The Economic Fraud of the American Dream

The quintessential “American Dream” is one of the most pervasive and iconic themes of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries — our mentors push us toward it; the media glamorizes it; poor Jay Gatsby died trying to achieve it. However, as young graduates across the nation return to their parents’ homes with diplomas in one hopeful hand, the goal of proud, self-governed homeownership seems to slip further and further away.

The dream of basking in self-sufficiency behind a white picket fence has been stifled for many young people currently facing looming responsibilities of adulthood. Times have drastically changed since F. Scott Fitzgerald penned his greatest novel, and buying a house (or even renting an apartment) seems impractical for many fresh-faced alumnae determinedly attending their entry-level jobs.

For many employers, a bachelor’s degree has replaced a high school diploma as the bare minimum. Competitive internships and fellowships are fought over by eager young students. The career seekers’ complaint heard ’round the country is “I need experience to get experience!” All of these have helped to produce a generation with high expectations, but stunted independence.

In a high-pressure world of networking and ladder-climbing, it would seem only natural that there should be one area to alleviate stress: affordability of college and universities. This is where America is the exception, and not in a good way. I couldn’t help the bitter laugh that escaped me last winter as I read about Canadian students protesting tuition hikes that STILL left them thousands of dollars better off than the average American college kid.

In addition to that, many European and Scandinavian countries offer comparatively cheap or even free-tuition colleges, a phenomenon that seems unbelievable to us. On the other hand, before we see these places as golden oases of learning, we have to keep in mind that these educations are also coupled with high taxes and living expenses that might make an American recoil. In this way, it’s hard to imagine simply “fixing” our college prices without reworking our entire economic system.

I understand that there are some current ways to combat this issue: attending community colleges, work-study, and up until recently, military enlistment. The issue is that we shouldn’t have to combat such major prices in the first place. We shouldn’t have to worry about entering the workforce already saddled with thousands of dollars of debt on our backs.

This is a country which happily encourages achievement of “picket fence” independence through social mobility. Affordable education is a vital step in this mobility. As tuition continues to rise and federal Pell grants stagnate, it is worrisome (to say the least) to learn of sequestration on financial loans and uncertainty in job prospects. The American Dream is far from dead, but its attainability needs to be revived.