Un(der)employment & The New American Dream


A Bloomberg.com article published a few months ago, The American Dream Fades for Generation Y Professionals, details the demise of the Dream for young working professionals. The piece includes a large amount of depressing stats about unemployment, and underemployment. And really, there is no light at the end of the tunnel at this point for Millennials.

Before reading the article I was struck by the title, and wondered what the American Dream even means? When I think of the American Dream, the image of a Pepsi-commercial-like scene pops into my head, with a cowboy on a farm, drinking back the taste of freedom in a can, as the American flag waves in the background to the sound of electric guitar music.

Given more thought, I think of a scene with a smiling, well-dressed family: mom, dad, and 2 kids, in front of a nice house, with a big, shiny car in the driveway. But the image looks like it’s from 30 years prior to my birth.

Why are these intangibles all I can muster in imagining the American Dream? Is the dream of America Capitalism? Marriage, family, and home&car-ownership? Or farming, and consuming sugary beverages?

To clear my head of these Don Draper-inspired advertising scenes, in true Millennial style, I crowd-sourced some of my favorite Millennial followers on Twitter.

I asked: What does the American Dream look like to you?

True equal opportunity, something we haven’t reached yet. // Marc Anthony Smith, @Mark_AnthoNYC

Freedom of upward mobility, without class restrictions. A level playing field for all to succeed. // Miles Howard, @MilesWHoward

Opportunities for growth of body, self-expression, love. Even seeing others in the process of dreaming inspires. // Zaahira Jones, @ZaahiraJones

Ability to succeed with whatever endeavor you want. // Michele Adams, @usha88

To be respected instead of judged for being an American. And for #Millennials to be viewed as a great generation. // Erin Lowry, @BrokeMillennial

The common theme of progress, success, and equality isn’t surprising to me, and even refreshing. It’s good to see that my generation seems to have a grasp of the foundation of the American Dream.  The dream may look different for Millennials, but it’s trying to break through and become a reality.


I’ve witnessed the fade of the Dream documented in the Bloomberg article. I have friends who were laid-off from their first real-world jobs right out of college. I witnessed some of them spend months trying to find any type of employment. Although Millennials are sometimes stereotyped as spoiled, in reality many of them understand the relief of finding a job that pays the bills, that are mostly made up of student loans.

Even with a sense of gratitude for a 9-5 job, many Millennials haven’t been able to shake their sense of ambition. A few years ago, I took a part-time job that offered professional, and personal growth, and left my full-time 9-5 job. Although I did gain new skills (and had money) at my full-time job, at times I felt I was being paid to forgo professional growth. At my part-time job I had less income, but I  was part of a vision, and able to collaborate with colleagues, and a take on variety of challenges. The less hours and less pay was worth the  opportunity for growth, and continuation of learning. This is my personal experience, but I think it rings true for many Millennials.

Millennials do care about security, and responsibility, but also personal, and professional growth. Millennials struggle with the fact that at times pragmatism has to outweigh professional dreams and success. But many Millennials have ambitions that can’t let them settle, and it takes a lot of patience for them to find the right opportunity.

americandream copythe NEW Dream

So, as a whole, where are Millennials headed? Are they following the old American Dream? I think there is a a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

Most Millennials haven’t settled down into a relationship yet, but a majority of them put aspirations for marriage success above a high-paying career. Many are not amply employed, but to a degree, they are ok with it, as long as they are progressing professionally in some fashion. Many are sometimes fueled by a fear of missing out rather than their own passion, but I think with time they will become more focused on their own true ambitions.

So at heart, I believe Millennials are still very much believers in the American Dream. I believe they will find a way to reach their goals, if not taking the traditional route, or reaching a traditional milestones.

If you’re a Millennial, what is your idea of The American Dream? Are you on your way to achieving the Dream?

8 thoughts on “Un(der)employment & The New American Dream

  1. Great piece Rachel. Thanks for using my quote 🙂

    I liked how you included your personal story of moving from a full-time position to part-time work that allowed you to grow professionally and learn. I think young people have been so indoctrinated (in a good way) with the idea that education is the most important thing that pursuing lifelong learning comes as second nature to us, maybe even first nature.

    We love to learn new things, it’s almost like an addiction, we can’t get enough of learning. Sometimes that’s to our detriment because we absorb information perhaps more than we act, but overall it’s a good quality to have I think.

  2. Pingback: The Smartest Generation | entitled millennial

  3. Hey Rachel, great blog post. Thanks for using my quote as well. 🙂 It is very true that we do have somewhat of an American dream, but it’s really hard to find that anymore. Sad days.

  4. The images the American Dream conjure for you remind me of my own impressions – particularly the image of a well-to-do family from sixty some odd years ago. Add to that the idea of “pulling yourself up by the bootstraps.” For me, the American Dream is something that just doesn’t resonate; it feels outdated and so I don’t usually identify with it. I hadn’t thought of it as an evolving entity as you suggest, which is an interesting idea. I do share this dream of endlessly striving for growth and learning. I often find myself growing restless whenever I’ve lived in a place or worked at a job for “too long,” because it makes me feel like I’m in a rut and I’m not achieving enough, I’m not growing enough. I have this insatiable urge to experience as much as I can and an overwhelming fear of settling, both of which often prevent me from fully committing myself to situations. And it’s really interesting and eye-opening in some ways to look at this as a generational phenomenon.

    • Agreed. When I actually tried to envision what the American Dream was, it felt incredibly intangible. The more I tried to find the true meaning of it, and analyzed Millennial attitudes, the more I felt that’s there is still a foundation of the Dream.

      Totally get the restlessness thing! Check out my post “Fearing your FOMO” (fear of missing out): http://tinyurl.com/akerfd8, when you get a chance. Millennials want so much, but sometimes don’t know what areas of life to focus on. Thanks for feedback!

  5. Great post! It seems like in general Millennials see the American dream as the ability to live a happy, fulfilled life. We don’t need to have a shiny new car or a high-paying, executive job. We just want to be able to pursue our passions, experience a variety of things and continue growing personally and professionally. This can especially be seen with your decision to leave a full-time job to do something part-time that challenged you and taught you something new. That decision seems natural to me; I’d do the same thing given the opportunity. I think the new American Dream is to live a well-rounded life that brings more happiness than financial success.

  6. Pingback: Thoughts from this side of parenthood #HMD | So-Called Millennials

  7. Pingback: I’m half-grown along with millennials #happybirthdaytome | So-Called Millennials

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