Back in 2009 at Bill Moyers Journal, we asked all our guests to share with us their vision of the future of the American dream. We’ve followed up with some of those guests and they’ve shared their thoughts with us on where the American dream stands today. Now we’ve heard from some readers and want to share their stories with you. Our first story is from C. Anderson in Oregon.
I am a college-educated professional in high tech, so I make more than the average for salary. I live in a modest two-bedroom townhouse outside of Portland, Oregon. I chose my home for the school district.
My American dream has changed a lot. It used to be the house on the hill, new cars every few years and traveling on vacations in retirement. Now it’s a steady job and enough money to save for retirement and not saddle my son with tons of student loan debt. I don’t see any of these three dreams happening.
With the gig economy, I have had problems getting full-time work. With full-time works comes health and retirement benefits subsidized by your employer. Every time I change jobs and health care plans, I have to start my deductible again. I also pay the full cost of health care, and I don’t get the employer-subsidized one.
I was just laid off from a full-time job I had for three years. Now I pay almost $600 a month for COBRA and nothing is going into retirement. I am currently job hunting.
Most contract gigs don’t give retirement and they don’t help pay for health insurance. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has helped with getting good health insurance. Several times I had to turn down work before the ACA because the health insurance was so bad. One topped you out at $25,000 a year. Period. It was sham insurance, not real health insurance.
I am 56 years old and I feel I should be so much further along to my retirement goals and my son’s college costs. I feel like I am going to work till the day I die.
I am frugal. I drive a 17-year-old car, I use coupons to purchase groceries, I don’t shop till I drop and I don’t purchase anything I can’t pay cash for. I don’t eat out often and don’t get designer coffee every day or even every week. I try not to purchase anything that is not on sale or that I don’t have a coupon for.
I have no debt except my mortgage, and have a good FICO score. I have done all of the things I am supposed to do financially. Yet one bad illness for myself or my son will topple my house of cards.
Health care costs (or the potential of them) keep me up at night. I am healthy and so is my son… now. But at 3 1/2 he came down with a rare kidney disease. He responded great to medication and was only hospitalized once. I have had dental issues that will cost tens of thousands of dollars to fix. Yet dental programs top you out at $1,500 a year. The rest is out-of-pocket, or you do without.
I know that one illness could wipe out my entire life’s work and savings and leave me destitute. I have no real protection because in the gig economy, long-term disability is not offered to gig workers.
I know that because of my income, my 15-year-old son will not be offered need-based scholarships for college. I make too much for him to qualify, but not enough for me to shell out $20,000 every year for four years of college. If I could afford that, I would not be driving a 17-year-old car.
I know that I am more fortunate than others. I can pay all my bills and afford food for my table. I do put into retirement when it’s offered. I am not living paycheck to paycheck.
I just get sad sometimes knowing that I will not be able to retire. I will not be able to travel like I had hoped to. I will not have retirement years to volunteer. I do volunteer now, but I would love to do it more.
This is how my American dream changed, and I fear none of my dreams will every come true.
— C. Anderson, Oregon