The new American Dream is just as unattainable as the old one

In the 1958 episode of Leave It to Beaver called “The Bank Account,” Ward Cleaver gets Wally and Beaver a piggy bank, seeding it with 75¢. Ward explains, “You’re going to go to college one of these days, and you’ll find that money will come in mighty handy then.”

Leave It to Beaver shaped the American Dream: Dad goes to work, mom makes dinner, the family saves money, and the kids—without exception—go to college. It’s a comfortable story, and for the white, middle-class boomers that grew up watching, it became a template for their lives. Americans valued steady employment and the concept of living without much financial risk. The daily grind of work was the price to pay for a comfortable and predictable retirement.

This story has been passed down through several generations, with a basic formula for success. If you work hard and save money, you can have enough for your kids to then work hard and save money; the end game for one generation is golfing, and for the next, to repeat the cycle.


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