Why the American Dream is Dead
Rising costs. Increased credit card debt. Wealth disparity is at an all-time high, and the division continues growing. The American dream is dead.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
The United States of America was built on one main principle: one's inherited socioeconomic status is nothing more than a circumstance of the past that is to be rectified by their true destiny. The U.S. used this simple ideology to propel itself as one of the five great power nations of the world socially, economically and politically. This principle attracted countless immigrants who fled their countries of origin to escape a predestined fate.
It might be incomprehensible to those born into America's idealistic regime, but on other continents such as Asia or Africa, it's pretty common for a person's future to be relegated to that of their ancestors. This is not an accident but a product bred out of extreme centralization and the elite pushing self-serving agendas. As a testament to this activity globally, Author Vasuki Shastry eloquently demonstrates:
"Asia's billionaire class is a toxic addition to this mix. There is strong evidence in developing Asia that the political and business class often collude at the expense of public interest, aggravating already rising inequality and low social mobility, such as India's tendering of major infrastructure projects to favored business groups."
Centuries of strategic American propaganda have done an inconceivably good job at luring immigrants with the promise of a lucrative life built upon the foundations of hope and opportunity. I posit that it's becoming increasingly difficult for the vast majority to achieve Thomas Jefferson's American dream, underpinned by a person's right to the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.
Related: Is the American Dream Dead?
'The rent is too damn high!'
It's no secret that the cost of living in America has been exorbitant for quite a while now, and the pace at which this has been increasing is historic. In 2021, we saw YoY inflation jump from 1.4% in 2020 to a blistering 7% — the steepest increase in YoY inflation since 1950, when we saw a delta of 8%. A year later, 2022 YoY inflation held strong at 6.5%, signaling a slight improvement. Concurrently, house prices increased by a record 16.9% in 2021.
To put things into perspective at a micro level, the price of eggs rose a staggering 60% in 2022. Considering the rising cost of basic necessities, a reflected increase in wages would be expected. However, little evidence points to any impending meaningful increases, with wage growth holding relatively steady between 5 and 5.5% since the beginning of 2021.
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'Just put it on my card'
To make ends meet, Americans are now more than ever electing to shift their expenses to credit cards and other lines of credit. American households currently hold $11.67 trillion in debt — a 25% increase from the $9.31 trillion they held before COVID-19. While inflation certainly contributes to the rapid rise of this number, inflation within itself isn't the most concerning piece of data when analyzing the financial health of the average American.
Younger generations, millennials in particular, are struggling to buy homes despite taking on this debt. In fact, the median age for homebuyers in America today is about 47 years of age, eight years older than the median age prior to the financial crisis. To add salt to this wound, the average American currently has just $5,300 in savings, solidifying that this picture will likely worsen before it gets any better.
Related: Is the American Dream Attainable?
The secret behind true wealth creation
We're in a transitionary period, teetering on the edge of a new digital economy. With this, we've witnessed quick, lucrative returns when trading stocks or cryptocurrencies, compared with returns on property ownership. This makes it more effective to chase 10 to 100x returns in capital markets instead of buying your first home, and although this might seem intuitive on the surface, this only applies to a certain demographic.
Suppose you're a Wall Streeter or a software engineer at a leading technology company in a major city like New York or San Francisco. Given the entry point to the housing market is grossly higher than that of an individual living in Des Moines, the capital required to have any skin in the game is a barrier to entry within itself. Sure, you could buy a property in another city, but the cost, both monetarily and operationally, of having real estate that isn't yours in combination with your own expenses is a tall order. You might have to sacrifice a few thousand dollars on rent by not owning property, but your net income in this scenario is best spent building a diversified portfolio of non-real estate assets.
In an alternate scenario, where someone holds a modest job — making an honest living like the vast majority of Americans — and resides in an affordable city, one's dollars are best spent investing in the property they live in, given that their entry point is likely accessible. Buying a house is the only investment you can easily pull off with 90+% leverage, meaning your upfront investment costs are subsidized. Conversely, buying stocks requires you to front 100% at the time of investment. What's more, the two-way volatility of the stock market is far harder to track compared to the housing market, which, for the past few decades, has generally moved upwards more consistently. You can certainly buy stocks, but due to the availability of leverage, assuming you have access to credit, real estate can more likely yield higher returns off of a small investment.
In contemporary society, the level of difficulty in achieving the American dream has skyrocketed. This picture-perfect life is visually synonymous with happily married couples with two children, a beautiful home and a white picket fence. However, the reality of this is vastly different. The latest numbers suggest people are no longer getting married, buying homes or having children nearly as much as in previous generations. Wealth disparity is at an all-time high, and divisions continue growing. The American dream is dead.
Why they want you to believe the dream
While the vast majority of Americans are feeling the pain of the Federal Reserve's tight monetary policy, the nation's elite are not. Elon Musk lost over $200 billion in net worth to kick off this year, yet he is still one of the wealthiest people ever to live. After a certain point, more money does little to change your quality of life.
In capitalist regimes, the rich remain rich because a willing middle class submits to their ideals. The rich own the credit card companies that the poor borrow from. The rich own the banks that pay out fractions of a percent in yield while making enormous profits via capital markets activities. The rich are also friends and lobbyists of the lawmakers that determine the fate of the majority in this country. The American dream wasn't designed to make you rich; it's a narrative spun by a coterie comprised of the nation's elite. It's a strategic and intricate device crafted to keep you where you are. It's a donkey and carrot model built to serve the system. While you're too busy chasing financial freedom through hard work and dedication, the American dream is adding more weight to your saddlebags.