The Walton Family Foundation released an interesting survey recently that found that Generation Z (ages 13–23) and Millennial (ages 24–39) Americans are more optimistic about their future success and prosperity than many people think. The resulting report, “Opening Doors to Opportunity,” found that most respondents were “optimistic about their futures and most believe the American Dream is in reach,” despite the Pew Research Center reporting in June 2017 that large numbers of Americans across different age groups “hold the view that the next generation will be worse off.”
Encouragingly, over 81 percent of young Americans feel that if they work hard they will be able to succeed, but only 73 percent agree with the statement that “Most people in my generation who work hard will be able to move up the economic ladder from where they are today.” It seems that younger Americans are more sure of themselves than they are of their age group in general.
Unsurprisingly, people are more certain of their future economic success when they come from a prosperous household, with 85 percent of people with a household income of $125,000 or more agreeing that “If I work hard, I will be able to move up the economic ladder from where I am today.” Even among those in households earning less than $30,000, though, there is still 62 percent agreement.
There is reason for this optimism, and for being skeptical about reports that Americans workers in general have seen declining real incomes and prosperity in recent years. Michael Strain’s book from earlier this year, The American Dream Is Not Dead, debunked many of the economic claims made by doomsayers. In my review for Cato Journal, I summarized Strain’s statistical analysis:
The top populist economic critique of market economics—one that has recently gained ascendance on the political right—is that wages for the average American worker have stagnated or declined over the last several decades. Strain’s analysis finds that “typical workers” have seen an inflation-adjusted increase of 34 percent in purchasing power over the last 30 years, which he writes “is not reasonably described as stagnant growth.” He provides similar rebuttals to other populist claims about earnings for the lowest-paid Americans and supposed recent skyrocketing of income inequality. Real incomes of the bottom quintile increased 66 percent from 1990 to 2016. Meanwhile, inequality rose in earlier decades but actually decreased by 7 percent from 2007 to 2016.
See the full review here.