The FINANCIAL — About six in 10 Americans say it is very or somewhat likely that today’s young people will have a better life than their parents did. The latest reading marks continued improvement since the low of 44% in 2011 but is still not back to the level of 66% measured in February 2008.
The latest results are based on a March 19-25 Gallup poll. Since 2008, Gallup has been gauging Americans’ optimism about the next generation’s likelihood of surpassing their parents’ living standard. Before that, the same question was asked by The New York Times and CBS News between 1995 and 2003. The highest reading for the question in that series was recorded in July 1999 and December 2001, when 71% of Americans said it was likely young people would live better than their parents.
Optimism fell during the 2007-2009 recession and ensuing periods of high unemployment, hitting a low in 2011. As the unemployment rate began to improve in 2012, so too has the public’s optimism about future generations’ economic opportunities.
Republican Optimism Has Surged
Over time, during periods of both higher and lower unemployment, Gallup has found persistent differences in optimism about future generations’ opportunities among political party groups. The latest rise in overall optimism about children’s chances to surpass their parents’ success is largely attributable to a 29-percentage-point surge in positivity among Republicans and Republican leaners (to 70%) as Barack Obama’s term ended and Donald Trump took office.
At the same time, Democrats’ and Democratic leaners’ optimism about the next generation’s chances at success fell 13 points (to 55%). Democrats’ more tempered reaction to Trump could be related to the news that economic indicators are showing signs of improvement.
A similar, though muted, reversal in Republicans’ opinions about the likelihood of children having better lives than their parents occurred toward the end of George W. Bush’s presidency and the beginning of Obama’s. Republicans’ optimism fell from 72% in January 2008 to 51% in March 2009.
Americans are generally feeling optimistic about the direction of the economy, and recent Gallup polling suggests that Americans still think the American dream is alive. Just as a healthy majority of Americans now think it is possible to get ahead through hard work, so too, do they believe it is likely that today’s young people will have a better life than their parents did.
While the Trump administration asserts that it is “Making America Great Again,” and a majority of Republicans stand behind him, Democrats are more skeptical about how the next generation will fare than they were when Obama was president. Still, given the current economic conditions, Democrats remain more likely than not to view the chances of the next generation optimistically. Should the nation’s economy worsen, history shows that the public’s assessment of opportunities for the next generation will also turn more pessimistic.