Surveying the American Dream

by Ryan Streeter on December 16, 2014. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Americans’ individual judgments about the [American] dream still remain largely positive. But the story doesn’t end here. It is the public’s collective judgment about the American Dream that has undergone worrying changes. We put more weight on what people say about their own experiences, but what people think about the average American’s experiences drives our political conversation. And here, as a result of the 2008 financial crash and its aftermath, pessimism about the present and the future is palpable.

That’s from a useful overview of various surveys about the American Dream by AEI’s Karlyn Bowman, Jennifer Marsico, and Heather Sims.

For instance, “twenty years ago, 63 percent of those surveyed by the National Opinion Research Center said their standard of living was better than that of their parents at the same age. In 2012, 61 percent gave that response.”

On the other hand, “in a 2013 Gallup poll, 43 percent said the average person doesn’t have much chance to really get ahead. Only 8 percent gave that response in 1952.”

The following chart puts a bit of a dent in the authors’ second claim, though. The 2000s negatively affected people’s predictions about their own future, not merely that of the average American’s, a drop that started before the crisis but which was obviously accelerated by it:

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