When people talk about the American Dream, it is usually discussed in decidedly materialistic terms – owning a home, creating a better standard of living for our children, or enjoying the annual vacation some place warm. Two years ago, ABC News polling czar, Gary Langer, said we were witnessing "no less than a diminution of the American dream" after polls showed that Americans were spending less on things like dining out, taking vacations and buying cars. After looking up the word “diminution” (when something is getting smaller), it’s hard to deny that fewer Americans are “livin’ the dream.” In fact, consumer confidence figures have been in the cellar for the longest period since this critical economic indicator was created. As a result, most commentators aren’t as polite as Mr. Langer, gleefully declaring that the American dream is dead. But is spending the metric by which we measure our happiness as a nation?
Fortunately, we’re not that shallow. I attended a City Club of Cleveland event last week that featured Gallup CEO, Jim Clifton. Every day, Gallup researchers poll thousands of people in more than 120 countries to learn what people think and feel. As a result, Mr. Clifton is one of the few people in the world that can truly tell you what people care about in America today. According to Clifton, the American Dream was never about material things. Throughout the post-war era, Americans consistently cared most about having a family, a god to pray to, world peace and freedom. Whew, we’re not all trying to keep up with the Kardashians. His assessment, however, is that the American Dream has definitely changed. Today, Americans care most about something much more basic: having a good job.
The numbers explain this shift. The official unemployment rate in the United States stands at 9.2%. It is important to note, however, that this figure includes those that are working, but not in jobs that they want. It also doesn’t include people that want a job but have stopped looking for one. Therefore real unemployment is something closer to 20%. Said differently, there are more than 30 million people either not working or working in jobs they don’t like. Adding to the angst, today’s workers want more from their jobs than their predecessors – engagement, impact and personal growth opportunities – raising the bar on what we define as a “good” job.
Bottom line: one in five American workers does not have that one thing that is most important to them—a good job.
As if the stakes weren’t high enough already, it seems that saving the American Dream can be added to our entrepreneurs’ to-do lists. That’s because high growth companies create all new jobs. Put simply, entrepreneurs take ideas and turn them into businesses that make things customers want. This creates jobs for people to design, sell and ship these things. As a recruiter for startups, I get to see the results of Northeast Ohio’s entrepreneurs up close and personal. Mobile payments solution provider, Sparkbase, had ten employees a year ago, mostly software developers. Today, Sparkbase has quadrupled its headcount to nearly 40 associates that include client services, marketing, product management and sales professionals. JumpStart portfolio newcomer, Segmint, has six open positions at present. There are over 60 jobs currently available with our startups and more are being added every day. We’ve got a long way to go before 30 million Americans are back to work, but our region’s entrepreneurs are doing their part to turn back the diminution of the American Dream.
Robert Hatta is the Vice President of Entrepreneurial Talent for JumpStart Ventures. He has worked at several startup companies in Northeast Ohio and Silicon Valley, as well as other high growth, technology companies across the U.S. and Europe. Through these experiences, Robert has gained an extensive understanding of the culture and needs of high growth companies with a particular focus on talent.