Last week I wrote about the optimistic optimism index, the new Small Business Success Index. The SBSI indicated that small businesses are succeeding despite the economic downturn.
But for the country as a whole, there’s a slightly different view. Such, anyway, are the findings of the 2009 MetLife Study of the American Dream (our illustration is borrowed from the report; Snoopy is, of course, Met's long-time mascot). It’s the third year that Met has done the study, and there have been substantial changes since in the way the American Dream is this very short amount of time.
The inaugural MetLife study in 2007 revealed that an insatiable hunger and persistent pressure to consume--to buy more and better material possessions. But now, two short years later, it’s a different story. The American Dream is still alive. It’s just revised and put on hold.
Here are a few of the study’s significant findings:
1. Americans are beginning to reevaluate their priorities. While the dream is still defined first and foremost by financial security, it now includes a greater emphasis on personal relationships.
2. Work is the linchpin holding the Dream together. While job mobility had previously been seen as a means to greater financial compensation and career growth, job stability, rather than mobility, is now a major concern for many Americans.
3. Americans are putting a higher premium on protection and stability with concerns about job loss affecting most of them. This is a major change in the way Americans are thinking about creating and protecting their financial futures.
4. Generations X and Y, those born between 1965-1978 and 1979-1991 respectively, have been particularly hit hard by job loss. Yet they remain optimistic about their long-term ability to achieve the Dream.
5. Many of the changes in behavior exhibited by respondents in the MetLife study may be rooted in economic necessity. It’s not clear whether the findings represent a permanent return to the values that were thought to comprise the traditional American Dream, or whether there will be a return to the finding of the original study in 2007--the emphasis on consumerism.
(Ed.: A long, well-thought-out essay in this month's Vanity Fair actually described the current state of the Dream along much the same lines as Met has more empirically found it.)
The American Dream is alive and well, but the definition is very different. You can get a better understanding of the changes that have taken place and their profound implications by going here and downloading the entire 2009 MetLife Study of the American Dream.
Jerry Kalish is founder and President of National Benefit Services, Inc., a Chicago-based employee benefit consulting and administrative firm that serves private-held companies, publicly traded companies, and public sector employers. He blogs at The Retirement Plan Blog and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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