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Not your father’s American Dream

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KAI RYSSDAL: It’s been a given in this country that each generation will have it better than the last one did. But some new research out today finds American men in their 30s are less well off than their fathers were. Jeremy Hobson reports from Washington.

JEREMY HOBSON: To 31-year-old Dawson Naley of Baltimore, there’s nothing new about making less than dad.

DAWSON NALEY: When my father was my age, he and my mother were living in their first house. Buying a house to me actually doesn’t seem financially possible at this point.

Used to be that if you worked hard, you’d do better than your parents. But a new study out today says the median income, adjusted for inflation, for American men in their 30s has dropped 12 percent since 1974.

Isabell Sawhill is one of the co-authors of the report, published by the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Brookings Institution. She says today’s study is contrary to what we know of the American Dream.

ISABELL SAWHILL: That belief is somewhat belied by this new evidence on how much that kind of mobility we actually have.

On the whole, income isn’t going up from generation-to-generation as fast as it used to. And working hard doesn’t get you ahead like it does in many other developed countries. All this while productivity keeps rising in the United States.

SAWHILL: The economy is strong. The unemployment rate has been low. Inflation has been under control. But those gains have not been broadly shared — and in particular they haven’t trickled down to the average family in this country.

Why this is happening is the subject of further study. The authors speculate it’s related to the higher costs of health care and child care, and education is more expensive and takes longer than it used to.

They’ll have more on the causes in the next 18 months.

In Washington, I’m Jeremy Hobson for Marketplace.

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