‘The American Dream For the Average Man Doesn’t Exist Any More’

Although your average Wall Street “expert” thinks it’s only a matter of time before things return to normal (whatever that is), anybody with half a brain who has been paying even the slightest bit of attention can see that the game has changed.

In fact, all you have to do is sample a few of the conversations and ruminations swirling around us in today’s post-financial-crisis world to know that the good old days aren’t coming back anytime soon — if ever.

In “American Dream Faces Harsh New Reality, “ KUNC (Community Radio of Northern Colorado) we get a sense of just how much perspectives have changed — and are changing — in a country that has long been seen as the land of opportunity and the leader of the free world.

The American Dream is a crucial thread in this country’s tapestry, woven through politics, music and culture.

Though the phrase has different meanings to different people, it suggests an underlying belief that hard work pays off and that the next generation will have a better life than the previous generation.

But three years after the worst recession in almost a century, the American Dream now feels in jeopardy to many.

The town of Lorain, Ohio, used to embody this dream. It was a place where you could get a good job, raise a family and comfortably retire.

“Now you can see what it is. Nothing,” says John Beribak. “The shipyards are gone, the Ford plant is gone, the steel plant is gone.” His voice cracks as he describes the town he’s lived in his whole life.

“I mean, I grew up across the street from the steel plant when there was 15,000 people working there,” he says. “My dad worked there. I worked there when I got out of the Air Force. It’s just sad.”

Uniquely American

The American Dream is an implicit contract that says if you play by the rules, you’ll move ahead. It’s a faith that is almost unique to this country, says Michael Dimock of the Pew Research Center.

“When Germans or French are asked the same questions about whether it’s within all of our power to get ahead, or whether our success is really determined by forces outside our control, most German and French respondents say, ‘No, success is really beyond our control,’ ” Dimock says.

In the wake of the recession, that sentiment is now growing in this country.

“I think the American Dream for the average man doesn’t exist any more,” retiree Linden Strandberg says on a recent visit to the Smithsonian American History museum in Washington, D.C.