Earlier this year, a Washington Post headline read “Is the American Dead?” New polling may suggest it’s not only alive, but still attainable.
In June, a CNN poll found that 63 percent of Americans believe their kids will be worse off than they are – a stunning reversal from CNN data at the end of the last century (1999)– when two thirds of Americans predicted that children would grow up to have it better than their parents. That touched off a host of commentaries and criticisms like “The American Dream is Dead, and Good Riddance,” “The American Dream is Out of Reach,” and “The American Dream: Is It Slipping Away?”
A new Fox News poll provides another perspective. When asked “However you define it, do you believe you personally have achieved the American Dream, you’re on your way to achieving it, or do you feel the American Dream is out of reach for you?” 33 percent of Americans said they achieved it and 39 percent said they are on the way to achieving it. When looking at the age ranges, not too surprisingly, most of those over 55 years have achieved the American Dream compared to those under 55 who are largely working on it. However, across all age ranges about a quarter have given up hope or think it’s out of reach.
For 25 percent of Americans, the American Dream is out of reach and 3 percent don’t know. Of respondents, nearly two out of three (59 percent) think life for their generation is better than their parents’ generation, while 35 percent say it’s worse off. Yet, according to this particular poll, 60 percent think life for the next generation of Americans will be worse than life today with those in the 35-54 age range being especially pessimistic -confirming the CNN poll from June of this year.
Fox News reports:
Most Americans believe they have achieved the American Dream — or will eventually. And that they’re better off than their parents. However, most say the next generation will be worse off, according to a Fox News poll released Thursday.
“Americans tend to be very optimistic about the future,” says Republican pollster Daron Shaw, who conducts the Fox News poll with Democratic pollster Chris Anderson. “So these findings are not only unusual, but may also indicate a watershed shift in our expectations as a country.”
The shift is driven mainly by a near 20-point drop in optimism among Democrats: in 2012, 59 percent thought life for the next generation would be better. While that’s down to 40 percent today, Democrats are still much more likely than Republicans (23 percent) and independents (25 percent) to be optimistic about life for the next generation.
What defines the American Dream? For 61 percent of voters, graduating from college is important to achieving it. Seventy-four percent consider having a successful career a big part of it. Raising a family is seen as important to the dream for 83 percent of voters.
So it’s not surprising that college graduates (42 percent) are much more likely than those without a degree (26 percent) to say they are living the dream.
Same thing on income: those in households earning $100,000 or more annually are almost twice as likely as those earning less than that to say they have achieved the dream (51 percent vs. 26 percent).
What these poll results reflect is that increasingly, the American Dream is only within reach of those who are educated and thus have higher earning potential. That doesn't mean if you hold no degree, you won't be successful. It does make the case though for educating our young people to be able to take advantage of opportunities.
This growing disparity creates an opportunity for those with political motives to exploit the plight of those without degrees or lower wage earners to support liberal public policies such as higher minimum wages and redistribution of wealth through taxes. However, those policies make more people worse off rather than a few better.
We need our economy to grow robustly and for small business to have a chance at success. Higher taxes that penalize those working their way up and strangling government regulations that stifle innovation and entrepreneurship are contributors to skepticism about achieving the American Dream. Instead exploiting the “them versus us” dichotomy, we all need to work together to preserve for future generations that dream that inspires us all to achieve a brighter future.