The Resurgence of The American Dream: How the 21st Century Worker has Evolved with Entrepreneurship

Charlie Butler


In 1931, author James Truslow Adams published “The Epic of America” which is renowned for the first documented proclamation of the “American Dream” which spearheaded economic and social policy in the United States for the next eighty years, identifying free will as the catalyst that fuels the industrious fire that is North American innovation. From Reaganomics to Trump’s trade protectionism, it is undeniable that the ‘American Dream’ ideology remains firmly engrained in their population’s psyche.

The average workers desire for improvement has always been central to the overall economy’s success, but perhaps this desire was never duly rewarded. This is where previous generations have faltered in their “pursuit of happiness”, whereby the dual determinant stated by Adams, was to not only work hard to make a good life for oneself, but also to chase a prosperous society without self-indulgence in the form of “motor cars and high wages”. Although our ancestors may have succumbed to the alluring temptations of consumerism, there are strong signals that indicate the current crop may overcome such impulses.

The number of Americans working for themselves looks to triple, to 42 million people, by 2020 according to a self-employment study conducted over the last two years. More shockingly, 97% of independent workers reported no desire to return to traditional work following their pursuit of autonomy.

So where does this ambition stem from?
Well firstly, entrepreneurship has been democratised. Barriers to entry remain incredibly low, technology is innovating faster than governments can legislate, global connectivity has reached new heights, and the rise of peer-to-peer and crowdfunding platforms has made it easier than ever to monetize your skills and knowledge. However, although the external factors seem obvious, it is the internal influences that I believe are truly driving this change.

​As a student myself who grew up through the global economic crisis, the endless scandals, the unforgiving corruption and the general distaste for all things corporate, I think we have gained a subconscious distrust in authority. A belief that we can pave the path ourselves, a belief that we can work hard to create a better future for ourselves and those around us than previous generations did; and with technology acting as our enabling arm, why can’t we? This feeling of empowerment far outweighs any monetary rewards you can imagine. To put the power of this into context,  in 1950, CEO’s on average made twenty times their average worker. In 2018, C-Suite salaries and bonuses in the S&P 500 soared to an average of 361 times the average rank-and-field employee. Yet, only 13% of survey respondents said their career goal involved climbing the corporate ladder to reach the C-Suite, and by contrast, 67% of these respondents claimed ‘starting their own business’ was their primary ambition. If this doesn’t encompass “a dream of social order in which each man and woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable”, I don’t know what does.

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