Millennials’ responsibility: Economic inequality and the American dream

By Elizabeth Wallace

Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr)
(Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr)

From Occupy Wall Street to the Bernie Sanders campaign, Americans have embraced recent efforts to shed light on economic inequality. However, the success of economic reform lies in the hands of our generation, a generation CBS News referred to as “narcissistic praise hounds.”

To millennials, the threat of terrorism always existed, the Internet always accompanied a research paper, and the Cold War was taught in history class, not lived. We are a generation ‘with the world at our fingertips,’ a generation that religiously watches “Friends” and uses social media multiple times a day. But, do we have access to the American Dream?

In “The Epic of America” James Truslow Adams defines the American Dream: “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone…It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

For the first time, the American Dream is in jeopardy. As inequality among the classes increases, the chance of finding success in the country thousands have flocked to in order to escape poverty, famine and persecution severely decreases.

As Time’s Assistant Managing Editor Rana Foroohar wrote, “the conventional wisdom…has always been that inequality was the price of growth.” Today, this conventional wisdom is shifting. As with many other aspects of society, millennials are causing the foundation upon which this belief was founded to shake.

In Iowa, by a margin of six to one, millennials voted for Bernie Sanders. By far, Sanders’ strongest support group, a majority of young voters back the self-proclaimed socialist. Throughout the campaign, Sanders’ repeated rhetoric has consisted of limiting, if not dismantling completely, the power of the nation’s one percent.

Why has this rhetoric proved so effective? Well, Americans are beginning to recognize the importance of our quickly escalating economic inequality. Sanders’ lofty policy proposals promise to create change, and that promise has struck a chord with young adults.

However, Sanders isn’t the only candidate to propose a solution to growing inequality. In fact, Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump have outlined potential solutions to combat the epidemic of economic inequality. In this election, each candidate has acknowledged and suggested reforms to strengthen the middle class.

Regardless of which candidate gets elected, inequality in America is an issue that must be addressed sooner rather than later. According to Pew Research citing University of California Berkeley Economics Professor Emmanuel Saez, “U.S. income inequality has been increasing steadily since the 1970s, and now has reached levels not seen since 1928.”

If we are to save the American Dream, millennials must step up to the plate to create realistic, effective policies that will combat inequality.

Elizabeth Wallace is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected]