Gen Z Is Not Impressed With America

Gen Zers are not as impressed with America as previous generations once were. 

Generation Z or “Gen Z” refers to the youngest generation, born in 1996 or later, and accounts for 67.17 million Americans, or about 20% of the U.S. population. Only 14% of Gen Zers say that the United States is better than all other countries, according to the survey. By comparison, 20% of Gen Xers, 30% of Baby Boomers, and 45% of the Silent Generation would say the same. 

Samantha Diaz, a senior at American University, studying international economics, says that the United States falls short on many fronts. 

The first few examples that came to mind for Diaz are the issues of history, race, and memory. For Diaz, the fact that the U.S. celebrates Christopher Columbus in the form of a federal holiday, and puts Andrew Jackson on our currency, demonstrates how the U.S. cherry-picks certain parts of its history, while conveniently ignoring the unsavory parts.  

On the issue of race and identity, Diaz looks at how countries like Germany have handled their history of hate and systemic oppression against a group of people, compared to the United States. She says that the way that many Americans take pride in and identify with the Confederacy troubles her. “Germany has done the opposite in censoring and not holding on to the memory of Nazis,” Diaz says. 

As an international economics major, she also can’t help but evaluate the American economy and spending on an international scale. For Diaz, the metric for greatness in a country is “how the government and state allocate their resources for their citizens.” She points to social welfare programs for Americans as a major shortcoming of the United States, especially when compared to European countries. This idea of the American dream or “lifting yourself up by the bootstraps” simply cannot be applied to everyone, Diaz says. 

On the opposite side, Jonathan Olsen, a sophomore at Baruch College, says that in many European countries, social welfare discourages individual advancement and assimilation. Olsen says that assimilation in the U.S. is “almost culturally enforced” so that immigrants may become "Americanized" and participate in the American economy. With social welfare, there is less of an incentive for immigrants to start new businesses, Olsen says. 

While studies by the United States Small Business Administration have shown that immigrants are most likely to start and own small businesses in the U.S., the underlying factors that cause this are varied. For Olsen, it all comes down to the infectious American “entrepreneurial spirit” that is instilled in those that have immigrated to the U.S. 

“Europe offers a modern way of life that is easy to live. In the U.S., you can have that same standard of living, but even better,” Olsen said. “Our country is built in a way that emphasizes entrepreneurial spirit and hard work. We are able to maintain this identity while having a higher standard of living.” 

Another Gen Zer who falls into that 14% of respondents who say that the United States is better than all other countries, is Daniel Yang, a freshman at the University of Ottawa, Canada. He says that the ideas of freedom, human rights, and democracy that founded the U.S. are what makes it better than all other countries. Yang says he views the U.S., historically, as the protector of a liberal order, in pushing for such institutions as NATO, the UN, and helping lift countries from devastation, such as Europe after World War II. 

Yang, a first-generation Canadian of Chinese background, has studied the effect that U.S. alliances have had on the development of Asian states. “Through an alliance with the U.S., these states are able to experience economic miracles,” Yang says.

Many Gen Zers, like Diaz, pointed to Europe as having many examples of countries she would consider better than the U.S. Yang says that these states are only able to exist as they do because of the United States. “Without the U.S., we wouldn’t see the constitutional monarchies and social democracies [of the world]” he says. 

However, he is not blind to the shortcomings of the U.S. in identifying institutional racism as an area needing improvement. Yang says that “when instances of racism happen, the U.S. is engaging in hypocrisy and weakens itself.” 

Olsen, a self-identified conservative and nationalist, also agreed that the U.S. is flawed in many aspects. Olsen called it “insanely unfair” that President Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes in 2017, attributing this to a tax system that allows wealthy corporations and private citizens to dodge taxes while simultaneously giving them subsidies. 

While Gen Zers may not have completely bought into the success of the United States, they continue to navigate their ever-changing world with a host of new perspectives.