Dan had worked since he was sixteen – at the urging of his father, who wanted his son to value hard work and the dollar. So, Dan dutifully worked at various jobs after-school, weekends and summers, including stints as a pizza-maker, pool lifeguard, among other vocations.
By the time he was 21 or 22, while attending college, Dan worked weekends and some nights as a computer programmer . He earned enough money to buy his own car and had more than enough cash for any discretionary spending. Unlike most of his peers, he also had a healthy bank account and even credit cards (which he used sparingly.)
But he still lived at home with his parents, when he could’ve easily moved out into his own apartment and enjoy more freedom and independence – something virtually all young men crave.
So, puzzled, I asked him point-blank why he remained at home under his parents’ roof?
He replied (and I’m paraphrasing here): “Why should I move outta my house and into some dinky little apartment? I get along with my parents, get free food and don’t have to pay any rent!”
There were at least two broader sub-texts underlying Dan’s defiant declaration.
One was that “freedom” and “independence” were meaningless concepts to him, since he enjoyed his lifestyle at home. (I should add that Dan was socially awkward and apparently had no girlfriends).
The other, more important, theme relates to upward mobility – like millions of other Americans of Dan’s generation, he could not hope to keep climbing the ladders of social class. His father advanced from working-class to the uppermost reaches of the middle-class in just one generation (something that was possible to accomplish in the 1960s and 1970s).
But for Dan’s (and my) generation, the escalator has seemingly stalled.
The ‘American Dream’ is dead – or at best, suspended.
In the wake of the devastating 2007-2009 ‘great recession,’ the younger generation in this country is facing the bleakest of futures. Not only are they deeply in debt (before they even start working), but they will likely never earn the kind of money (adjusted for inflation) that their parents and even grandparents made.
Perhaps Dan knew this tidal-wave of economic misery was coming all along – he was very aware that he could not hope to match (much less exceed) his father’s success and resolved to stay at home as long as possible in order to enjoy the perks of affluent living.
Dan did finally leave home (with great reluctance, as I recall) and cobbled together a life for himself. However, like his peers across this nation, he has slipped back on the socio-economic scale.
If one consider Dan’s tale, the ‘American Dream’ has indeed died.