A Generation Losing Hope: The Shattering of the American Dream

Before our very eyes, a generation of Americans is losing faith in the American dream and adopting attitudes and behaviors that emphasize living for the day, not planning to take care of their own futures.  They clearly see the problems ahead and draw rational conclusions.

Most of our problems have been caused by government.  The unintended consequences of poorly thought out legislation or legislation designed merely to garner votes for re-election is wreaking havoc on economic opportunity for our country.

For one, the regulatory burden by our government on economic growth is well-known.  The regulatory impact of the Dodd-Frank bill, the Affordable Care Act, No Child Left Behind, and the EPA all influence costs but, concurrently, adversely affect productivity and our competitiveness in world markets.

The Social Security underfunding has been known since the mid-1970s, yet Congress has failed to enact any meaningful solution to the problem.  The most recent extension of the 2% tax holiday on the FICA tax will only exacerbate the budget shortfall.

 The cost of college education has continued to skyrocket such that student debt is at an all-time high.  Many students now find it almost impossible to repay their student loans.

The cost of medical insurance and medical care is prohibitive for most Americans.  The Affordable Care Act was passed with the intent of providing insurance for all Americans.  In reality, all the Act does is reduce income for the medical care providers and increase costs for younger workers.   

Concurrently, despite rapidly dropping home prices, homes are not appreciably more affordable for the average American.  Increasing property taxes, pay freezes, and tighter credit standards have made home ownership seem less likely for today's generation.    

When all of these issues and structural changes are reviewed, it should be no wonder that the millennial generation views work differently from how an older-generation worker does.

 In a class that I recently presented to a group of CPAs, I mentioned these structural changes as a cause for concern in attempts to restart the economy.  I indicated that my concern was that today's employee may not be taking a long-term perspective toward his career and their community.

A student suggested to me that her generation had lost hope.  I was a little stunned by her remark.  Her response was not that they have lost hope for themselves, but instead that they have lost hope in the system.

The student indicated that the people of her generation have no hope of receiving Social Security, yet they are paying into it.  Furthermore, the people of her generation understand that they will have to provide for their retirement while attempting to pay off substantial student loans, thereby further cutting disposal income.  She also indicated that her generation realizes that investing in equities for a better future has borne limited results, as seen by the decimated 401(k) plans and IRAs, such that continued investing makes little sense.

The student then went on to advise me that parents are living longer, and her generation expects to need to care for aging parents.   

The student was convinced that all that she was taught by her parents -- to save, to work hard, to provide for another day -- is pure fiction.  Her parents' American Dream is her generation's nightmare.

She and her generation have seen bad behaviors continuously rewarded by our government.  They have seen the victimization of society in the minds of elected leaders with no one held accountable for his or her actions.  The current generation has seen an unparalleled growth of entitlement behavior in many of their peers.

The net result of all of this is that the productive element of her generation intends to live for the moment.  She and her friends intend to achieve a work-life balance that properly reflects this new understanding of what life will be like for her generation.  In their minds, why plan for retirement if retirement is never an option?    

My student received a rousing ovation.  It turns out that my students, young and old alike, agreed with her completely.   

Is this what has our country come to?  What have our elected leaders done to our nation in the name of getting re-elected?

It is time that we demand that our nation re-establish its moral compass.  It is essential that we reward hard work and end the mentality of an "entitled society."  It is essential that our society make our decisions based upon the long run, not based upon the short run, if we are to recreate the American Dream of a better tomorrow for our children.

If our nation fails to understand the consequences of this short-term thinking, our days as a great nation will have ended.   

The time for serious solutions to serious problems has come.  The decision is yours.  The decision is mine.  Our government works for us, not the other way around.  Demand serious solutions to serious problems.

Frank Ryan, CPA specializes in corporate restructuring and lectures on ethics for the state CPA societies.  Frank is a retired colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve and served in Iraq and briefly in Afghanistan.  He is on numerous boards of publicly traded and non-profit organizations.  He can be reached at FRYAN1951@aol.com.

