Americans Find the Dream Harder to Achieve

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Cincinnati Enquirer
By: Greg Korte
March 14, 2010

Americans believe the American Dream is in trouble: 60 percent say the dream is harder to achieve for them than it was for their parents, and 68 percent say it will be even more difficult for their children.

That's the conclusion of the inaugural survey of the Xavier University Institute for Politics and the American Dream, which polled 1,022 people nationally about their attitudes on this uniquely American idea.

 

"That's a time-honored core belief that we've had for ourselves as Americans - that the next generation will have it better than we did," said Mike Ford, the veteran Democratic political operative who became the founding director of the institute in 2008. "And that's just not there."

 

One finding that surprised the pollsters: Immigrants and African-Americans view the American Dream more positively than other groups.

 

"The people who would have reason economically - because every statistic shows they're not as well off - to be pessimistic, it's interesting that those are the groups that are even more optimistic about the dream," said Madison, Wis., pollster Paul Maslin.

 

Midwesterners, on the other hand, were the most disheartened.

 

While two-thirds of people in other regions believe they have more control over their destiny than people did in the past, only half of those in industrial Midwestern states felt that way.

 

People in those states - Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin - were also more likely to define the American Dream in terms of jobs and opportunity.

 

Indeed, the survey found that different groups define the dream differently: African-Americans were most likely to define it as wealth. Immigrants say it's opportunity, a job or homeownership.

 

And whites - especially middle-age, middle-class whites - think of it in terms of financial security.

 

Men define the American Dream as freedom. Women identify it as family.

 

The survey supplemented its poll of 1,022 adults with another 257 people who are first- or second-generation immigrants, in order to get a more statistically valid sample of their opinions.

 

Ford said that's because immigrants are crucial to an understanding of what the idea means.

 

"The American Dream wasn't born in America. It was born in the imagination of people around the world who wanted a shot at a better life," Ford said. "They believed the future lived here, the future was made here. The immigrant community still believes that, but the rest of us have lost faith in that aspect."

 

Ford said the institute plans to conduct the survey each year to track attitudes over time, and also plans to conduct international surveys to find out how people in other countries perceive the American Dream.

 

The telephone survey, conducted by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, called people the week of Feb. 14 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points - higher for smaller demographic groups.

U.S. attitudes on the American Dream

 

The Xavier University Institute for Politics and the American Dream asked 1,022 people about their attitudes about the American Dream. A sampling of their answers:

 

When you think of the American Dream personally, which of the following words comes first to mind - not in terms of what anyone else believes the dream is, but what you think it is?


Opportunity

20%

Freedom

19%

Family

17%

Financial Security

14%

Happiness

8%

Homeownership

7%

A good job

7%

Wealth

4%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you believe that for the rest of the world America is still the standard of success and represents the future, or do you think that America is no longer unique, and that the world now looks to many different countries to see where things are headed in the future?

 

America still represents the future

45%

The world now looks to many different countries

52%

Don't know

3%

 

Do you think it is easier or harder to reach the American Dream today than it was for your parents' generation before?

 

Much easier     

12%

Somewhat easier

21%

Somewhat harder

28%

Much harder

32%

About the same

6%

Don't know

1%

 

And what about for your children or grandchildren? Do you think it will be easier or harder for them to reach the American Dream than it has been or is for you?

 

Much easier     

8%

Somewhat easier

15%

Somewhat harder

23%

Much harder

45%

About the same

5%

Don't know

4%

 

Thinking about America's long-term prospects, do you think the country is on the rise or do you feel it is in decline?

 

On the rise

32%

In decline

58%

Will stay the same

7%

Don't know

3%

 

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