American dream slipping away, but hope intact

August 07, 2013, 2:43 PM GMT+0

Americans are split on whether the American dream is still achievable, but most still say hard work can take you to the top

Since the Occupy Wall Street protests brought the subject of wealth inequality in America to the fore, the topic has been a major point of discussion in American politics. President Barack Obama made the issue a central part of his re-election campaign, while even his 2012 challenger Gov. Mitt Romney reportedly called "a growing gap between the wealthy and those who are not" as one of his top concerns during a speech in New Hampshire Tuesday.

New research reveals that Americans perceive inequality as growing and the American dream as slipping away, but most still think that if you work hard, you can make it to the top.

When asked "Do you think that the American Dream has become impossible for most people to achieve?", Americans are split with 41% saying the American dream is impossible for most to achieve and 38% saying it is still possible.

The response exhibits a clean partisan split: 55% of Republicans say the American dream is still achievable for most and 27% say it is not, while 53% of Democrats say the American dream is no longer achievable and 27% say it is.

Complementing this pessimism about American dream, the majority perceive the gap between the rich and the poor as increasing. 64% of Americans say the gap is increasing, while 23% say it is staying the same and only 4% say it is decreasing. In fact, majorities of both Democrats and Republicans see the wealth gap as increasing.

Yet even with this perception of growing inequality, Americans are not ready to give up hope yet about individuals' potential for success. 63% of Americans agree with the statement "Anyone with talent who is willing to work hard and put the effort in can have a successful career and rise to the top, regardless of their background". Only 23% agree with the contrary statement, "Success in America today is mostly reserved for those from privileged backgrounds who know the right people; talented people from poor backgrounds don’t have a chance."

These results differed markedly from a recent YouGov poll done in Britain which showed a plurality (43%) agree that success in Britain is for those from privileged background, while only 38% say that with hard work anyone can succeed.

Americans are not ready to downplay the opportunities for general social mobility either. 44% of Americans say that society has become more mobile in recent decades, meaning that people from poor backgrounds have more opportunities to rise than they did in the past. 29% on the other hand say that society has become less mobile and 17% say it is about the same.

Again this contrasts with Britain where people were slightly more likely to say that British society had become less mobile (40%) than more mobile (37%).

According to the Economist, wealth inequality in the United States is the worst it has been since the 1920s and a Pew report says the recovery from the economic recession has exacerbated the problems with "the mean net worth of households in the upper 7% of the wealth distribution r[ising] by an estimated 28%, while the mean net worth of households in the lower 93% dropped by 4%".

Find the complete results here.