Before our very eyes, a generation of Americans is losing faith in the American dream and adopting attitudes and behaviors that emphasize living for the day, not planning to take care of their own futures.  They clearly see the problems ahead and draw rational conclusions.

Most of our problems have been caused by government.  The unintended consequences of poorly thought out legislation or legislation designed merely to garner votes for re-election is wreaking havoc on economic opportunity for our country.

For one, the regulatory burden by our government on economic growth is well-known.  The regulatory impact of the Dodd-Frank bill, the Affordable Care Act, No Child Left Behind, and the EPA all influence costs but, concurrently, adversely affect productivity and our competitiveness in world markets.

The Social Security underfunding has been known since the mid-1970s, yet Congress has failed to enact any meaningful solution to the problem.  The most recent extension of the 2% tax holiday on the FICA tax will only exacerbate the budget shortfall.

 The cost of college education has continued to skyrocket such that student debt is at an all-time high.  Many students now find it almost impossible to repay their student loans.

The cost of medical insurance and medical care is prohibitive for most Americans.  The Affordable Care Act was passed with the intent of providing insurance for all Americans.  In reality, all the Act does is reduce income for the medical care providers and increase costs for younger workers.   

Concurrently, despite rapidly dropping home prices, homes are not appreciably more affordable for the average American.  Increasing property taxes, pay freezes, and tighter credit standards have made home ownership seem less likely for today's generation.    

When all of these issues and structural changes are reviewed, it should be no wonder that the millennial generation views work differently from how an older-generation worker does.

 In a class that I recently presented to a group of CPAs, I mentioned these structural changes as a cause for concern in attempts to restart the economy.  I indicated that my concern was that today's employee may not be taking a long-term perspective toward his career and their community.

A student suggested to me that her generation had lost hope.  I was a little stunned by her remark.  Her response was not that they have lost hope for themselves, but instead that they have lost hope in the system.

The student indicated that the people of her generation have no hope of receiving Social Security, yet they are paying into it.  Furthermore, the people of her generation understand that they will have to provide for their retirement while attempting to pay off substantial student loans, thereby further cutting disposal income.  She also indicated that her generation realizes that investing in equities for a better future has borne limited results, as seen by the decimated 401(k) plans and IRAs, such that continued investing makes little sense.

The student then went on to advise me that parents are living longer, and her generation expects to need to care for aging parents.   

The student was convinced that all that she was taught by her parents -- to save, to work hard, to provide for another day -- is pure fiction.  Her parents' American Dream is her generation's nightmare.

She and her generation have seen bad behaviors continuously rewarded by our government.  They have seen the victimization of society in the minds of elected leaders with no one held accountable for his or her actions.  The current generation has seen an unparalleled growth of entitlement behavior in many of their peers.

The net result of all of this is that the productive element of her generation intends to live for the moment.  She and her friends intend to achieve a work-life balance that properly reflects this new understanding of what life will be like for her generation.  In their minds, why plan for retirement if retirement is never an option?    

My student received a rousing ovation.  It turns out that my students, young and old alike, agreed with her completely.   

Is this what has our country come to?  What have our elected leaders done to our nation in the name of getting re-elected?

It is time that we demand that our nation re-establish its moral compass.  It is essential that we reward hard work and end the mentality of an "entitled society."  It is essential that our society make our decisions based upon the long run, not based upon the short run, if we are to recreate the American Dream of a better tomorrow for our children.

If our nation fails to understand the consequences of this short-term thinking, our days as a great nation will have ended.   

The time for serious solutions to serious problems has come.  The decision is yours.  The decision is mine.  Our government works for us, not the other way around.  Demand serious solutions to serious problems.

Frank Ryan, CPA specializes in corporate restructuring and lectures on ethics for the state CPA societies.  Frank is a retired colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve and served in Iraq and briefly in Afghanistan.  He is on numerous boards of publicly traded and non-profit organizations.  He can be reached at FRYAN1951@aol.com.