Henry: Gen Z is reshaping a future without the American dream


Collegian | Dylan Tusinski

Brendan Henry, Collegian Columnist

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

The term “American dream” can hold many different meanings to each individual living in America. For some, it is the ability to achieve financial prosperity no matter the person’s ethnicity or background, and for others, it is simply the ability to live a better life in a society rich with opportunity. Unfortunately for Generation Z — those born in the late 1990s or early 2000s — this idea of a heightened lifestyle is becoming much harder to achieve.


Many of us have heard someone from the baby-boom generation claim that people could afford a car and a home on a single income if they worked hard enough. The main issue with this claim is that America simply does not work like that anymore.

Economic prosperity is increasingly difficult to find for many members of Gen Z, as the federal minimum wage has not increased since 2009. Inflation over the course of a little over a decade has rapidly increased, and the government has failed to truly acknowledge this in any meaningful way.

“Hope is a difficult thing to have when the cards are so visibly stacked against you. Wages are low, costs are high and the people who hold power could not care less about it.”

The median income for a Fort Collins resident was $29,477 as of 2019, and the average cost of rent was $1,735 per month as of 2021. That is $20,820 a year for rent, leaving the average person with $8,657 to pay for groceries, utilities, gas and other miscellaneous and unexpected expenses.

But we’re still told that with hard work and a college education, you can start raking in the cash, right?

No, not usually. The average student at Colorado State University will make around $37,700 a year six years after graduating. Sure, that is almost $10,000 more than the median income in Fort Collins, but it is still a whole lot of work for several years with little improvement in earnings. Those are some disheartening statistics.

Now more than ever, it is undesirable to take a job in fields previously known to be prestigious, such as the medical field, as some employees make less than a shelf stocker at Target. On top of that, medical employees are still getting mistreated in the continuing wake of COVID-19. There are fewer incentives for taking on jobs that can save lives than there are for working at a grocery store.

Wealth inequality is on the rise as the rich get richer and the poor remain poor. Billionaires continue to push away from the common individual, making more and more while employee wages remain stagnant. Watching billionaire Amazon founder Jeff Bezos launch himself into space for fun is pretty much a punch in the gut to Gen Zers just trying to pay rent.

The American dream is a difficult concept to really understand today. Not only are there economic issues, there are also major social issues at play, such as the rise of hate groups and the politicizing of a deadly pandemic. Social media outlets like Facebook are now a cesspool for these radical ideologies and misinformation.

To add insult to injury for a generation seeking to make it in America, COVID-19 has now been a part of everyone’s lives since 2020. Young adulthood is an extremely important and developmental stage in life, and the pandemic has affected the mental health of and limited opportunities for Gen Z.


Hope is a difficult thing to have when the cards are so visibly stacked against you. Wages are low, costs are high and the people who hold power could not care less about it.

Maybe one day Gen Z will have a taste of the so-called American dream, but the America we have today is not at all forgiving. The late comedian George Carlin put it best when he said, “It’s called the American dream ’cause you have to be asleep to believe it.”

Reach Brendan Henry at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @BrendanHenryRMC.