During a quick run to Hannaford one morning last week to cure my craving for chocolate-covered almonds, I was struck by an unexpected realization regarding the changing American Dream.

While standing in the express checkout line, I overheard two women behind me discussing their shared passion for baking. However, the conversation quickly turned a more pressing issue.

One of the ladies spoke about her enjoyment of cookie-baking at work. With this comment, their shared passion for baking was quickly overshadowed, since one lady was employed and the other was not.

This distinction personified a social debate, creating a divide that I had not understood until this moment. It became clear that regardless of each woman's love of cookies, both now had drawn a final judgment about the other that surpassed their affection for baking.

This moment helped me gain a better understanding of what is dividing our country as the midterm elections rapidly draw closer. The grocery line experience highlighted how those who are unemployed can't stand anyone that is employed.

I was taken aback by this prospect and, I must admit, slightly horrified. I had never considered that these dire economic times would result in social boundaries. Of the seven deadly sins, everyone experiences envy, but envy in America is not usually expressed in the form of jealousy. Rather, envy pushes us to improve ourselves—the conception of the American Dream.

The two ladies at Hannaford personified not only the consequences of the recession, but also a glass-half-empty mindset for the future. Our cynicism is creating a further divide between the people who still hold on to the American Dream, and those who only see it as sand slipping through their fingers.

Employed Americans rush out to work every day, discussing how great their weekend was while running around with a get-to-my-next-appointment attitude. The five-minute interaction in the express line at Hannaford showed me that unemployed people—who struggle to find steady work and are forced to live paycheck to paycheck—probably would love nothing more than to "accidently" spill an iced coffee over these mid-morning go-getters.

Where did this attitude come from? Was it envy of those who live comfortably or disregard for the situation of the less fortunate? No, it seems beyond that; it was on the level of social class. This was no personal grudge, but a representation of majority opinion—the opinion of the millions who feel their livelihoods threatened by a poor economy and high unemployment rates.

Since when did Americans show jealousy toward that which they hope to achieve? When did we start fearing that our children will not enjoy a better quality of life than our own generation? This is not the American Dream that our ancestors imagined, the America that F. Scott Fitzgerald envisioned in "The Great Gatsby."

To me, this loss of what made America such an idealized place in the past is created in part by the disappearance of the class that has defined America—the middle class. The middle class has always been the class of dreamers, where people lived comfortably and enjoyed the prospect of someday becoming extraordinary.

The recent economic downturn has threatened the existence of the middle class. Now we see either those who are employed and successful, or those who are simply getting by with the sacrifices they are forced to make. Comfort is no longer a defining characteristic of the American middle class, and the middle class is becoming polarized toward the extremes.

Belief in creating a better life for our children is a defining characteristic of America. This central belief is what creates opportunity in this country, but I think we are losing it. Strength in the middle class paves the way for American influence abroad through the confidence that it personifies. How can we stop the deterioration of the American attitude of the middle class, the belief in the American Dream?

Perhaps I am simply overanalyzing a quick conversation between two women who really enjoyed baking. Yet it was significant that each lady represented a different attitude in response to their own financial situation.

We need a unified attitude of hope and confidence to inspire success, not despair. I just hope Americans realize this before it is too late.

Sage Santangelo is a member of the Class of 2012.