Decades ago, the American dream inspired employees, offering the promise of the good life. But now, with jobs disappearing,
that dream has become a nightmare for the unemployed who see their joblessness as a personal - and shameful - failure.
Victor Tan Chen studies some of the unluckiest people in the US.
The sociology fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, researches car workers in cities like Detroit, hard-hit by the economic downturn and
by long-term trends in the US industrial base.
"But they used to be the luckiest men in America," Chen says.
Decades ago, car workers lived the quintessential American Dream: they pursued stable, well-paying, union-backed jobs, often straight out of high
school. They were able to build a middle-class life and provide the promise of something better to their children.
Times have changed.
Now jobs are scarce, and people feel shame in being unprepared for the current labour market.
"Unemployed auto workers, factory workers, they have a lot of regrets about the past," he said.
"A lot of workers are internalising, 'You succeed on your own merits and your own abilities, and if you fail, you're to blame'," Chen says.
He isn't alone in seeing this pattern.
Experts tell the BBC that job seekers in the US are now, more than ever, blaming themselves for being out of work, due in part to misconceptions about
what it takes to succeed in America.