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How's the American Dream Going?

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

From Cheryl Russell for Demo Memo

Every two years, when the results of the General Social Survey (GSS) are released, we gain insight into the wellbeing of the American Dream – the promise that hard work and perseverance will lead to a rising standard of living. The GSS has been probing attitudes toward the American Dream since 1987 by asking the public whether it agrees or disagrees with the statement, “The way things are in America, people like me and my family have a good chance of improving our standard of living.”

The American Dream is doing better, according to the latest survey. In 2018, 65% of the public agreed with the statement, up from 58% in 2016 and just 55% in 2012. The percentage of Americans who feel that the American Dream is working for them hasn't been above 60% since 2006 –just before the Great Recession.

“The way things are in America, people like me and my family have a good chance of improving our standard of living” (percent who agree).

  • 2018: 65.3%
  • 2016: 58.1%
  • 2014: 59.4%
  • 2012: 54.8% (low point)
  • 2010: 58.0%
  • 2008: 59.4%
  • 2006: 69.8%

The economic recovery probably has a lot to do with the more optimistic attitude toward economic mobility in the United States. Nearly every demographic segment is feeling better, with especially large leaps between 2016 and 2018 for Boomers (agreement rising from 50 to 60%), non-Hispanic Whites (agreement rising from 53 to 65%), and residents of the South (agreement rising from 55 to 71%).

One demographic segment, however, is not feeling better about the American Dream. Only 55% of Blacks in 2018 agreed that they had a good chance of improving their standard of living, down from 63% who felt that way in 2016.

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