A Dream Downsized

Many families are shrinking their demands on the American Dream as job prospects dry up. As one woman told Minnesota Women’s Press, a little stability is all she’s seeking. “My new American Dream,” writes Joan Riederer, who has subsisted on temp work for two years while applying for more than 300 positions, “is to have a job with benefits.” Her modest demands come four years into her family’s financial struggles, which started with her husband being laid off after 24 years at an IT consulting company. Mr. Riederer moved to New York, hoping a new job there would support his wife and daughter in Minnesota until he could return. They’re still waiting. In the meantime, the family meets twice a year, “maybe less now that airfares are rising,” writes Joan. Because they still have one IRA–they cashed in the others to cover expenses–the family does not qualify for subsidized healthcare. “I have spent thousands of dollars over the past year alone for medical and dental care,” writes Joan.

 “I feel my years slipping away and I have so much I still want to do,” she writes. “I fear there are many more people with this same story–the one the president doesn’t tell in his employment figures.”

Joan is right that many Americans are struggling to find permanent work. And for those with less financial security than the Riederers, times are, unsurprisingly, even tougher. Today’s Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune reports a 27 percent increase from 2007 in homeless families seeking help from Hennepin County, where Minneapolis is located. “People who work with the homeless say the increase is driven by people losing their jobs, foreclosures on apartment buildings that displace renters, and the effects of welfare reform that has recipients reaching the end of their 60-month lifetime limit on cash assistance,” writes the Star Tribune. In these circumstances, the poor may be pitted against struggling members of the middle class, according to the Star Tribune, people much like the Riederers: “When foreclosed apartments put poor people on the street and they begin looking for a new apartment, they may find themselves competing with people who once owned homes.”

For more on this topic, see “Reimagining the American Dream” in the May/June Utne Reader.

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