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Is the American Dream Dead?

According to a recent NORC-University of Chicago poll, the number of Americans who say that the American Dream is out of reach and no longer view the United States as the “land of opportunity,” has increased over the last several years. 

Joe Biden. Image Credit: White House.
Image Credit: White House.

According to a recent NORC-University of Chicago poll, the number of Americans who say that the American Dream is out of reach and no longer view the United States as the “land of opportunity,” has increased over the last several years. 

While the same poll indicates that 75 percent of respondents believe they have either achieved or will soon achieve the “American Dream”, the number of people who say that the American Dream is no longer within reach rose from 18 percent to 24 percent in 2023. 

It is mostly young people who express this concern. 

Everyone is Declining

More importantly, 31 percent of Americans with only a high school diploma express the sad belief that the American Dream is fully out of reach. Compare that to just 16 percent of people with college degrees who believe similarly. 

So, the young and undereducated in America are increasingly of the mind that the American Dream is closed off to them. Many in this cohort feel they are being deprived of economic opportunity and freedom of choice in ways that their parents—and certainly their grandparents—never had to experience.

It would be easy to simply write off these concerns as being a minority. While statistically, it is true that a minority polled share these views, the fact remains that the number increased by six percentage points in just a few years. 

Younger Millennials and Generation Z (Zoomers) are the ones giving these bleak responses. 

And, while the undereducated and young are the ones leading the polls with this complaint about their future in America, they are by no means alone in experiencing the decline in economic opportunity and freedom of choice.

What is the common thread here? 

Well, for starters, the government has increased in size and cost to us lowly taxpayers significantly in the last decade. 

Increases in government spending and an expanding arc of responsibility for the government naturally mean that greater levels of our individual freedoms will be curtailed. Taxes, government-backed subsidies, and increased regulations all equal reduced freedom for every American (other than for the politicians and bureaucrats who purport to rule us). 

Greater government interference in our lives has led to a reduction in economic opportunity. Beyond that, though, the overall situation for most American workers is one of decreasing opportunity and hope. 

After all, the average differential between a salary for a person with only a high school diploma and someone with a college degree is abysmal. For the former person, they will likely make an average of $42,081. An individual with a bachelor’s degree is around $50,093. 

And while that may seem like a decent amount of money, neither of these two salaries will keep up with the cost of living in the country, which is at all-time (and increasing) highs.

The fact is that whatever most Americans may think about their finances, things are getting worse for everyone in this country—except for the wealthiest among us. 

A major explanation for this sad state of affairs is the centralization of our country for the past several decades by Big Government and Big Business

This, in turn, has diminished our freedom and made the American Dream a fantasy that can never be achieved. 

For those who do achieve it, they often find themselves on a terrible treadmill where they are in the worst possible of two worlds, they are neither wealthy nor poor; these individuals have just enough to survive but not enough to save and/or reinvest to grow their wealth. 

What’s more, unlike the wealthy who pay little to no taxes, the Middle-Class—the exemplar of the American Dream—becomes the only taxable income base. The government increases the taxes on this stratum of American society, things become less affordable, and the entire socioeconomic class declines. 

And as the Middle-Class dies, with fewer people able to achieve that desired Middle-Class lifestyle, the brake on oligarchy is removed and American democracy dies. 

All this was avoidable. It wasn’t long ago in our country’s history when having a high school degree was enough to give a worker all the advantages they needed to find gainful employment and the ability to start a prosperous family in a viable, healthy community. 

It Comes Back to China

There is a direct correlation, in fact, between the loss of most working-class factory jobs and the decline in living standards for most people. These were the jobs that gave the American worker a chance at achieving the American Dream at a low barrier of entry.

After President Richard Nixon accepted Mao Zedong’s offer to create relations between the People’s Republic of China and America, and then following President Jimmy Carter’s support for Wall Street’s plan to send manufacturing jobs from America to China, the devastation of the American middle-class began. 

The American Dream became harder to achieve. 

Following Nixon and Carter, President Ronald Reagan entered office and implemented his historic tax cuts. These tax cuts helped to stimulate economic growth in America. The downside, however, was that it contributed to economic inequality in the long run, mostly because most of the gains were felt disproportionately by the wealthy. 

Coupled with the loss of those reliable, low-entry manufacturing jobs to China and the Developing World, the stage was set for the overall decline of the American working class and middle class. 

The New York Post speculates that “possible factors for the pessimism include technological and geopolitical disruptions such as artificial intelligence, high inflation, fears of a looming recession, housing shortages, higher crime rates, and political polarization.” 

They are partly correct in this. Although, we are now entering into the chicken-or-the-egg phase of the discourse on this study. 

Geopolitical disruptions have been with America since the beginning of the country. These disruptions would not be as prevalent, though, if the United States were not as married to open borders and “free” trade as it has been. 

Artificial intelligence is coming about because labor costs have increased (because employers prefer cheap labor, naturally). 

High inflation, especially today, is a byproduct of bad government policies. Housing shortages, too, result from short-sighted government intervention. As for higher crime rates and political polarization, both problems are an outgrowth of the deteriorating economic condition (which has been exacerbated by bad government policies in the aggregate) that most Americans are experiencing—even if they don’t realize it. 

All these problems are aftershocks mostly initiated by the loss of the manufacturing sector and the failure to replace low-barrier-of-entry, well-paying jobs with similar career tracks in the new, “Knowledge-based” economy that has arisen to replace the old economic system in America. 

This situation has persisted and is worsening for decades. America’s obsession with neoliberal trade policies and open borders only compounded the problems. This, by the way, is the basis for the widespread appeal of both Donald J. Trump and Bernie Sanders in 2016. It is today the continued source of Trump’s appeal as well as that of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

America’s Dying Education System

Lastly, we should not be living in an age where even the most menial jobs require four-year degrees. 

Not when the cost of student loans is at crisis levels

The United States has allowed its educational system—both K-12 as well as its higher education—to become sluggish and politicized. That system, once rightly seen as the surest path out of poverty for most Americans, has now been a leading cause of impoverishment (especially among the younger cohort of Americans, many of whom view the American Dream as being dead or out of their reach). 

Therefore, the very underpinnings of the American Dream—economic opportunity and freedom of choice—are not only threatened for the undereducated and young but for far more Americans than what the NORC-University of Chicago poll lets on. 

And it is because of the decades-long assault on our economic and personal freedoms by a conglomeration of bureaucrats, politicians, naïve academics, and the leaders of big corporations. If we want to reverse these trends and restore the American Dream’s attainability, then all those who are eligible to vote in the next election must vote for the candidate who has a pathway out of the failure factory that we’ve all been living in.

The way we’ve done things is no longer applicable to the mid-twenty-first century. The candidate that both recognizes this and offers a clear plan for a new course will not only win in 2024, but they will have saved the republic.  

A 19FortyFive Senior Editor, Brandon J. Weichert is a former Congressional staffer and geopolitical analyst who is a contributor at The Washington Times, as well as at American Greatness and the Asia Times. He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower (Republic Book Publishers), Biohacked: China’s Race to Control Life (Encounter Books), and The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy (July 23). Weichert can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.

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Written By

Brandon J. Weichert is a former Congressional staffer and geopolitical analyst who recently became a writer for Weichert is a contributor at The Washington Times, as well as a contributing editor at American Greatness and the Asia Times. He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower (Republic Book Publishers), The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy (March 28), and Biohacked: China’s Race to Control Life (May 16). Weichert can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.