A Generation’s Changing American Dream

Young Americans still hitting economic and career headwinds, and how that’s changing their American Dream.

Two young people at a tea house in New York City. (j-No/Flickr)

Two young people at a tea house in New York City. (j-No/Flickr)


Everybody knows how tough it’s been for a generation of young Americans just hitting the workforce – or trying to – in the last half dozen years.  American twenty-somethings have walked straight into a wall of recession.  Been knocked back into parents’ homes and recalculations of what life will bring.

My guest today Jennifer Silva says that recalculation is deeper than you may understand – especially for low-income Americans.  Back on their heels and feeling betrayed, she says, they are redefining the American dream sharply downward.

This hour, On Point:  young Americans’ new dreams.

– Tom Ashbrook



Jennifer Silva, author of “Coming Up Short: Working-Class Adulthood in an Age of Uncertainty” and sociologist at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Justin St. Germain, author of “Son of a Gun: A Memoir” and professor of creative non-fiction at the University of New Mexico. (@jstgerma)

From Tom’s Reading List

The Boston Globe: Jennifer Silva: Working-Class Youth Are ‘Privatizing happiness’ — “Silva, who is now at Harvard University on a postdoctoral fellowship, set out to talk with some of these young people about how they were managing the transition to adulthood in the post-industrial economy. In 100 in-depth, in-person interviews, she found a new working-class adult ‘bewildered in the labor market, betrayed by institutions, distrustful of love, disconnected from others, and committed to emotional growth.'”

The New York Times: Crumbling American Dreams — “My hometown — Port Clinton, Ohio, population 6,050 — was in the 1950s a passable embodiment of the American dream, a place that offered decent opportunity for the children of bankers and factory workers alike. But a half-century later, wealthy kids park BMW convertibles in the Port Clinton High School lot next to decrepit “junkers” in which homeless classmates live. The American dream has morphed into a split-screen American nightmare. And the story of this small town, and the divergent destinies of its children, turns out to be sadly representative of America.”

WBUR: Generation Stuck — “For the average twenty-something, it means feeling overqualified, underemployed, and overwhelmed. Stuck. Kat and Sam are two young people for whom the economic and psychological challenges of a generation have taken a very personal toll.”

Excerpt: “Coming Up Short” By Jennifer Silva

Excerpt: “Son Of A Gun” By Justin St. Germain

Excerpted from SON OF A GUN by Justin St. Germain.  Copyright © 2013 by Justin St. Germain. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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