When Donald Trump formally announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination, he declared the American Dream “dead.” Senator Bernie Sanders has told supporters he’ll “be damned if we’re going to see the American dream die,” and Secretary Hillary Clinton has said she will work to “restore the belief that, yes, the American dream is alive.”During his Presidential announcement speech on June 16th, Donald Trump said “the American dream is dead.”
But whose American Dream are they all talking about? For generations of Americans, the dream has been defined as opportunity for upward mobility, achievable through hard work, regardless of one’s circumstances at birth. For our Baby Boomer parents, that broad definition manifested in a very specific notion of financial achievement: homeownership, a good job, and a secure retirement plan.
Both of my parents were raised in working-class families. My father, the only American-born son of Cuban immigrants, was the first person in his family to graduate college, and later law school. My mother was the second in her family to earn a college degree and then a master’s degree. As adults, my parents had steady employment, my father as an attorney and elected official and my mother as an educator. In their early 20s, they purchased their first home, and by 32, the age I am now, they had two children. When you think about their ability to move up by harnessing their educational opportunities and compounding it with hard work, there can be no question that they were living the American Dream.Alicia’s mother with her siblings (Left) and Alicia’s father with his family (Right)
Does that same possibility of upward mobility that my parents achieved exist today for a young, motivated person with great ambition? Many members of our generation are skeptical of the trappings of the dream that our parents pursued. How can we not be? Even those of us who were able to graduate from college found ourselves seeking employment in one of the worst job markets in American history. We watched the housing market collapse and retirement funds shrivel. And though we’re the best educated generation in American history, we’re also saddled with unprecedented student loan debt. That financial reality is reshaping our relationships to work, marriage, family, homeownership and the possibility of ever retiring.Single mom, Sade Reed, with her daughter, Aurora; Sade works an overnight shift as a Certified Nursing Assistant and gets around 3-4 hours of sleep a night.
Then, how is our generation defining the American Dream? This is the question our team set out explore. But where to start? We found plenty of trend pieces about Millennials living in pods and dorms, or risking everything to open an artisanal waffle shop, but we’re all Millennials, and we didn’t actually know those people, nor did we know people who knew those people. We decided to start with the pillars of the very definition we were bucking against: employment, homeownership and retirement. Along the way we found it was all deeply entangled with marriage, parenthood and student debt, and so we told some of those stories as well.
In the course of this series you’ll meet single ladies and single moms, small business owners and gig-economy employees, individuals who still live with their parents and some who have recently purchased their first home. Although the circumstances of our subjects vary, we were struck again and again by the resilience and optimism of this generation, as well as a largely shared belief in the American Dream and a willingness to redefine it.