Lost & Found: The American Dream

The American Dream 7


With all due respect John, I think the point that the article makes is that there are hardworking folks all over who, despite their hard work, aren't seeing the same kind of return for the efforts that previous generations have. The numbers reinforce this idea; it's not just the plight of the individual people interviewed. It was never easy, but it's also never been this hard.

It's easy to say just go out and work harder. But do you mean to tell me that this generation of Americans isn't doing the best to provide the best life for themselves and their families? if so, I'm not sure I share that opinion of us.

I'm currently trying to find a job as a teacher without much luck. I can only find per diem work. I do it anyway, and I work hard, but I can't even make enough to cover my student loans and health insurance. I live at home with my parents. I'm 25 years old, and when I was young, I was told that hard work would bring me, at the very least, a middle class life. That's all I want.

I've done everything right, by the guidebook of the American Dream. I am exactly who this article is talking about. I don't expect a luxurious life, nor do I want one. But a stable job with which to start a family is what I hope to achieve.

Concerned Citizen
Anywheresville, USA

[...] However, a bigger underlying fact is ignored -- this is structural unemployment (and underemployment) because today, with our huge growth in population (including illegal aliens) & high technology, there are simply MORE PEOPLE who need good jobs than there is a NEED FOR EMPLOYEES.

From the 80s through the early 00s, we pushed very hard -- including this publication -- for "more efficiency", streamlining operations, cutting out deadwood, cost containments and so on. And the net result of that (helped by the computer revolution and internet) is that it takes FAR, FAR fewer people today to make all the things we need to buy, and provide all the services we require.

A similar situation occurred from the late 19th to early 20th centuries -- improvements in farm technology meant that instead of 90% of the population being required to grow food, we needed less and less until today, only 1% of us are needed to grow all the food we need (and enough more to export).

Fortunately back then, the excess farm workers could migrate to the cities, and work in the new factories making automobiles & steel. But by the 70s, THOSE jobs were redundant. So the excess factory workers were told to "retrain" on their own dime, and become "high tech" workers. Now, we have too many high tech, office and managerial workers -- but there is NO PLACE LEFT for them to work at.

Until we address this, we are doomed.

Washington DC

When my kids, who have education and good work experience, can't make ends meet (and I'm not talking about vacations but $750 rent, food, and payments on a used Ford Focus) because they can't get even full-time hours; when they scrape together every penny in the house to put $6.91 worth of gas in the car to get to work; when they take a second job delivering take-out to kids on frat row who can't be bothered to tip; when they get sick and have no insurance to see the doctor; when there is no PTO so if they don't work they don't get paid; when they get to be the "one person" you're talking about, maybe then I'll think they're slackers and whiners. Walk a mile in their shoes and then come back and tell me about making something of yourself.

The American Dream 8


Most people still don't get it.

This is permanent.

Automation is removing many jobs permanently, and they will not be replaced.

In 100 years' time, only a small percentage of the population will do work as currently conceived.

Our current economic model is not equipped to deal with this eventuality, but we're already on our way there.

North Carolina

I'll be 60 in September. When the economy bottomed out, I was forced to close my art studio in Michigan. Fortunately, for me, I was a teacher for 20 years and qualified for an early pension . . . but part of the provision is that it ends when I turn 62 and qualify for Social Security. The plan was to have both the pension and the SS--now that plan has tanked.

The pension is just enough to pay the rent and utilities. To put food on my table and to pay small bills, I secured a job at a grocery store chain bagging groceries and getting carts--it took me a year to get it! I've moved up and work in the Produce Dept. (for the same hourly wage). No health insurance. What pple don't understand is that often when health insurance in offered to part-time employees, it's not the best coverage and often eats into the meager pay checks one receives.

It's all hard, physical work. No one my age in this country should have to work so hard just to put food on the table.

Downtown Verona NJ

Thirty-years of stealth class warfare have been successfully waged against the non-rich and the official results are: feudalism has returned after a 600-year absence.

A limited number of jobs, most with non-livable wages, zero benefits, and soaring costs in food, shelter, healthcare as well as in the only possible escape route - advanced education.

