Despite nationwide protests, acts of sedition, utter chaos in
governance, constant divisive rhetoric, a global pandemic, and many troubling
policy pronouncements, the Trump administration did not destroy the American dream
for the overwhelming majority of Americans. As the new Biden administration
settles into the White House, I am pleased to report that the American dream is
alive and well — and remarkably robust — in the United States.
According to new data from the Los Angeles Times/Reality Check Insights poll conducted after Trump’s re-election loss to President Biden, 79 percent of Americans believe that they have either achieved or are on their way to achieving the American dream, with just a fifth of Americans believing that the dream is not attainable to them. This is very good news for the nation and reveals the country’s strength, because it remains consistent with the 80 percent of Americans who felt this way in the summer of 2018. It’s also a marked improvement from 2005, when almost 30 percent of Americans believed that the dream was out of reach for them. Overall, the latest data reveal that even in the midst of so much turmoil and socio-economic instability, Americans remain tremendously optimistic, even along well-known fault lines that have emerged in recent years.
Consider racial differences with the dream and the fact that outside of the COVID-19 pandemic and concerns with government dysfunction, the issue of race relations has dominated all other areas as the most important issue facing the nation. Nevertheless, there is racial parity on being confident in the dream; just 22 percent of Whites and 24 percent of Blacks believe that the dream is out of reach for them. While there are real racial differences in terms of having realized the dream — 38 percent of Whites compared to just 22 percent of Blacks believe that they are living the dream — the fact is that a strong majority of Americans regardless of their racial background are hopeful that their version of the dream can and will materialize.
Significant differences in outlook, values, and general approach to life among the generational cohorts have been another area of fracture in the nation, with Boomers continuing to hold many positions of power and leadership. The good news, again, is that notwithstanding an almost five-decade difference between those 70-plus-year-old Americans in the Silent Generation and the now maturing Gen Zers who are barely in their 20s, strong majorities in all generations have confidence in the American dream. Almost three-quarters of Gen Zers and 81 percent of Millennials believe that the dream is something that they have or can realize in their lives. Meanwhile, Boomers are at 80 percent, and Silents are even higher at 89 percent. Now, these latter cohorts have benefitted from decades of economic growth and access to positions of power. But even with those real generational disparities, the greater part of both young and old Americans see the dream as real to them.
Geography did not play a particularly powerful role here either. Collectively, 80 percent of those in Trump states stated that they were living or were on the way to living the dream, compared to 78 percent of those in Biden-supporting states. California was at 83 percent — but there is tight geographic clustering here as well despite real economic and political differences. Places that are gaining population like Texas and Florida are at 87 percent and 80 percent, respectively. Even New York, with its high taxes and bitter political divisions, has a positive dream rate of 81 percent and continues to draw businesses and immigrants.
Of course, there are some areas where the realization of the dream is not so uniformly forward-looking. Educational level is one such area where almost two-thirds of those Americans with high school diplomas are positive on the dream, compared to 90 percent of those with an undergraduate degree or higher. This 21-point difference is significant and suggests that education’s contribution to people’s opportunities and happiness must be considered seriously.
As President Biden and a unified Congress lay out their new initiatives and the nation tries to heal from elite polarization and the storming of the US Capitol, it is absolutely crucial to remember that large numbers of Americans are still confident in the future of the country and think that they have or will be able to achieve the American dream. The factors that divide us as a people — race, age, and place — are not in play here either, and President Biden would be well advised to remember that his policies should serve all Americans in achieving their dream if he wants to really unify and heal the nation.