Sorry State Of The American Dream
The American Dream is a term coined by James Truslow Adams in his 1931 book, The Epic of America. He defined it as:
…that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.
A dream that anyone can realize their full potential. Where it doesn’t matter if you are born poor or rich, you can achieve your goals. Even though I was born into a lower middle class family, I was able to achieve my goals. Unfortunately, I’m not sure the same opportunity exists today.
In 1980, I began attending the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). That same year, I also got a job as a grocery store cashier. From the 1980-81 UCLA catalog, total estimated expenses for that year were $1,713 for someone living at home – as I was. Considering that my starting pay was $7.50/hr, and I averaged a little over 20 hours per week, I could cover all of my annual education expenses with about 3 months of work.
Today, the situation is very different. I was shocked to recently discover that starting pay for a grocery store cashier in Los Angeles is only $7.97 – virtually the same as it was over 30 years ago! However, annual expenses at UCLA have risen to $14,010 for 2012-13. It would now take over 20 months of work to cover annual education expenses! (Note: There are only 12 months in a year!)
How did this happen?
- Stagnant entry-level wages – Had incomes for grocery clerks kept up with inflation, the starting wage today would be $20.15 – not $7.97.
- Declining public funding – In 1980, total public funding (state and federal) for California higher eduction was $4.9B out of a total of $34.5B – 14.3%. Last year, it was only $15.3B out of $213B – 7.2%.
But this problem isn’t unique to California. Nationwide, the result of lagging entry-level wages and rising education costs have resulted in an explosion of student debt. The latest data from the 2010 Survey of Consumer Finances show that average inflation-adjusted debt has tripled since 1989.