Economic Anxiety Index®

Even in tough times, Americans remain optimistic

Kimberly Adams Oct 30, 2015
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Economic Anxiety Index®

Even in tough times, Americans remain optimistic

Kimberly Adams Oct 30, 2015
HTML EMBED:
COPY

According to the Marketplace-Edison Research poll, Americans are anxious about their finances. More than one in four are losing sleep over it. But, there was another trend as well: optimism. More than three quarters of the people we polled still believe in the idea of the “American Dream,” even if it’s harder to obtain than it used to be.

Lisa Robinson, 50, is a believer. She spent Saturday morning holding a sign outside the All Nations Baptist Church, promoting the job fair the church was hosting.

“I remember being homeless, I remember being unemployed and unemployable,” she said. Now she’s living in transitional housing and has a job working with seniors. Robinson credits her church and hard work for changing her situation. 

“Being able to stand on your feet and to have people trust you all over again is hard. Going for your education, [I] had to do that — that was hard,” she said.

Our poll asked people what matters more in determining someone’s financial situation — luck or hard work. Almost 80 percent said hard work is what makes the difference.

So most people are optimistic, but they’re not necessarily correct, says Robert Frank, a professor of economics at Cornell University.

“It isn’t just hard work,” he said. “Hard work is necessary in most cases for success, it’s not by itself enough for success.”

Frank is working on a book on the role of luck in financial success, and he said people who work hard may not have the opportunities they need to do well.

“It’s much less likely that you’ll move up even if you work hard and are talented now,” Frank. said. “If you start off from a lower point in the income distribution, moving ahead has gotten more difficult than at any other point in recent history.”

That sentiment is echoed in the job fair in the basement of All Nations Baptist Church. Both job seekers and recruiters there said hard work is the key to success. But some, like 27 year-old Greg Cooper, said luck definitely plays a role.

“A lot of it is who you know, circumstances you’re born into, socioeconomic status, a number of things — where you live, stuff like that,” he said.

Cooper was manning a table for a university nutrition program. He answered yes when asked another of our poll questions — whether his financial situation ever causes him to lose sleep.

“My financial situation sucks,” he said. “I don’t even know how much I owe … I think I owe like $50, 000 in student loans. This area is expensive. Just bills, healthcare, all that stuff is expensive, so yeah, I lose a lot of sleep.”

Nevertheless, more than 70 percent of those in our poll say they feel have a fair opportunity to achieve the life they hope for. Cornell’s Frank says that kind of attitude often pushes people to make their own luck.

“If you tilt toward optimism,” he said, “that’s going to make you more inclined to put out effort when you think you have a chance than you’d be likely to do if you thought things were stacked completely against you.”

Still holding her sign outside the church, Robinson said she definitely feels she has a fair shot to achieve her hopes. She has two daughter and six grandchildren, and she doesn’t want them or anyone else using their difficult circumstances as an excuse.

“It’s all here for us, we’ve just got to apply ourselves,” she said.

Click the media player below to hear how other respondents to the Marketplace-Edison Poll feel about the “American Dream.”

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