Does the American Dream—the opportunity to achieve success, prosperity and upward mobility through hard work—still exist?
Well, that depends on whom you ask.
A recent nationwide survey from LearnVest found that 43% of Americans today feel the dream is attainable for everyone—and about the same percentage feels that it’s within their grasp, personally.
And approximately 42% of those same respondents said they felt they were better off than their parents were at their age.
But how—and why—have our expectations changed? We asked four people across the country how they and their parents differ when it comes to defining the American Dream.
‘I’ve been far more successful than my parents.’
Ken Rupert, 49, is a strategic analyst and author living in Hampstead, Md.
I always understood that my parents’ version of the American Dream wasn’t an option for people in my generation. We may not be able to work for one company our whole lives and expect a pension to retire comfortably, like my dad, who was an air traffic controller for most of his adult life. His path didn’t excite me—I’m naturally drawn to entrepreneurialism.
When I was in my early 20s, I had some debt and lived paycheck to paycheck. It wasn’t until my wife and I got married 21 years ago that I realized I craved more financial security for myself and my family—especially for our 12-year-old son, who has special needs. Our top priority is knowing that our son will always be cared for. Before he was born, my wife worked as a medical billing specialist, and now she’s a stay-at-home mother who volunteers at our church. By saving carefully and living off only one of our two salaries for four years, we’ve built a large trust for our son’s future.
My parents, who are in their 70s, still have a mortgage, whereas my wife and I live in a house that we paid off in just a few years by using money from a company buy-out that I received and some of our savings. When my parents reached retirement, they had about $500,000 in savings; we have nearly $800,000 already. My dad has Alzheimer’s disease and my mom has worried so much about caring for him and running out of money before they pass away. I don’t want my wife to ever have to worry like that.
About a year and a half ago, I began a part-time career writing finance books and working as a strategic life coach and planner. Although I’m passionate about my work and would like to do it full time, I’m practical enough to know that I need to keep my full-time job to maintain benefits and a steady salary. To me, the American Dream is the ability to pursue your passion and be free—but to be smart about how you do it.
What my mom thinks:
My mom told me, “Basically, the idea was you get out of high school, get a good job, get married. The wife stays at home and supports the husband and family, and the husband gets a good job working for one company his whole life, and retires with pensions and benefits. That’s the American Dream,” he says.
My mother says her greatest fear is to be destitute and to have to live with one of her children. I do my parents’ investing, and I was extremely proud to be able to give her a sense of security by showing her the numbers and saying, “You won’t have to worry about that.”