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Two Thirds Feel American Dream Harder to Achieve

Americans not sure government can help 

By

Dateline October 1, 2004

Two-thirds of the American people say the American Dream is becoming harder to achieve, especially for young families, and they point to financial insecurity and poor quality public education as the most significant barriers, according to a new survey released today by the National League of Cities (NLC).

The survey, conducted in August by KRC Research, found that more than one in three Americans feel that they are not living the American Dream and nearly half think it is unattainable for them. The survey also shows considerable growth in the number of people who say government makes it more difficult to achieve the American Dream. Since 2001, there has been an 11 percent increase in the number of Americans who say the government is more of a hindrance than a help.

“America has always had a ‘can do’ attitude. We are the dreamers that make things happen,” said NLC President Charles Lyons. “Breaking down the barriers and giving everyone access to their American Dream is the most important thing elected officials on every level can do. It is our responsibility to make sure that all Americans not only dream the dream, but achieve the dream.”

The new polling results are part of NLC’s The American Dream In 2004: A Survey of the American People.

Defining the American Dream: Financial stability (24%) is the most frequently cited characteristic of living the American Dream. However, significant generational differences are apparent. Adults aged 62 and older (23%), those from 45 to 61 (29%) and adults aged 23 to 44 (26%) cite financial security; only 5% of 18-22 year-olds did the same. Living in freedom is the top definition for this age group, cited by 23%. Being financial secure drives the perception of the American Dream for African-Americans and Hispanic adults. Among older respondents, enjoying good health was a critical factor, with 24 percent of those over 65 believing this defines the American Dream for them.

Optimism Reigns, but Many Left Behind:Although Americans remain optimistic, significant numbers of older Americans, women, single parents, minorities and blue-collar workers believe the American Dream is out of their reach. - Adults living in urban cities (39%) are more likely to believe than suburbanites (19%) that where they live has affected their ability to achieve the American Dream.

- Fifty-three percent of African-Americans said they are not living the American Dream; 36% of Hispanics and 32% of Caucasians have the same view.

- Almost twice as many single parents (52%) as married parents (27%) report they are not living the American Dream.

- More than half of renters (52%) and 28% of home owners find they are not living the American Dream.

- Democrats (79%) and Independents (75%) are more likely to say the American Dream is harder for young families to achieve than Republicans (56%).

Lack of Quality Education, Financial Security Top Concerns: A lack of quality public education and uncertainty over financial security top the list of barriers to the American Dream. Caucasian (27%) and Hispanic (29%) adults cite poor quality of education as the main barrier, with African-Americans more likely to report racial or ethnic discrimination as the main obstacle (28%).

Barriers to the American Dream

Government as Help or Hindrance: A solid majority of all Americans (72%) believe that the government should actively work to help people achieve the American Dream. This is particularly true of young people (90% of 18 to 22-year-olds agree). But almost half (45%) believe the government has done more to hinder their pursuit of the American Dream than help, up from 34% in 2001. Eighty-five percent say that local, state and federal government must work together to give people a fair shot at achieving the American Dream.

“The poll shows that while Americans believe the government should play a role in helping them achieve the American Dream, they are skeptical about whether the government can actually get the job done,” Lyons said. “This is an alarming finding that shows the need to work together at all levels of government and across party lines to ensure hope, fairness and opportunity.”

[Source: National League of Cities]

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