Commentary: The Unattainable American Dream

American flag waving in front of house
by Steve Cortes


Get married, have children, buy a house, and live comfortably on a single income. Not very long ago, that path was the reality, the norm, for the great American middle class.

But America has gone backward in this regard, and struggling citizens know it all too well. Experiencing the kinds of lives enjoyed by our parents and grandparents has become impossible for most Americans, leading to widespread disenchantment and a palpable loss of patriotism and confidence in America.

Polling proves this point. Last year, a Wall Street Journal survey found that 78 percent of Americans do not believe their children will be better off in the future, the least optimistic finding in the history of that poll, which goes back decades. Similarly, another Wall Street Journal survey found that only 36 percent of Americans believe the American Dream is still achievable.

As bad as those poll results are, they are perhaps too optimistic, at least for the key battleground states that will decide the 2024 national election. My populist-right laborers’ advocacy group, the League of American Workers, surveys these swing states on a rotating basis. Our poll last November in battleground Arizona discovered that only 18 percent of likely voters there think the American Dream is still attainable.

We just returned to Arizona to poll the state again, and the new results point to the specific policy failures that create seemingly insurmountable obstacles facing hard-working citizens there. Polling firm North Star Opinion Research used an Arizona sample evenly split between Trump and Biden 2020 voters and found that 84 percent said that a family cannot thrive on a single income. A whopping 88 percent of Arizonans said that affordable housing is out of reach for most citizens.

In a country as politically polarized as America is presently, many political issues break down in typical 45 percent-45 percent splits. So, such near-unanimous Arizona poll results are startling. Moreover, they point to systemic problems. To be sure, the trends that disadvantage the non-wealthy masses have worsened for decades. Globalization, mass migration, and a financially centered economy have eroded the standard of living for working-class citizens since the 1970s. But these trends have also accelerated materially under President Biden, and voters clearly blame him for their predicament, per our new polling.

On the question of income, detractors might regard even asking about single-income households as somehow anachronistic or sexist. But surveys clearly reveal that at least half of women with young children prefer to stay home – and supermajorities prefer to have at least the option to stay home. But whether the stay-at-home caregiver is the mother or the father, shouldn’t the option to stay home be a laudable economic goal for our society? Clearly, working-class Americans think so, as only 29 percent of blue-collar Americans prefer both parents working full time, per American Compass polling.

Regarding housing affordability, the average sales price for a home in the Phoenix area just hit an all-time record high at $590,000. Even the pro-Biden New York Times acknowledged this harsh economic reality with a stinging article about the lack of housing affordability, noting: “Arizona is a presidential election battleground state, and a dire shortage of affordable housing there is sowing economic anxiety among voters.”

Voters there logically blame Biden for this financial stress since interest rates have soared under his management of the economy, marked by exorbitant borrowing and spending that spiked mortgage rates skyward. Fully 87 percent of pledged Biden voters in Arizona believe affordable housing is out of reach. Other historically Democratic constituencies concur, with 93 percent of young adults and 90 percent of Hispanics reporting that housing is not affordable.

On the topic of the broad economy, when asked if they were better off under Trump or Biden, the former president enjoys a huge +18 percentage point advantage, 53 percent-35 percent. In our Arizona poll, overall approval for Biden on the economy reveals his most glaring weakness. For example, among undecided 2024 voters, a minuscule 1 percent express “strong approval” while a huge 45 percent voice “strong disapproval.”

The America First vision of populist economic nationalism can address this ubiquitous anxiety with real policy solutions. The most pressing reforms needed are budget discipline and border control. Biden and establishment Republicans continue to pile on an unsustainable $34 trillion mountain of federal debt that sends costs soaring throughout the economy, including for homes and the mortgages to purchase them. Are conservative candidates ready to reverse that tide?

Regarding the border, the constant inflow of millions of illegal migrants lowers wages for American workers and puts upward pressure on shelter prices. So, securing the border makes eminent economic sense.

Undoing decades of policy failures represents a daunting task, to be sure. But America must again become a nation of promise for working-class families. Time to get to work on restoring that kind of society.

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Steve Cortes is former senior advisor to President Trump, former commentator for Fox News and CNN, and president of the League of American Workers, a populist right pro-laborer advocacy group.
Photo “American Flag” by Brett Sayles.



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