Is the new American dream way out of reach?

The definition of the term is changing as people begin to want more than just a home and a decent salary.

By MSN Money Partner Jul 3, 2014 1:43PM
Image: Parents and children eating at table © Maria Teijeiro, Digital Vision, Getty ImagesBy Everett Rosenfeld, CNBC

A new study shows that a majority of Americans are living the American Dream -- even if they largely don't realize it.

The poll, conducted by marketing firm DDB as part of its 2014 Life Style Study, found that only 40 percent of American adults over the age of 18 believe they are "living the American Dream."

The same 7,015-person study also found that sizable majorities reported owning a home, receiving a "good education," finding a "decent job" and giving their children better lives than they themselves had -- all traditional tenets of the American Dream. 

Although these findings may not seem intuitive, the answer behind this discrepancy could lie in an important trend in American financial security.

"Even though people report that they are not living the dream, they actually are when you look at the traditional benchmarks," said Denise Delahorne of DDB Chicago, who worked closely with the survey. She theorized that many people do not see themselves as having attained the traditional American Dream because of a shifting definition of the term.

"If you're new to this country, then life seems pretty good here," Delahorne said. "But for many people who have lived here a long time, they've started to think of the American Dream less as the traditional elements and more relative to wealth."

In the survey, only 25 percent of adults reported that they have been able to "make a lot of money" in their life.

But Erin Currier, the director of economic mobility at The Pew Charitable Trusts, told CNBC she does not think the disparity between the respondents' life histories and their own assessment of American Dream fulfillment lies in an evolving definition. Still, she agreed with Delahorne: The explanation lies in wealth.

American families "have enough that they are able to consume those indicators of the American Dream, but they aren't financially secure," Currier said, drawing the distinction to an increase in citizens' incomes but not their wealth. "My instinct is that people feel that on a day-to-day basis."

Because Americans are "treading water," she said, they are too insecure to be able to enjoy their achievements. Still, Pew research from 2009 confirms that the elements listed on the DDB survey roughly align with what citizens see as the American Dream.

The margin of error for DDB's poll is +/- 1.2 percent.

US Adults 18+
I am living the American Dream40%40%35%40%49%
In my life I have been able to:
Own a home66%70%49%55%70%
Get a good education78%78%81%74%85%
Find a decent Job74%75%75%72%78%
Have decent health and medical care78%79%77%72%83%
Give my children a better life than I have81%79%87%85%90%
Feel relatively safe89%90%88%84%88%
Be treated fairly81%83%78%77%82%
Have enough food to eat93%94%92%91%93%
Speak my mind freely87%89%87%82%87%
Buy the car of my dreams35%34%34%36%44%
Make a lot of money25%23%29%26%31%
Sample Size70154733807978323

Jul 3, 2014 2:26PM
We may be living the American Dream but that depends on how you define it.  The average person is working paycheck to paycheck with little or no savings for retirement.  They are paying mortgages, high healthcare, insurance, food, gas, high property taxes, college, etc..  It is very hard to come out ahead & save for the future especially since most peoples' salary has been stagnant for years & not keeping up with the ridiculous costs.
Jul 3, 2014 2:14PM
The American Dream for the 99% isn't dead, but it has been sold to faceless corporations and their corrupt political puppets, of BOTH major parties. Yes, most of us do have a roof over head, and enough to eat, but does this, alone, meet the definition of anyone's "dream?"

Of course we are "insecure" about our precarious situation, for we know that we are powerless, and indeed have no "representatives" in our government to protect us. Most of us are also a paycheck or two away from losing what little we have left. 

There is an answer. The Founders gave us that mechanism for non-violent change:
"That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government . . .   "

We have only ourselves to blame for allowing this to happen . . . but it's not too late to save our great Nation.

Essays for the 99% 

- John
Jul 3, 2014 3:15PM
old american dream:  come to america, work hard and live well.

new american dream:  come to america and get on welfare.

