Many people today face huge obstacles to the classic American Dream: financial stability and home ownership. However, young adults seem surprisingly optimistic about their likelihood of achieving their financial goals, even as the dream has shifted somewhat.
Perhaps surprisingly, many young people today believe the American Dream is alive and well for those still inclined to pursue it. However, the perception of that dream has changed. In the past, it typically involved owning one's own home and supporting a family on a single income. The youth of today seem to define the dream a little differently than did former generations.
In the post-recession world of 2013, alternate opinions exist on how possible it is for the average American to achieve financial stability. Many Americans lost much of their accumulated nest egg in the financial collapse of 2008/09. A significant number lost their homes. For those so heavily afflicted, financial aspirations seemed to vanish into thin air. At the same time, thousands of college graduates found themselves unable to find well-paying work and faced with sizable loans to pay off, leaving them wondering how they could possibly reach the status of their parents, or if they even wanted too.
In a nationwide survey sponsored by Chase Blueprint and performed by the financial planning company LearnVest, the respondents indicated a changing picture of the American Dream, but a picture that many still hold to be achievable. In spite of the devastation caused by the recession, only 21% of those surveyed felt the American Dream was an antiquated concept. While more than one fifth is a significant number, twice as many respondents disagreed, believing it remains alive.
The answers were even more strikingly optimistic when the questions turned to just how attainable the dream is today, with 43 percent stating that the dream remains "attainable for everyone," and 42 percent stating they, themselves, expected to attain it. The same percentage also stated they felt they were better off than their parents were at the same age.
While a case could be made for this result being nothing more than an illusion, the dream appears to remain as an objective for significant numbers of Americans.
On the negative side, fully one-third of respondents felt the nation's best days are now behind it. But only 16 percent said that the American Dream is no longer attainable through hard work. However, a full 43 percent expressed disappointment that they were not as successful as they had hoped.
The New Dream
What does the dream consist of for the newest generations of optimistically aspiring Americans? Here, too, the survey yielded some interesting perspective. While more than half said America still presents the world's greatest opportunity for financial success, only 32 percent felt the American Dream was still primarily defined by this. Almost as many, 27 percent, said that the dream was now defined in terms of "happiness" rather than wealth.
Respondents indicated that the biggest financial stressors, that is, those things standing most obstinately in the way of achieving their goals were health care expenses, day-to-day living costs, and saving for retirement or a lack of savings in general.
They also said the dream, for them, consisted in some of the same things it always has: jobs, homes, security and family. But the emphasis is no longer on having a large home in the suburbs. Aspirations seem to be more modest and diverse. Other goals for respondents were getting married, having children, obtaining a college degree, and retiring at age 65.
It appears that despite the gravity of the recent recession, the American Dream, at least in slightly modified form, lives on in the minds of significant numbers of those young enough to still aspire toward it.