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Is the 'American dream' attainable? New survey shows how the nation feels about the idea

The survey from Pew Research Center shows a sizable share of Americans are skeptical of the notion that attaining success is possible for anyone through hard work.
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Posted at 7:12 PM, Jul 09, 2024

What is the "American dream?" Depending on who you ask, you'll probably get a different answer.

For some, the belief dating back to the Great Depression is the hallmark of the U.S. It's the notion that each person can equally achieve success and happiness, that anyone can reach their goals through hard work, or that everyone has the opportunity to have a fuller life.

For others, the idea is just that — an idea, with no proof or data to support that it's even possible to attain. Some point to inequities that negate its promise such as different social classes, racial issues, education levels and other demographic factors that create obstacles in a person's path to the "dream."

So how many of us lie on either side of the coin? Well, according to a recent Pew Research Center study, we're pretty split, though we weren't always.

While 53% said the American dream is still a possible feat, the report shows 41% said it once was but no longer is, and 6% say it was never possible.

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Those who still stand behind the idea were more likely to be older — with 68% of those 68 and older and 61% of those 50 to 64 saying it was attainable, while only 39% aged 18 to 29 said so — or wealthier, with 64% of upper-income people voting yes compared to 39% of lower-income respondents who felt the American dream was attainable.

Meanwhile, differences across race and ethnicity, political preference and education level were modest.

But although roughly 50% of Americans in each racial and ethnic group said the American dream was attainable, Black Americans were about twice as likely as respondents in other groups (11%) to say it never was.

And Republican-leaning Americans are slightly more prone to believe the idea is possible (56%) compared to Democrats (50%). Education level is similar, with 57% of those with a bachelor's degree or higher voting it is possible compared to 50% with less education saying so.

Americans are also divided on whether they have achieved it (31%), are on their way to achieving it (36%) or think it's out of reach (30%).

However, White and Asian adults are more likely, 39% and 34% respectively, to say they have attained it compared with Black and Hispanic adults, 15% and 19% respectively. But at an average 47%, Black, Hispanic and Asian adults are more likely than White adults at 29% to say they're on their way to achieving the American dream — whatever their definition is.