don’t want to be in.

Americans come home from work, complain to their spouse about the day they had, tussle a little over some meaningless chores, then go to the office the next day and complain to co-workers about their spouse and some dumb chores. That’s a never-ending cycle.

7) Not assisting children in avoiding some of this financially burdensome dream-chasing tasks would be childish

Part of the dream is to build a family to live in the home, which, again, will probably tear the family apart. It’s also to enjoy financial prosperity with the family, which is also severely lacking. Well, the latter is about to get a whole lot worse.

By the time our children turn 18, American parents will have spent nearly a quarter million dollars on them. That doesn’t even include investing in their future. To avoid giving them the financial burden of college to begin their quest of the dream, a parent must save $241 a month from the time their children are born just to make a measly $33,000 state school education affordable. The only thing Americans can do in this portion of the quest for the dream is to collectively cross their fingers and hope for a rock-star musician, actor or stud athlete that can make (a lot of) money without (a lot of) schooling.

8) Vacations are far from a getaway

If an American wants to get away from all this dream-chasing pressure with a relaxing vacation, they’re free to go ahead, but the vacation itself is far from free. The average vacation for a family of four cost in the neighborhood of $1,200 per person. Considering most Americans are already $80,000 below the minimum of the American Dream they probably shouldn’t throw away nearly five G’s to nap on a beach for a few days. Nap at home instead. It’s free! Though this could also be the day that an argument about a chore around the house finally becomes a breaking point in a marriage. The choice, and risk, is yours.

9) Divorce is not a force to be reckoned with

Americans might not even make it to retirement to enjoy it with the one they’ve been chasing the American Dream with. The average divorce rate for couples marrying for the first time is between 40 to 50%. So look hard at the person you’ve tried to build a family with, the person you bought a home with, the person you jointly invested a quarter million dollars in each other’s offspring with. On average, one of you is going to get a divorce in life, which means you may well be getting one also.

10) Americans thought retirement meant retiring, but it no longer does

So now you’re retired, and potentially all alone. Americans may plan on sitting back and enjoying the benefits of a life’s hard work as part of the dream. However, anyone planning on doing so after the year 2033 better have a lot of money saved up for themselves, or plan on working later in life than they expected. Social security benefits after the year 2033 will only cover 75% of the benefits to recipients. On top of that, a record 7.2 million Americans age 65+ are working, partly because they feel too financially squeezed not to.

And don’t forget that some of these people may still be paying off the college debt that got them into this whole mess in the first place. Future Americans will be able to take their grandkids to school as part of their leisurely retirement activities, but they may need to do it while working part time as the school bus driver.

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