Massive job offshoring, massive tax upward redistribution to the 1% and the corporate, and massive privatizing of 'the common good' and public services have been the root cause and they are the heart of the Grand Oppression Party.

With a massive economic underclass in place, half of them tricked into supporting their own economic suicide through the the GOP's flag-waving, bible-thumping, tax-cutting, Know-Nothing propaganda campaign, the 1% can do whatever it wants until we the underclass rise up and fight.

If you want more evidence of the conspiracy, median pay of the nation’s 200 top-paid C.E.O.’s was $14.5 million, according to a study conducted for The New York Times by Equilar. The median pay raise among those C.E.O.’s was 5 percent.

Until the next American Revolution comes, expect more of the same economic warfare against the 99%, especially by our Republican 'Free-Market' Friends for Feudalism.

Fort Lauderdale

Cost of everything goes up in price, her job no longer pays $9.00 an hour, but now it pays $8.00 and hour. No jobs and less money in the economy and by hook or by crook companies find ways to NOT give the worker any benefits. The cost of tuition goes up at colleges. Health care costs are driven up by people who tell us that they are better at controlling costs than Medicare. Business has a record level of cash in the bank, the one in the Cayman's. We are told that they will provide jobs yet all they do is attack women's rights. They claim to be for smaller government yet they propose and make laws that put more and more restrictions on the individual freedoms and right to vote, and fewer and fewer restrictions on the greedy old people who have caused the economic problems with their 'too big to fail' banks.
When will the people of this country wake up and see that the once great Conservative Party of Eisenhower is nothing but a party of greedy old people whose only goal is to amass more money and more power, and do not care about any one other than themselves. If we don't flush them out of the game this year, we may never have another chance. Why? Look to Florida and Michigan and you see the outlines of the plan to make it impossible to vote and the desire for dictatorial Governors and Presidents.

Rochester, NY

Lets' get real here. When in the '70s inflation was in the high double-digits, people were at least able to keep their heads above water. That was before the private sector began its campaign of downsizing, job-exporting and union-busting. The real problem today is not so much inflation as it is people's greatly curtailed income and reduced wealth.

A statistic came out the other day showing that median family wealth had fallen by about 40% in the three years up to 2010. That wealth didn't just disappear. It went somewhere, and we all know where; but the affluent chattering classes won't acknowledge that - they shrug it off as "the free market".

American Dream Movement Rally to Demand "Jobs Not Cuts"

Southeastern USA

Recession depleted the number of available jobs, globalization reduced wages. Both political parties are responsible for policies leading us into recession as they too are responsible for policies allowing "globalization", aka master-slave business models, to force Americans to accept lower wages or move into low paid service-sector jobs.

Privacy Guy

I think that it is the essential nature of a recession that bad things happen, even to people who are doing all the right things. Just look at demand. The right thing to do in hard times is to cut spending and pay down debt. The problem arises when everyone tries to do that at the same time. Then despite everyone acting rationally, the economy tanks. Many of these folks are doing everything right but are being torpedoed by macroeconomic forces. I think your claim that no generation had it easier is not born out by history. If you started your work career just after WWII, you had a much better chance of being able to get a job and to have a rising salary over your career. Take the same person, with the same level of effort and start their career in 1990 or worse, now and you would find that they were much less likely to succeed. The valid point you make is that, despite all these head winds, we all need to make the best of it. Let's not pretend, however, that there is not a strong macroeconomic component to most people's current struggles.

Byron Delaney

Yes I too have degrees from a university and have found myself working hard for only a few hundred dollars per month or less with no real job security. And I'm aware that the government can define "employed" people as those who have a home business yet have no income, as well as people who work only two days per week at a paying job (or perhaps even less). Thus, I ponder early American history, when cash and bank accounts were much less important, and people survived to a large extent by living off the land and bartering. So I look around today and what do I see? Paved roads, cars, and stores full of food that's been packaged and trucked or shipped long distances. I also see lots of hermetically sealed buildings sucking up electricity and gas constantly. Then I think about less developed countries. How do people there survive on pennies a day? Well they are much more efficient for one. They have very affordable staple foods that aren't broken up into little portions with higher profit ratios that are sealed in costly little plastic and cardboard packages a thousand miles away then shipped to a store that's lit with hundreds of lights and cooled or heated with intricate, costly machinery. People walk instead of drive large, expensive machines. And so on. I guess my point is, individual Americans are rather helpless in a horribly wasteful, costly situation, even if they make very little. And very complex, technologically advanced things do have a tendency to crash and burn.

