Is this the End? – My Covid Times Diary
A reminder that these Covid Times posts are a departure from our standard Ministry of Happiness fare. These pieces are meant to be thoughts and musings, a record of my life and mental state during the coronavirus pandemic.
Tonight I want to talk about the American Dream and the coronavirus. Actually I want to talk about the death of the American Dream. Let me define very specifically what I mean by the American Dream. Put into simple terms I’m defining the traditional American Dream as the idea that your children will be more successful in their life than you were in yours. It’s a very capitalistic sort of an idea. In this country we have specifically not defined success as being happy or well adjusted or self-actuated. We’ve in a very Capitalistic way focused on the luxuriation of the lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
You see what goes for success in America has been that each generation, gets a better education, a bigger house, a nicer car and better vacations than the previous. Basically this has meant fulfilling our physiological and safety needs in more luxurious forms, with some really nice vacations thrown in. The thing is, since the 1950’s, in America this dream has been achievable.
My grandparents, (for the most part the children of immigrants), were born citizens in this country. They had steady work during their lives, bought modest houses and earned pensions. Things their parents could only have dreamt of having in their lives.
My parents, children of the 40’s and the veterans of World War II, got better jobs than their parents, made more money, took those better vacations (Cape Cod in my family’s case). They bought a better house, their kids (me and my siblings) were the first in our family to go to college. So you see that dream continued on to my generation, the children of the 60’s and 70’s.
We have better jobs than our parents did, I went to college and make more money in one year than my parents made combined in any one year. So by the simple Capitalistic metrics of the traditional American Dream my generation has been a success, but what about the next generation?
What about our children? It has seemed to me that we are reaching a point where the traditional American Dream no longer holds up. Our generation has potentially hit a bit of a pinnacle. People in my generation not only went to college, we went to graduate school. We have gotten excellent jobs and given the stock market has generally risen over our entire lifetimes, those of us who have invested either on our own, or through our pensions at work (401ks) have seen our wealth grow to levels our parents never imagined. Our vacations have even for some of us become international in nature.
How can our children top that? There are only so many slots in the top echelons of employment. The realities of the raising costs of higher education have meant it’s harder to get an equivalent level of education to that of their parents. Housing prices have also skyrocketed in many parts of the country making home ownership, one of the core fundamental metrics of success in America, harder to attain. Which means one of the fundamental ways in which families build wealth is ever increasingly out of reach.
So the next generation is paying more for education, will be less likely to build wealth through home ownership, and are unlikely to exceed their parents in either of these categories, type of job or likely total earnings and wealth. That’s just the starting point.
Looking into the future, we can see a world where global warning will likely begin to have serious economical and societal impacts. And now, just as that generation has started it’s career, or is about to, they have found themselves living through the coronavirus pandemic and the coming historic economic downturn.
I’m not going to talk about the health impacts we’re facing in our Covid Times’ lives. But the even more far reaching economic impacts, since those will most acutely impact the traditional American Dream. Over the last few weeks, somewhere in the neighborhood of seventeen million people have filed for unemployment. Roughly four million or so per week. That is not necessarily expected to slow down immediately. It is entirely possible that over the next month the unemployment rate for the United States could reach between 20 and 30%. As a reference point the highest unemployment rate during the Great Depression was 24.9%. Hopefully, there will be a quicker recovery given the nature of this economic impact, because the unemployment rate stayed at 14% for ten years after the Great Depression.
So, given all of this, I think it’s a safe time to ask, is this the end of the American Dream?
Just another way anxious thoughts of life in Covid Times has taken form.
~ Michael ‘Rev’ Kane