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Attitude Check

Is the American Dream really disappearing?

Steve Chiotakis Dec 8, 2011

Steve Chiotakis: The Federal Reserve says Americans stepped up their borrowing in November for things like cars and college, the second straight monthly increase — another fact that could make you believe economically, things are pretty bad off, right? But was the economy — and the country for that matter — better off decades ago?

Today we launch our new weekly conversation called the Marketplace Attitude Check, a new partnership we’re doing with the polling firm Gallup.

And Frank Newport is Gallup’s editor-in-chief. He’s with us now. Hey Frank.

Frank Newport: Good morning.

Chiotakis: Do Americans still believe in the “American Dream”? Is income mobility as possible as before?

Newport: You know, that’s a fascinating question. And I think the data show us it depends on the time frame. If you ask Americans right now: how are things in America and do you have a good opportunity to get ahead? the answers are negative. Only 8 percent right now say now is a good time to find a quality job, and that’s the lowest in our Gallup poll history of asking that question.

However — now this is the big however — we do have some questions where we ask Americans: you know, let’s think about the future facing your family and how satisfied are you in general with how things are going, and those are fairly positive. So I think if you focus Americans long-term, they still do believe in the future. But if you focus them on the short-term, they’re reacting to the current economic conditions and they’re very negative.

Chiotakis: Do you think it’s because Americans always feel like things were better years ago? That there was this idyllic time, like 50 years ago, where things were just grand?

Newport: Well, I’m not sure. You know, that’s an interesting question. We do have a way of asking Americans, you know, how are things compared to what it was like for your parents when they were your age? And actually, we haven’t seen much of a drop in that — and that’s still positive. A majority of Americans still say: Hey, we’re better off than our parents were, and they still say that now, and they told us that decades ago when we first asked that question.

You know, we have a question here which is: rate the future facing you and your family. And we first asked that in the summer of 1963 when John Kennedy was still president. Fast-forward to today — we just re-asked that question again, and low and behold, the answer is: about 64 percent say they’re satisfied with the future facing their family. That’s what they told us when Kennedy was president, and that’s what they’re telling us today. So after all these many years, we’re really not seeing much change, in terms of at least that measure.

Chiotakis: Interesting stuff. Frank Newport, Gallup’s editor-in-chief. Frank, thanks.

Newport: You bet.

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