John S
Kansas City, MO

Where I work, they don't hire replacements when people leave and this has been going on for three years now. They (executives) tell us that they are looking at BPO to help us find efficiencies. A lot of people were laid off last year as efficiencies were found by sending the work overseas, and I expect more of that to come.

Corporate profits are at an all time high, I keep reading and maybe it's true. However, worker morale is in the tank, the mantra "at least I have a job" is just getting depressing. I feel for those who cannot find work and I would not be surprised to find myself in the same position. I am reluctant to spend money when I fear losing my income. I am sure that my situation is not unique. Multiply this so many times and you have a recession/depression.

Steve Bolger
New York City

Karl Marx was right about the tendency of a plutocracy to hoard all the benefits of productivity gains to itself.

Tuckerton, NJ

Ten years ago if someone were to tell me that I'd be living with one of my children I would have laughed hysterically. Little did I know that would be the case.After my divorce in 2001, at the age of 52, I launched out on my own and started my own business as an Interior Decorator. How I absolutely loved my job. I had no problem getting clients and working with a company that also gave me referrals was an extra bonus. But, everything began to change with the housing crisis. My business began to dwindle, the company I worked with went out of business. My mom's house needed help with payments after my Dad passed away. So, I moved in with her and we thought maybe a smaller home for the 2 of us would be more economical since my older son was still living with me would be moving on with his life. We put the house on the market and thought we could really make a profit and be set for retirement in the near future. Then it became impossible to sell our home. The bills were piling up. My Mom passed away and now I have no help financially except my business. The house eventually sold but at a huge loss,enough to pay off some of the credit cards that were piling up. Now the only job I can get is a part time job at a chain restaurant hostessing and I cant afford a place to live. I'm on the verge of bankruptcy and my other business has slowed down to barely nothing. I'm 64 years old now and cant get work anywhere that I am qualified for and my retirement gone!

The American Dream 3

Dearborn, MI

Everyone agrees that we need jobs. Did the jobs disappear because of laziness, ignorance and/or technology? I don't think so. We still buy shoes, plastic chairs, cellphones, cars, pencils, steel,etc.; they just aren't made here.
We have all been conditioned to believe that foreign tariffs and trade wars are things to be avoided. I don't think so.
We are a big enough country, smart enough, and rich enough to provide most of our goods. What we lack, we should allow to enter on our terms. Why don't we produce our own shirts and computers and apple juice and tooth picks and TV monitors and fish? I'm afraid NAFTA and WTO are not what we need and I'm not waiting for our politicians to change things. I'm off to raise my own fish.


An American Story - A gallon of milk without hormones and drugs in it = $9.20

How do American families live any sort of normal existence when they can barely afford good food for the table? Instead, they are forced to buy cheap Industrial food full of chemicals, drugs, sugars and fillers.
Their health diminishes from eating junk and they are forced into a health care system that makes its HMO masters very rich. Their insurance doesn't begin to cover the costs and the deductible and premiums keep rising. The doctor visits get put off until a "better month" when money may be available, but never is.
The car breaks down, the furnace quits, the electric bill soars; the wages don't begin to cover the bills. Bad quality food reduces energy and the will to struggle. Anger prevails and sets a tone in the home. Then someone loses their minimum wage job.
The car registration is due; the state raised the fees by 500% last year. Property tax is higher than the house is worth and the mortgage is upside down and the bank is calling. Things are going on the credit card not because of indulgence but because of necessity. The credit card interest rate is usurious and years ago would have been illegal. There is no financial cushion, not a dime left each month. The cycle begins anew on the first.
We are worse off than the peasants of 1347. Rise up?! We are too worn down by bad food and ugly corporate television to care let alone act. We are the Americans of 2012.

