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Marketplace Scratch Pad

The Next American Dream

Scott Jagow May 12, 2009

Today, Marketplace launches a special report, “The Next American Dream.” We’re looking at four pillars of the American Dream and how they’re changing — home ownership, education, opportunity and mobility and retirement.

On home ownership, reporter Sam Eaton examines how former middle class suburbanites moving into inner cities might change the dynamics of those cities. He talked to a Chicago couple who has sworn to never buy a home again:

ANDREW: I mean, I do think that we just, like, bought in to this whole thing. Like, you know, you make an investment and you make your payments and that’s what responsible people do. And you keep up your yard.

It’s not the way we look at things anymore. We live in a big city with thriving neighborhoods, and there’s lots of places that we can rent from. And someone else can do all those things, and we can pay them.

Sam also met 56-year-old Meredith McKenzie. She was a real estate agent in California, renting an upscale beach house. But when the market crashed, so did her dreams of any easy retirement. She hadn’t saved for a rainy day.

Instead of trying to recoup her losses and go back to her old lifestyle, McKenzie took a much lower-paying non-profit job and is now renting a one-room coverted garage. From the story:

MCKENZIE: I think after I moved in here the first month I actually one night sat down and cried and said, “What have I done? What have I done? Oh my goodness.”

She saw her life as a failure. But then something happened.

MCKENZIE: First of all, my stress level has gone down about 90 percent. Because when you’re stressing out trying to figure out how you’re going to make your nut of $6,500 a month while you’re watching your opportunity to make money drop, that’s extremely stressful. And all I can say is that, wow, once you get that debt relief and that stress off your back, it’s really liberating. Really liberating.

Our reporters are also writing about their own experiences. Sarah Gardner says she had an uncomfortable a-ha moment while doing an interview about reinventing your career:

I realize I’ve never had a serious sit-down with myself about this. After all, it’s easier to write about other people starting new careers than to tax my brain cells figuring out just what the heck I’d be good at other than radio. When you’ve been working in a profession for as long as I have (don’t ask), you get pretty comfortable. Too comfortable.

Learning new skills or trying something different means you just might be the most clueless one in the room. It means evenings doing homework instead of watching “30 Rock.” It means risking failure.

That definitely struck a chord with me. I feel like I’ve been rethinking everything lately.

What about you? What do you think the next American Dream should be?

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