The American Dream is dead, long live the American Dream. Five years since the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the start of the financial crisis, the mood of the middle class has soured. A new study from the Washington Post and the Miller Center of the University of Virginia has found that while most Americans still believe hard work and education are the key to success/upward mobility, their faith in that aforementioned dream of their children being better off than they are has been shattered. Some notable findings from this study are listed below.
- Families are struggling to make ends meet. Two thirds of the public are concerned about their ability to cover their family’s basic expenses, while one third say they worry about money all of the time. Both of these responses are nearly double what they were in 1973.
- Americans aren’t as satisfied with their jobs as they used to be. Over half the population says they doubt they will have a better paying position in the next five years and the same amount say they believe they are being paid less than they deserve. Six out of ten workers also say they fear they will lose their jobs due to the poor economy.
- Upward mobility seems to be out of grasp. Less than half of Americans polled believe they will move up a social class in their lifetime, while a higher percentage think they will stay where they are or become poorer. 39 percent of respondents said they didn’t think their children would enjoy as high a standard of living as they do.
- The dream of a college degree is losing meaning. Just about half of Americans believe getting a college degree is a critical part of achieving the American Dream, which is less than it was 30 years ago. Over 75 percent said college was becoming unaffordable and over 50 percent said they did not think college did enough to prepare young people for the modern job market.
This statistics are overwhelmingly grim considering the economy has supposedly improved over the last five years. According to the White House, the Obama Administration has overseen the growth of 7.5 million new jobs, a drop in the country’s unemployment rate, and facilitated a an ever improving housing market. These successes have not kept Americans from heaping blame on the federal government for not doing enough to help the middle class. Over 70 percent of those polled blamed Congressional gridlock for the death of the American Dream, while also citing increased competition from overseas.
Americans who identify as Democrats are more likely to blame high executive pay, Wall Street, and corporations for not doing enough to help the middle class. Republicans on the other hand, place more blame on high business taxes, regulations, the cost of health care, and the perceived laziness of their fellow Americans. Just goes to show that partisan differences don’t only exist on Capitol Hill.
As we wait on the eve of a government shutdown, these numbers are an incredibly poignant commentary on the state of America today. No one, regardless of political affiliation, socioeconomic background, or racial heritage is happy about the state of our nation. As of now, Congress has a ten percent approval rating, its lowest ever in history. If political bickering has torn us apart, our shared unhappiness over the outcome is simultaneously bringing us together. Maybe.