Westchester County

The boomers can't leave their jobs because the two wealth preservation tools, stocks and housing, have failed them. The younger generation is being offered cheap loans to get an education that, in many cases, prepares them for yesterday's economy while leaving them a massive debt load. The result is a lack of dynamism and a creeping sameness that stunts the growth we need to pay our enormous bills.

Ed The Rabbit
Baltimore, MD

Since Paul Volcker was chairman of the Federal Reserve the practical definition of inflation has been "your wages." The Fed has worked to surpress "inflation," so defined, ever since, while altering the official measures of inflation to make it appear smaller. Check out Shadowstats.com for the running comparison.

Meanwhile, the far right has sold many of the new poor a bill of goods--starting with the idea that they are "middle class" at $12 an hour. Even the Democrats buy that nonsense now, as well as the big lie that there is no alternative--that "globalization" means that the U.S. could not have an industrial policy even if having one weren't "socialism."

I'm glad to see that the NYT has finally caught on to the basic fact that most (not some, not a few--most) Americans have been losing ground financially for more than a generation. This is the biggest story of our time, and until recently all the major news outlets have completely missed it.

Now it's time to bring forth the alternatives. There are other, better ways to arrange one's economy and society. We can do it.

jeffrey freedman
buffalo, ny

We see the effects of unemployment and under employment everyday when we consult with clients at our law firm.
People struggle to make ends meet in the current economy.
Some of the individuals we see have debt or medical problems that make their situation even worse. After a typical client fills up their car with gas, pays for medications, and pays their monthly student loan bill there is not much left.
We help the clients prioritize what must be paid, advise what they might do to increase their income, and we use our knowledge of the law to help the best we can. What I have observed from practicing consumer law for over 35 years is a shrinking middle class. Its a sad commentary for America in 2012.

Dublin, CA

The on-going economic crisis is just salt in the wounds of American workers. Our incomes have been in steady decline for over 30 years prior to the current economic meltdown. This was due to the conservative/Reagan revolution that took place in 1980. The conservative economic philosophy and policies are all intended to transfer as much wealth as possible from the middle class to the investor class. It was done under the false premise that those handful of investors could do a better job of investing our countries wealth and the jobs would rain down on the rest of us.

The conservatives forgot about a little thing called self-interest. Instead of investing that money where it would do the most good for the most American citizens, it was spent and invested where it would benefit the investors. So they invested our capital with our foreign competitors, they "invested" it in funny paper at the Wall Street Casino, they invested it in McMansions, Art and Luxurious Vacation Getaways. What money they had left all went into their off-shore bank accounts.

Conservative economics has been a huge failure for all except a handful of American citizens. We need Progressive Pro-Growth policies that will benefit all Americans and not just the hand chosen few.


Why is it that so many of you blame Republicans, Democrats, Capitalism, Tax Codes, etc etc etc..

Being employed and successful in this thing called life takes a ton of hard work, effort, education, support from loved ones, etc etc etc.. We easily forget this because we feel we deserve more - we deserve to have that Lambo, or that $500K house.

Folks, being employed, raising a family, taking vacations HAS ALWAYS BEEN TOUGH. There were NEVER any easy generations who got by through wonderful politicians.

Articles such as this that examine one person and their struggles may be typical of many people and their situations, but there will always be unfortunate cases, unfortunate situations. As many articles NYT could write on this, I could write the same on successful people.

Suck it up, this is life. Cry about your politicians, or go out and make something of yourself. We all know the opportunities still massively exist.

Banks, OR

If anyone is curious as to where money they earn (if they are lucky enough to have a job) is going they need only look at the increase in wealth in the top 1% -- and especially the top 0.1%. CEO's at our country's biggest companies earned 380 times more than a typical American worker -- in 1980 it was 42 times. Average CEO pay rose 14% from the $11.4 million they averaged in 2010. (http://www.aflcio.org/Corporate-Watch/CEO-Pay-and-the-99

Wealth in this country is not disappearing, it is being stolen from those that create and earn it only to be stashed away by sociopathic individuals whose avarice knows no end. (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/14/opinion/why-i-am-leaving-goldman-sachs... Their non-financial companies are sitting on over $2 trillion which, if invested at home in the USA, would end our current depression (it is only a recession to the economists) but till they return us to the age of royalty and feudalism the 0.1% will continue to tighten the screws.

