Miller Center, Washington Post investigate American Dream

Newly released study shows changing financial, educational ideals


An increasing number of Americans are losing faith in the “American Dream” as financial hardships and stagnant wages are weighing down on people across the country, according to a survey conducted jointly by the Miller Center and The Washington Post earlier this month.

Douglas Blackmon, Miller Center director of public programs, and Jeffrey Chidester, Miller Center director of policy programs, teamed with Polling Manager Peyton Craighill and polling analyst Scott Clement from The Washington Post to lead the survey. Participants were questioned on topics ranging from their opinions on tax and business regulations to the importance of becoming financially successful.

“This is an exploration of the American Dream and how the middle class fits into that classic concept,” Craighill said. “By exploring opinions and experiences of Americans through a random sample poll, we were able to uncover the changing definitions of the dream’s meaning and how people have been coping in the aftermath of the Great Recession [of 2008].”

Responses from the study suggested the 2008 recession still affects Americans, and the economic woes have caused many to question the value of a college education and the fairness of society as a whole, Blackmon said.

“The words ‘American Dream’ don’t mean what they used to for a lot of people,” he said. “Many of these findings appear closely related to the economic setbacks during the recession — and suggest that as the country comes out of the Great Recession, it is very different society than it was a decade ago.”

Despite some negative views, results did indicate some optimism toward America’s economic future. Two-thirds of adults maintain that hard work allows people to get ahead. Likewise, 61 percent were satisfied with their own personal financial situation, in contrast to the 73 percent dissatisfied with the county’s economic situation.

“The American Dream Poll was the first element of a big new [five-year initiative] aimed at better understanding why so many Americans are struggling now to get into — or remain in — the middle class,” Blackmon said.

This fall, the Miller Center will introduce the “Milstein Symposium: Ideas for a New American Century,” a program aimed at “bring[ing] together distinguished stakeholders and eminent scholars to advance innovative, bipartisan, action-oriented ideas to rebuild the American Dream,” Chidester said.

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