Most American adults believe its unlikely they will improve standard of living, Viterbo economist explains why

LA CROSSE (WKBT) — For many, the American Dream means making a better life for yourself than your parents before you. However, a recent study reveals that an increasing number of adults no longer believe that’s possible.

An Associated Press and University of Chicago poll revealed that 49% of adults say it is hard for them to improve their standard of living, and even more of them– 54%– believe it is unlikely young people will do better than their parents before them.

As prices rise, it can be hard to get by.

Hilary and Kyle Kendhammer know that well.

“Things are a lot more expensive than they used to be. I mean, everything’s expensive. Milk, housing, everything is going up in prices,” Hilary said.

“Not being able to afford daycare, and not being able to work because he’s not old enough to be in daycare is really struggling for me,” Kyle said.

Part of the American dream is the idea of pulling out of that struggle.

“For my parents’ generation, 90% of them ended up out-earning their parents. So it was actually very common for many years in the United States to have children making significantly higher incomes than their parents,” said John Robinson, a business professor at Viterbo University.

But another study from the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality shows that the amount of people out-earning their parents has dropped to just about 50%.

As a single parent, Kyle sees that firsthand.

“Just having a kid and that’s what motivates me to be better than what my parents had, but I don’t really see that happening,” Kyle said.

The AP poll reveals that most American adults are pessimistic about improving their standard of living.

Robinson explains that there’s a reason for that pessimism.

“The total amount of income that Americans earn is quite a bit higher, but it is very much concentrated at the top 10-15% of earners,” Robinson said.

For some, like Heather Berger, earning a degree can serve as a solution.

“My hope is that I can maybe attain the same but maybe not have to put in as many hours. Hopefully, that’s what my degree is helping me with,” Berger said.

But debt and high wages at the top is keeping many from getting there.

Robinson explained that things like the child tax credit and the earned income tax credit have served as small relief for some families.

But at this point in time, that still is not enough.