Democrats, especially members of the Squad, tell us that the American Dream is dead for broad swaths of the American population. President Biden has questioned in public speeches whether Western democracies can compete with the Chinese model. The Squad and their progressive allies talk incessantly about income inequality and make demands for equity, using phrases like “economic justice” and “climate justice,” and a whole host of other terms that imply massive wealth redistribution.
However, a new report from the Archbridge Institute, a non-partisan think tank, shows that large majorities of Americans still believe in the American dream and economic mobility, and prefer a system that provides equal opportunity rather than equal outcomes. According to Archbridge President and CEO Gonzalo Schwarz:
Despite today’s challenges, or perhaps because of them, the American people remain positive and upbeat about the American Dream. This is not just about money. To the contrary, the overwhelming majority of Americans claim it is important to live better and fuller lives, aside from financial enrichment. And most Americans are living such lives, leveraging equality of opportunity to prove that the American Dream is alive and well in 2021.
It is excellent news that Americans under 30 are the most optimistic. A full 54% report they are on their way to achieving the American dream, while 23% say they have achieved it. Only 21% feel it is out of reach. The even better news is that the results are similar across all racial demographics.
Freedom and family also win. When respondents were asked about the statements that were most important to their view of the American dream, these two concepts came out on top:
One measure of economic mobility is whether people feel they have more or the same level of opportunity their parents did. Overall, 83% of Americans fit into this category. Americans without a high school diploma are less likely to agree with this, which speaks to the importance of encouraging graduation and developing an alternative way to bring people into the skilled trades, where good pay and benefits are available.
A plurality of Americans think that ensuring everyone has a fair chance at achieving is the best way to help people achieve the American dream. In every demographic except mixed race, respondents selected this policy goal over closing the gap between the rich and the poor and ensuring Americans do not live in poverty.
Archbridge took a deep dive into how Americans view the concept of equality. Increasingly, K-12 schools, universities, politicians, and even corporations are focused on principles of equity, which focuses on equal outcomes. According to the survey, our major political and cultural institutions align with approximately 4% of Americans.
A full 66% define equality as equal opportunity under the law and people having a fair chance to pursue opportunities regardless of where they started. Only 4% describe it as everyone ending up in the same place. Everyone beginning in the same position and providing some tools and support to those who start with disadvantages to help them catch up received 10% and 11%, respectively.
One of the most interesting responses concerned what Americans feel is necessary to achieve upward mobility. From the survey:
This might seem like a trivial matter, but when there is no academic or policy consensus defining the main barriers to and indicators of more social mobility, research data becomes particularly important. Currently, many conversations revolve around tweaking safety net programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Child Tax Credit, and it seems like our society and most researchers are forgetting to address or even consider the root causes or determinants of upward income mobility.
Overall, 50% say that the most important element is employment or a job. Even more interesting, the number of people who see a college degree as the most important determinant is declining slightly. Only 13% of those 30-44 selected this option. People in this age group are the Millennial generation, which had the highest college attendance rates in history.
Increasingly, colleges focused on equity are losing their reputation as reliable credentialing systems, and Millennials were on the cusp of that trend. During our interview, Schwarz talked about new educational opportunities like the Lambda School that offer deferred payment, job-specific skills, and support from major employers. Perhaps a new model like this is the way forward.
Participants were asked about the most important precondition to enable people to achieve economic mobility. The researchers interpreted the results this way:
A strong labor market and a high level of economic growth that would enable more job creation and more direct opportunities for employment was the first option people selected. In second place, increased access to higher education was also selected as an important precondition.
Only 6% of people said that they think a low level of income inequality is a key precondition for more upward economic mobility and only 5% said that it required a strong safety net. Even though that strong safety net might be important, we believe this represents what is the more logical view: people view that safety net as something temporary, as it should be.
The current Democrat policy portfolio runs contrary to the majority view of Americans. Republicans need to take this information about the American dream and develop emotional arguments that appeal to these fundamental views on freedom, family, equal opportunity, and economic mobility. Americans appear to hold center-right opinions on these issues, and as suspected, Democrats are playing to a vocal minority. Even within their own caucus.