Young White People Are Losing Their Faith in the American Dream

Jim Tankersley and Scott Clement, Washington Post, December 1, 2015

It’s about as hard for a 20-something worker to find a job today as it was in 1986. The economy is growing at a slightly slower pace, but not by much. And yet young workers today are significantly more pessimistic about the possibility of success in America than their counterparts were in 1986, according to a new Fusion 2016 Issues poll reported in conjunction with the Washington Post–a shift that appears to reflect lingering damage from the Great Recession and more than a decade of wage stagnation for typical workers.

That rise in pessimism among millennials is concentrated among white people. It is most pronounced among whites who did not earn a college degree.

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In the three decades between the surveys, pollsters found, the share of young Americans overall who said the American Dream “is not really alive” grew sharply from 12 to 29 percent. Among white people, it nearly tripled from 10 percent to 29 percent. One in three white non-college graduates now say it is not alive, compared to one-fifth of white college graduates; the increase from 1986 was larger for non-graduates than for graduates.

The poll found no statistically significant change among young Americans of color over the decades. In 1986, they were about twice as likely as whites to say the American Dream does not exist. Now, the groups are about equally pessimistic.

Young African-Americans are more downbeat on a different question, of whether the American Dream has meaning to them personally. Almost one-third said it does not, roughly double the rate of whites and Hispanics.

But among the respondents who said the American Dream does mean something to them personally, whites were far more likely to say the dream has become harder to achieve compared to a generation ago. Just over 6 in 10 white college graduates said the dream had become harder to achieve, and 7 in 10 non-college graduates said the same, while 53 percent of non-white respondents said so.

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