Overworked, Underpaid, Underappreciated:
The New American Dream
Part I: Laments of a Former Housewife
Like most people of my generation, I grew up watching wholesome American shows like “Leave it to Beaver” and “The Brady Bunch,” shows that portrayed a husband who was the bread-winner and a wife who took care of the house and had time to actually raise her children. The husband had little more than a high-school diploma and a few college courses under his belt, mostly just a ‘certificate of completion’ for some vocational studies. The only people who had anything above an Associate Degree were the doctors and lawyers. The men could graduate from high school at the age of 18, spend a year to eighteen months in college, and have a decent paying entry-level position in a corporate business by the time they were old enough to drink alcohol. By his mid-twenties he had worked his way up the corporate ladder and is now making enough money to afford a wife, two family vehicles, a two-story home with a white picket fence in a lovely suburb, all on his own and without a second income.
Some say this was just Hollywood glamour, but after speaking with countless people over the last few months, I have come to realize that the lifestyle portrayed by “Leave it to Beaver” actually was the normal American life for a huge chunk of the population. The man earned enough money without any type of special degree to afford a nice home, a decent vehicle, put food on the table and clothes on his children’s backs, and the wife was able to stay at home and raise her own children and be there in the afternoons when they got home from school to help them with their homework and listen to their problems. They were not so busy trying to work and make enough money to make ends meet that they could not listen to what their children were trying to tell them was wrong in their lives, or that they were having trouble with their homework or a teacher or a bully at school. Back then, a man could easily provide for his family and both parents were there for their children when they were needed. They were not so preoccupied with trying to pay their $2000/month mortgage on their run-down 900 square foot mistake that they could not take out an hour a day to help their kids with their homework. They did not stay up half the night worrying how they were going to put food on the table or wonder when their home was going to get foreclosed on or which utility was going to be cut off next or if the bank would send someone to repossess their car. Single parents were not teaching their children how to live off the welfare system and filling their heads full of nonsense about how they were owed everything in life and should not have to work for it. Families were just that, families, with a wife and a husband and kids. They worked hard, were taught manners and the value of a dollar. They had time to discuss world issues and took pride in their jobs.
I feel that I was somehow lied to as a child, allowed to have my head filled with a dream that no longer exists. I always felt that a woman working should have been a choice that she could make, not a necessity that our worn-out economy has forced upon us. A two-income family should not be the norm, a necessity to make ends meet, the only way that a family can keep food on the table. And if two incomes are brought into a household, it should not take both incomes just to keep a roof over your head and food on the table.
Two incomes should denote excessiveness, the $250,000 home and BMW sitting in the driveway, not a 75-year-old house full of termites and water damage and two fifteen-year old cars that are barely working and children dressed in rummage sale clothes. Yet this is exactly what the American dream, and the American population, has been reduced to. Two people working a full-time job and sometimes even a part-time job, just to keep marked-down clearance meat in their children’s stomachs, rummage sale clothes on their backs, the electricity on so they don’t freeze to death in the winter, and a car that may or may not crank when they get in it to go to their job in the morning.
In days gone by, the American dream was to get married, buy a home, have children, and retire by the age of 55 and spend the next ten to twenty years of your twilight years touring the country and seeing all the wonders that you put off to care for and raise your family. These days marriage is something that is avoided at all costs, children are seen as a popularized accessory rather than a family member, and home is wherever the rent is cheapest this month. People are once again being forced to be nomads, wandering around their cities or states looking for a job that pays well enough to keep food on the table and what passes as a home these days. In the seventies, a good babysitter was your very responsible seventeen year old next-door neighbor who would watch your kids all weekend to earn enough money to buy a few movie tickets and popcorn and maybe pizza beforehand. Now having someone watch your children is big business, and with any big business comes corruption and many plans on how to screw the little guy out of their hard-earned money but no real plan on how they can make their business successful with legitimate business practices.
For all intents and purposes, the American Dream is changing, and perhaps not for the better.
Up next: Part II; The New American Dream: Corporate Corruption & Personal Bankruptcy