Burning Man 2008 American Dream


There a lots of good paying jobs out there. However they require 2-5 years of experience, attention to detail and a willingness to suffer greasy hands, bloody knuckles and a tired back.

If you are a skilled, credentialed and ethical worker in the trades you can make $20-30/hr working for an employer or $70+/hr independently (plus markup on parts).

These are not the comfortable technical or white collar office jobs everyone now wants but are the kind of jobs that built america before college replaced an education in the trades as the norm.

If you attend college as trade school (engineering, accounting, professions) then you probably will be OK. However if you attend college for a broad-based education (what college was originally designed for) then you better have a marketable skill to fall back on.

Cameron Skene
Montreal CA

When GenX was going through the same thing in the 80's and 90's, our complaints were completely ignored. Now that it's happening to everyone else 30 years later, it becomes a more pressing item.
Many people I know have struggled for their working lives, and are ridiculously behind. My brother is now the part-owner of five restaurants, and only recently was able to divest himself of roommates.
Advice for the generation coming up: you're right. It's a scam, and you're being ripped off. Also, beware: it's NOT GOING TO GET BETTER.
I've been around long enough to see the carrot is rotten.
Off with their heads. It worked last time. At least the French have health care now.

Below the Ivory Tower, Los Angeles

What is pathetic is how hard it is to hire. I'm offering quality jobs with healthcare in Southern California and can't find people who can spell, let alone manage other people. Based upon my view of the labor market, as an employer, we have only ourselves to blame.


Most of the 22 years I spend in India, I heard the following pretty much every day and all the time from the elders that were around me (this might be a common experience; Indians are notorious, unrelenting scolds):
a. It is getting tougher and harder, prices are getting higher.
b. Things are getting more difficult, it is difficult to make ends meet.
c. Things are not as good as they once were, people cannot be trusted.
d. It is all the government's fault, they are corrupt . . .

Whether true or not, this discourse (among other things) has kept India poor. We believe that environmental change is uncontrollable, and our noble response is to suffer (and in India, "obey your elders).

The learning is clear. If I am not engaged in an accelerated, deliberate process of improving my skills and capabilities, and my ability to produce value, I have no economic viability in a system that moves at warp speed.

We ignore evidence to our peril that one cannot possess one skill and have it serve as a vehicle for a good life, for all our lives. The solution is not political, nor cultural, it is personal commitment.

Americans seem to keep looking at the government to take charge and find a solution for problems that only personal commitment and sacrifice can solve. You are worried that factories are going to China? Wait until the new immigrants from Asia (like me) come into your neighborhood. Good luck with asking the government to help you then.



The reason wages for the young in America are in decline is because wages in the past had long outstripped productivity. This downward adjustment is very similar to the internal devaluation which the Greeks are experiencing. It is basically an adjustment to economic realities because the productivity differential between the United States and the so called emerging economies has shrunk dramatically over the last 30 years.

In other words, higher wages in the United States can no longer be justified. For many American businesses, lower wages and a small workforce is the only way they can hope to remain competitive and to survive. However, like in Europe, people of the baby boomer generation have been able to lock in their abnormally high salaries though past industrial actions. To compensate, the younger generation must either accept less or the system would essentially bankrupt itself.

Although such unpleasant economic dynamics will have an enormous influence on American politics and result in repeated and possibly destabilizing changes, it would not matter who gets to be in charge because there is little that anyone can do. Efforts to change how events are shaping out, like the enormous sums spent by the Obama administration to prop up the economy, will not only be futile it will actually be harmful because such spending only perpetuates the baby boomer privileges whilst shifting the final burden on a younger generation already laden with debt and hampered by lower wages.

Charlotte, NC

What is the difference between companies that hire:

-An American citizen
-An H-1B foreign worker
-An overseas worker?

Answer: Nothing. In the eyes of our tax laws all three companies are given the same tax deduction.


Jesus vs. the American Dream

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