Is The Great American Dream Dead?

34079710_s (1)“Why don’t you just pay someone to do this? We hate yard work! No one cuts their own lawn. We are getting all dirty! You are too strict. This is just stupid!” These are some of the statements made last weekend by my cracker-jack landscape crew at Cutter Financial Group: my three girls, Maeve, Phoebe, and Sophie.
 
After listening to the complaints, I decided it was time to share one of my life lessons with them. They love it when I do that. I responded, “Ladies, hard work pays dividends to those that work hard. Now get to work.” They just rolled their eyes at me, as only three teenage young ladies can.
 
You see, I want them to understand that working hard, means working consistently and with quality, and continuing until a real and valuable result is produced. I want them to understand that, oftentimes, hard work is not exciting, but it is necessary to achieve and to master our goals. I reminded them that if they want to succeed at a task, they must have the determination to see it through, no matter how boring or uneventful the work is to get to their goal.
 
I grew up in a middle to lower-middle class home in Raynham. I have always been a worker. I lied about my age when I started my working career at age 13, flipping burgers at the Raynham Dog Track. I learned a lot at “the Track.” I learned that hard work has more to do with the ability to persevere, which comes from a desire and a determination to succeed. Frankly, it has been the foundation on which I have built both my personal and business lives.
 
So, as parents, we like to instill in our kids the notion that if they work hard, anything is possible, right? That talent alone is not enough to accomplish life’s goals. This is the good old American Dream that everyone talks about, but a new report shows that most Americans believe that dream to be dead.
 
As I sat there on the front step of my office watching my girls perform their dreaded manual labor, I thought about the CNN poll I read recently. It revealed that 59 percent of Americans believe that the American Dream is out of reach. This sentiment is shared most commonly among those who need to believe it most—young adults ages 18 to 34. Get this: 63 percent of this group believe it is impossible.
 
This isn’t hard to imagine, considering the economic situation this group has both grown up in and started their careers in. This is the group who watched their parents suffer through the Great Recession and now face one of the most difficult job markets in decades, just when they are drowning in student loan debt.
 
A whopping 63 percent of all Americans say that today’s children will not be better off than their parents are. Sounds like everyone is seeing our economic glass as half-empty; but can you blame them? Many experts specializing in economic mobility, people who literally spend their days thinking about the American Dream, theorize that people see the glass as half-empty, because they are living in a dismal financial world.
 
Many investors are working hard to save money and build a secure future for themselves, but current economic conditions don’t leave them feeling any more secure. With interest rates being kept artificially low and the stock markets moving sideways over the last couple of years, you can see why. The majority of Americans have higher income than their parents, but that is due mostly to having dual earners in the household, and in many instances having multiple jobs, not because they have more wealth.
 
This, paired with high unemployment, unpredictable markets, rising college costs, and increasing student loan debt, is enough to turn the American Dream into more of a nightmare for individuals.
 
Despite all of this, those mobility experts say that today’s chances at that dream aren’t any worse than they used to be. Studies have found that, although mobility in America is lower than many other developed countries, it has not become any lower than it was during brighter economic times.
 
So, how do you combat all of those challenges to be able to find success? In short, the three ingredients to financial success are hard work, ambition, and a strong family upbringing.
 
In fact, according to a report by US Trust that surveyed high net worth Americans, those whom you could say have accomplished the American Dream, 77 percent of them grew up in middle or lower class families. Many of those surveyed claimed that work, ambition, and strong family values were much more important than having a specific talent or prior connections when it came to accomplishing success and building their wealth.
 
My landscape crew should be happy to know that about 80 percent of those high net worth individuals said that their parents were firm disciplinarians. Their parents’ focus included academic achievement, financial responsibility, and a strong work ethic.
 
I usually don’t make my three girls read my column each week, but they are going to read this one! It just might pay them dividends.
 
Be vigilant, and stay alert, because you deserve more.