Teenagers are losing confidence in the American dream

What a difference 15 years makes. In the 1990s, those loosed upon the world after high-school graduation faced a booming economy and relatively sunny job prospects; more recently, high-school and college graduates have faced less hospitable conditions. A study published recently in the Journal of Poverty juxtaposes adolescents’ perceptions from those two eras, and the results, while qualitative and limited by their small sample size, suggest that young Americans’ outlook on social mobility has gotten bleaker. (The study’s findings align with a more-expansive survey of young people suggesting an erosion of confidence in the American Dream.)

The study’s authors, Carol Hostetter, Sabrina Williamson Sullenberger, and Leila Wood, observe that the palpable faith in meritocracy in the 90s faded, making way in the 2010s for a belief in what they call “The American Dream 2.0.” “In this version of the American Dream, anyone can go to college IF they have the resources, are ok about going into debt, can somehow get the coveted scholarship, are willing to go to community college, or come from a family of means,” they write. The new normal appears to be meritocracy with an asterisk.