The American Dream is Fast Becoming a Pipe Dream for Young Adults

Americans are growing increasingly cynical about politics. That was the groundbreaking conclusion of the latest Harvard Institute of Polling survey of 18- to 29-year-olds, an age cohort known for their unshakeable sense of optimism.

As it turns out there is only so much that the Millennial generation can take. Our age group has consistently suffered from higher unemployment and underemployment and lower wages than older generations. That prolonged sense of reduced wellbeing—on top of the stress of crushing student loan debts—has been enough to shake our confidence in one of our nation’s most enduring promises: The American Dream.

Indeed, the same Harvard poll from two years prior found that the American Dream was fast becoming a distant, but fond, memory for many in our generation.

“Before it was just to live a happy life,” one respondent answered when asked what the American Dream meant. “Now it’s to be able to live and start a family, not in poverty.”

That the American Dream has been reduced from achieving a better, more prosperous life to simply avoiding falling into poverty is a tragic outcome. And it’s little wonder that young people feel let down and abandoned by people and institutions—namely, the federal government—that were elected to preserve that Dream.

Today, young adults were put on notice that things may not be improving anytime soon. Olivera Perkins writes for the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

The American Dream, rooted in the belief that each generation will do better than the last, is threatened with devolving into a pipe dream, according to the findings of a recent report. . .

The report says anticipated declines in the living standard are being fueled by three factors undermining the labor market: lower worker participation rates, inadequate productivity growth and a shrinking working age population.

The first two problems are of particular concern. Declining productivity growth results in stagnant revenues, which then disincentivizes new hiring. That, in turn, reduces worker participation rates, which lowers consumer demand, thereby creating a vicious cycle that is difficult to escape from. The Plain Dealer explains the particular impact this could have on young people:

Labor force participation rates have been falling across all demographic groups in recent years. Hardest hit are the youngest workers, or those ages 16 to 24, a trend Hutchinson considers alarming. He cited an Accenture survey this year of recent college graduates, in which 46 percent of respondents considered themselves underemployed, and another 13 percent said they were unemployed.

“That is 59 percent of all graduates essentially saying that after preparing themselves for the workforce, they couldn’t find a place in the workforce that gave them fulfilling and rewarding work,” Hutchinson, [who authored the report,] said. “That sounds like a recipe for discouragement.”

All told, Accenture projects that unless dramatic action is taken soon the standard of living in 2030 will have declined relative to what it was in 1990. Put a different way, we will have gone economically backward over a span of forty years. That’s an entire generation gone to waste.

The call to action is real, but only one party stands ready with modern ideas capable of responding to the threat. Republicans have put forward real solutions to right-size the government, to make our bloated entitlement programs sustainable, to alleviate poverty and increase upward mobility, to improve higher education, to alleviate the threat of student debt, to make our tax code more friendly to job growth and investment, and to bring true reform to health care.

Each of these is a crucial piece of the puzzle to making the U.S. more competitive on the global stage. And yet the public knows about few of these, often because they have no chance of passage, or even discussion, in the Democrat-held Senate. We have the power to change that in November. With our votes we can restore the American Dream.