Who can put a price tag on the American Dream? USA TODAY did: $130,000 a year. A majority of Americans think future generations will struggle to achieve it.
More than 80 years ago, Pulitzer Prize-winner James Truslow Adams coined the term, “American Dream.” His envisioned an aspirational America as a land of equal opportunity that would allow “each man and each woman…to be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable…regardless of the circumstances of birth or position.” Who could put a price tag on that? USA TODAY did, and came up with a six-figure tally: $130,000 a year.
The USA TODAY estimate comes to:
- Essentials, including housing, medical and car expenses, groceries, car, utilities, education, and clothes: $58.491
- Taxes and retirement and college savings: $54,857
- Extras, including vacations, entertainment, restaurants, cable, Internet and cellphones, and miscellaneous costs: $17,009.
Only around 1 in 8 American households earned enough to cover these costs last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, USA TODAY notes.
What does the American Dream mean to Affluent households? Almost two-thirds (64 percent), the highest percentage, define the American dream as “equal opportunity for all people” as well as “having sufficient retirement assets,” according to a 2012 survey conducted by Spectrem’s Millionaire Corner.
A majority of Affluent respondents believe the American Dream means “educational opportunities” (56 percent), owning a home (54 percent), and job security (51 percent). Half define the American Dream as being attainable for future generations with the opportunity for them to do better.
But there is pessimism on that front. More than eight-in-ten (84 percent) of respondents either “strongly agrees” or “agrees” that future generations will struggle to achieve the American Dream. An equal percentage “strongly agrees” or “agrees” that the American Dream is harder to achieve now than in the past.
When asked what they considered to be the biggest obstacles in achieving the American Dream, the highest percentage (71 percent) pointed to the political climate, while 39 percent blamed educational costs. More than three-in-ten cited job security (or should that be insecurity?), and “international concerns.” Not surprisingly, respondents under 40 were most likely to consider their biggest obstacles to achieving the American Dream to be educational costs (55 percent), career opportunities (46 percent) and job security (44 percent).
But while a substantial majority (77 percent) of these young respondents believe future generations will struggle, this was less than their older counterparts. Millennials, especially, tend to be more optimistic about their financial futures. In a 2014 wealth level study of non-Millionaire households, nearly eight-in-ten of Millennials and late Gen Xers said they expected their financial situation to be stronger one year from now, compared with 58 percent of respondents overall. This despite they were the least likely to report that their financial situation today is better than it was one year ago.
That type of optimism can be said to be the very foundation of the American Dream.
Related story: Self-made Millionaires believe in the American Dream
Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.
A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.