A new study reveals that remote work is responsible for a spike in housing costs across the country, accounting for more than half of the total increase in prices after the pandemic.
The Great Reshuffling shows no signs of slowing down, making some people question the myth of the American Dream. Where is it going? Was it ever really there?
What makes America? Is it freedom, wealth, social mobility, or equality for all? The lack of a central definition gives life to this myth. Notions of liberty may be discussed in high school classrooms, but what real Americans want is more tangible: a roof over their heads, job security, a homogenous family, and a white picket fence, but only if that fence isn't too expensive.
The American Dream is as malleable as the people who make up our country; right now, that dream is shifting, and a generation is trying to keep up.
Remote Work & the Housing Market
As Americans navigate the aftershock of the Covid-19 pandemic, battling inflation, violence, and new viruses, the housing market is not immune to crisis. Some evidence suggests that a shift to remote work has led to higher home prices.
“The shift to remote work explains over one-half of the 23.8% national house price increase,” according to John A. Mondragon and Johannes Wieland in their new study for the National Bureau of Economic Research.
While most American businesses went remote during the national shutdown, many decided to stay at home even after the restrictions eased up across the country. 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs last year, choosing instead to pursue making money through freelancing work. We can now analyze the effect this push for remote work has on our country, particularly in the housing market.
“We've seen what we called the ‘Great Reshuffling' that has contributed to demand for housing nationwide,” says Chris Glynn, the senior managing economist at Zillow.
Mondragon and Wieland's research shows that the shift to remote work raised U.S. house prices by 15.1%. Remote work means people can leave densely populated cities in favor of temperate climates, more space, and a better quality of life.
A Dream Perpetually Deferred
With remote work leading to higher home prices in a country plagued by inflation, many Americans question the American Dream's basic pillars. Does it still exist anymore? Did it ever? And will I ever achieve it?
Twitter is ablaze with critiques on the myth of the American Dream as many Americans experience disillusionment. Twitter user @1987Tucson writes, “Hedge funds buying up the housing market to create a generation of renters is more anti-American than any brutal dictator or communist regime.”
A global pandemic that could have brought everyone together instead may have revealed just how wide the gap is between the rich and poor.
Another frustrated American tweeted, “being limited on healthcare due to costs – even while having insurance – and knowing you need to see a therapist really [is] the American dream. #americandream.”
“The American Dream has always been about the prospect of success, but 100 years ago, the phrase meant the opposite of what it does now,” explains Sarah Churchwell, the author of Behold America. “The original “American Dream” was not a dream of individual wealth; it was a dream of equality, justice, and democracy for the nation.”
Searching for a New Optimism
“The American Dream isn't sustainable,” Zach Goldstein, the CEO and founder of Public Rec told us. While Zach may be critical of the American Dream, he doesn't see the rise in remote work as a hindrance. Instead, he considers remote work to be an ‘access point.' “The traditional work model was never sustainable enough to withstand the test and changes of time,” he explains.
If remote work allows Americans to spread out, to leave harsh cities in favor of pleasant temperatures and roomier homes, the rise in housing prices might only be a temporary setback for a more advantageous arrangement.
Some business leaders see the American Dream as a stale concept needing a reboot.
Remote work is “revamping the concept that was muddled,” Eyal Pasternak told us. “Remote work promotes equality,” he believes. This new model could eliminate biases that prevent traditionally marginalized groups from getting jobs.
Remote work speaks to the adaptability and resiliency of the American workforce, and its impact on the housing market will continue to be studied as the world of Zoom calls, Slack message boards, and side jobs from home become a permanent fixture of daily life.
“This is the only country in the world which experiences this constant and repeated rebirth,” said President Woodrow Wilson in a 1915 address to a group of newly naturalized citizens in Philadelphia. “America was created to unite mankind by those passions which lift and not by the passions which separate and debase,” he said. For Wilson, the American Dream was a simple concept of equality and regard for our fellow man.
He defines the American Dream as “the spirit of hope, the spirit of liberty, and the spirit of justice.”
There is no denying we are in flux, but a little hope goes a long way. A dream is born of hope, and despite the rising costs of homes across the country, remote work seems to be a conduit for a new American Dream rather than a destructive force. History will tell us if we are right.
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Justin McDevitt is a playwright and essayist from New York City. His latest play HAUNT ME had its first public reading at Theater for the New City in September. He is a contributor for RUE MORGUE where he lends a queer eye to horror cinema in his column STAB ME GENTLY.