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Dream On

Postwar Americans always cherished the expectation that their standard of living would improve with each generation. In polls at the onset of the Reagan era, 2 of every 3 respondents said they expected to be better off than their parents. Now, that figure is being reversed. Almost three fourths of the 1,000 people who answered a Roper poll for Shearson Lehman Brothers say the American Dream is “harder to attain” than a generation ago. And 60 percent say achieving the dream requires more financial risk than it did for their parents. The poll also finds that some of the values held most dear during the 1980s—like wealth, power and fame—are those that Americans are now most likely to deem “unimportant.” The most important elements of today’s American Dream center on family and friends. But money remains something to dream about. For Americans with household incomes under $25,000, it would take $54,000 a year to fulfill the American dream. Those who make $100,000 plus crave an average of $192,000. In other words, the American Dream usually lies nearly twice the distance away.

Amy Bernstein, U.S. News & World Report, July 27, 1992, p. 11