Jul 3, 2014 2:25PM
I thought the American Dream was to try and get or buy stuff and try and keep up with everyone else doing the same. 2 bankruptcies later, I was wrong. I'm a baby boomer who got sucked into that idea along with many others. Now the "Dream" is to try and live debt free and own nothing to no one.
Jul 3, 2014 2:52PM

I think the American dream is alive and well. It was not bundle of joy starting out in 1980. I made 7.00 an hour, had to pay rent , interest was 15% at the bank utilities were percentage wise just as high.

We thought the country was destroyed from Jimmy Carter. The big thing is we were taught to keep debt to a minimum if at all. My wife and I taught all 5 of our kids the same. Today, they are starting their lives with minimum debt, all 5 well employed, no one lives in our basement. No one is covered in tattoos or piercings.

Go back to the basics, teach 0 debt and lead by example. deficet spending is what got us in this mess. Look for root causes///DEBT!!

Jul 3, 2014 3:37PM
The new American Dream is just trying to survive until Nov. 2016.
Jul 3, 2014 2:12PM

"The fact that we are here today to debate raising America's debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the US Government cannot pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government's reckless fiscal policies. Increasing America's debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that, 'the buck stops here.' Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better."
   ~ Senator Barack H. Obama, March 2006


Jul 3, 2014 2:19PM

Feds blow $100 billion a year on incorrect payments
The Department of Health and Human Services and the IRS are 2 of the biggest offenders, but the food stamp program is a success story.

Between 2002 and 2012, federal agencies spent more than half a trillion dollars ($688 billion) on payments that should never have been made.

Every year, according to their own record-keeping, the agencies that administer major federal programs are now paying out more than $100 billion improperly, and even though they're aware of the problem, they recover only a tiny fraction for taxpayers. This adds up to huge losses for the U.S. Treasury.

Jul 3, 2014 2:18PM
screw this government, you work hard to get ahead in life get raises and they just take more from you. Make more an Hr. to bring home less money
Jul 3, 2014 7:01PM
I read some comments from "native" Americans (American-born folks) and if I could, I would smack you silly. All of you. You are nothing but a bunch of whiners, jealous, clueless and, for the most part, ignorant people. I DO LIVE AN AMERICAN DREAM. I was born and raised in the former Soviet Union. Since I've been teenager I was dreaming of living in a free country with an opportunity to be someone. I can write a book about growing up as a Jewish kid in a Ukrainian city, but that's for another day. So, finally, thanks to the effort of Reagan administration, who forced Soviets to open a small crack in the iron curtain, at the age of 30, with the wife and 2 little kids, with nothing, but a few dollars in my pocket, we arrived to the US (very legally, mind you). Dream #1 came true. We spoke no English, and contrary to the popular belief received no government handouts. What we did receive is the opportunity. We took it and ran with it. At first I worked 3 jobs, learned language, slept just enough to sustain the crazy pace of life. Same is true for my wife - she worked marginal jobs, went to collage, took care of kids. And, at the end, we have made it to the point where we became very comfortable and where we are right now. My kids graduated colleges, have good jobs. We live in the suburbs, in our own house (not a huge one, but our own). In short - we are OK. And that's what I call AMERICAN DREAM. And if you whined a little less, and appreciate the opportunity you've been give, and took full advantage of this opportunity, you'd be living an American Dream yourselves. To appreciate this country you've got to have something to compare it to. Most of you don't have such an option. And it's very unfortunate. So, on the eve of the Independence Day I say loud and with great pride "GOD BLESS AMERICA".
Jul 3, 2014 2:55PM
Stop allowing other people define your "dream" or your "wealth".  The almighty dollar is losing more and more value every day.  Take it from an old-timer who has lived the so-called "American Dream" over and over.  When you get there, it is NEVER what you expected it to be...  The government and the media try (and in most cases succeed) to sell us a bill-of-goods - that we need to have lots and lots of money to be happy or satisfied.  Well, how many rich people do you see with a smile on their face?  Savor the moment when you have them.  Appreciate what you have and how you got it.  Those are the things that give life "value" -- and, the more of these you can count in your life is what gives you real "wealth".  Nobody, or nothing, can take these things away from you.  Only you can put a price on those things that you truly value.  You can make all the "money" you want, and someone else will eventually end up with it.  If you want to live the "American Dream", appreciate the freedoms and liberties you still have - few as they are - they are becoming a rare commodity.  If you are going to go mining for gold, dig deep within yourself for that precious substance that gives you a real sense of "wealth" - you won't find it anywhere else!
Jul 3, 2014 2:30PM

The American dream isn't dead, don't be so pessimistic and fall into Obama's realm.


