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New Survey Finds a Downsized American Dream

Many Americans have lowered their expectations about what it means to get ahead . / Credit: Statue of Liberty image via Shutterstock

A majority of Americans believe they live in the "land of opportunity" and most say they are living the American dream, a new study shows. But many Americans have lowered their expectations about what it means to get ahead and are less certain about the opportunities the next generation will have.

More than 3 in 4 Americans (86 percent) believe their nation is the land of opportunity and well more than half (61 percent) say they are living the American dream, according to a survey of more than 1,000 adults. But perceptions of living the American dream have a high correlation with education and income level.

College graduates are more likely to say they are living the American dream (72 percent) than those with only a high school education or less (46 percent) and increases with each higher income bracket, from 39 percent of households earning under $30,000 to 81 percent of those in $100,000-plus households, the survey found.

The survey, sponsored by Allstate, an insurance company, and National Journal, a publishing company, explored the perceptions of upward mobility among Americans.

Americans are also redefining the meaning of getting ahead because of the economic downturn, with slightly more than half (51 percent) saying that success today is about holding a job, paying bills, avoiding debt and saving a little for the future, rather than about steady increases in income, buying a home or saving and investing more each year.

Americans continue to hold an aspirational view of their ability get ahead in the future, but believe it is harder than it used to be and that the path to those goals is uncertain, particularly for the next generation.  While nearly a third (32 percent) say that the next generation will have more opportunities, and an equal number believe they will have less and 28 percent believe there will be no difference in opportunity.

"The results of this poll capture the systemic strain between the bedrock American belief that anyone who works hard enough can succeed and the uneasy sense that persistent, and perplexing, headwinds in a globalized economy are making it harder for workers to get ahead," said Ronald Brownstein, editorial director for National Journal. "From it emerges a picture of a wary but resilient public that is systematically adjusting itself, more by necessity than choice, to an economic order in which nothing is more predictable than uncertainty."

Reach BusinessNewsDaily senior writer Ned Smith at nsmith@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter @nedbsmith.We're also on Facebook & Google+.

Ned Smith

Ned was senior writer at Sweeney Vesty, an international consulting firm, and was Vice President of communications for iQuest Analytics. Before that, he has been a web editor and managed the Internet and intranet sites for Citizens Communications. He began his journalism career as a police reporter with the Roanoke (Va.) Times, and was managing editor of American Way magazine and senior editor of Us. He was a Captain in the U.S. Air Force and has a masters in journalism from the University of Arizona.

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