The concept of the American dream has always been synonymous with freedom—this idea that regardless of race, regardless of where one is from, and despite the unfavorable conditions they may have been born into, any person could achieve prosperity and success in “the land of the free.” But a growing number of Americans are finding that dream hard to achieve—particularly in a time of global instability and inflation worries. 

While most parents hope and believe that their children will do better than they did, and reach a level of success that exceeds their own, a new report by the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy/AP-NORC poll, released this week found that nearly half of U.S. adults believe it is more difficult for them to achieve a good standard of living than it was for their parents. By the same token, 54 percent believe it is unlikely that today’s youth will have a better standard of living than their parents.

The poll takes a deep dive into the opinions surrounding upward mobility and equality of opportunity in the U.S. Needless to say, the American dream of owning a home and being able to raise a family is still alive and well —respondents still see value there. But half believe that both are more difficult to obtain than it was for their parents —and race seems to play a role in that outlook. 

Black adults are more likely than white adults to report that having a good standard of living (43 percent vs. 28 percent), raising a family (33 percent vs. 16 percent), and owning a home (37 percent vs. 22 percent) have become easier for them to achieve compared to their parents.

“The relative optimism of African Americans, against the background of historical and contemporary injustices and persistent inequalities, is striking for 2022, given the last two years of turmoil, yet is consistent with past studies of optimism,” said Steven Durlauf, a professor at the Harris School of Public Policy and director of the recently established Stone Center for Research on Wealth Inequality and Mobility.

The racial reckoning of 2020 brought to light several inequities throughout the national landscape. From corporate America to healthcare to the prison industrial complex, people were forced to look at and confront the systemic injustice that bleeds into nearly every facet of American life. Since then changes have been made but countless studies, polls, and headline news stories prove that these injustices continue to provide unique obstacles for people of color—and people are taking note.

The poll demonstrated a public belief that some groups have a harder time improving their standard of living than others. Roughly 60 percent of adults think it is hard for Black Americans and immigrants to improve their standard of living, while about half believe the same regarding LGBTQ+ people, Hispanic Americans and women. Few held that same belief for men or white Americans. 

When the poll broke this down by political affiliation, it found that Democrats are more likely than Republicans to believe that Black Americans (82 percent vs. 37 percent), immigrants (78 percent vs. 45 percent) and women (59 percent vs. 27 percent) have a hard time getting ahead, while Republicans are more likely than Democrats to believe that men (18 percent vs. 8 percent) have a hard time improving their standard of living.

There was also a difference in what each party believed was important to improving the odds of achieving the dream. Despite the optimism Black Americans showed toward being able to fair better than their parents, Black adults are more likely than white adults to say a college education, the talents a person is born with and their gender is important to improving their standard of living. Black and Hispanic adults are also more likely than white adults to cite race and ethnicity as important.