The USA is still the greatest country on earth, but our current President and his horrible administration are doing their best to ruin it.  We still have the spirit to fight, we are the most giving country in the world, and we are a nation of really decent people....even though the knucklehead in the White House say's we should be ashamed.  Just get rid of him, Pelosi and Reid, and America will be a proud, happy, and productive country once again.

Jul 3, 2014 4:07PM
Well, to be completely honest with you all, here in the anonymity of the blogosphere, I was born shortly after WWII, in a dusty desert hellhole of a town in south Arizona. At age four, I was abandoned in the seething cesspool, El Centro, Ca.; nothing but the ragged clothes on my back. But from small beginnings, can come great things.
I was smart, understood people all too well, and I had a dream.
These many years later, and light years away.......I am college educated, with three degrees, own my home in a high end enclave, have two new Cadillacs, and traveled the world, among many accomplishments. So, it can be done. It wasn't easy. And I survived a total nervous breakdown along the way, to show for it, too. But I have arrived. Only in the U.S.A. is such possible. Live it.
Jul 3, 2014 3:16PM
When you PRINT $$$$$$$  YOU DE-VALUE THE $$$$$$                PERIOD 
Jul 3, 2014 3:18PM

Headline and core inflation erode the value of your money, ACA taxes (cost me $80/week), lapse of the Bush era tax cuts, skyrocketing fuel costs, stagnant wages, and no upward mobility in the job market. Meanwhile Obama and his wall street cronies are making a fortune on an artificial bull market created by the FED.

Welcome to Soviet style affluence. Lifestyle is more affected by your government connections than by your hard work.

Jul 3, 2014 5:38PM
I think the American Dream has to be determined by each person differently.  I want the government out of my life.  I want decent politicians and police officers.  I want lawmakers who are compassionate, intelligent, logical and unselfish.  I will never live the American Dream.  
Jul 3, 2014 2:52PM
The American Dream is there for the inhuman corporations. Record stock highs. The federal reserve does not know how to say "No" to them. The mismanaging of stimulus money into the stock market was meant to go for the fixing of infrastructure and decent jobs for the people. Our jobs going overseas benefiting other nations & corporation are deteriorating our standard of living. Exuberant illegal immigration is the catalyst for low pay.  The market booms and the insider politicians are raking it all for themselves. Unacceptable lies are becoming normal a long with unacceptable wages. Too many are doubled up, tripled up just to survive. The American Dream takes money. Money to live on & be happy, enough to save on and pay fair taxes. It is going to take the 99% to stand up to unfair government to get it back. They took the dream and they can give it back. United together the American Dream will stand and divided it will be parted out to politicians. It is up to the 99% to stand up for themselves without fear.
Jul 3, 2014 2:50PM
My dream at the moment is that Arthur build and build and buikd.  And, drive away the beachgoers for this weekend, save them money and give them a day to rest with their families.  And, the climax of my dream is that Arthur contiued up the eastern seaboard to Washington, D. C. and set there for a couple of weeks until all sin and corruption is washed out to sea.
Jul 3, 2014 4:56PM
Take from one who works hard and give it to another who does not work. That is not even a good communist dream. That is stupidity & laziness. Americans will pay your way in life if you can get across their southern border. The stampede is on led by the children just like welfare people at home. Using their kids for support dream. The something for nothing dream is popular to slackers.
Jul 3, 2014 2:30PM
If it were real it would be called "The American Goal", but it's an illusion so it's called "The American Dream".
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