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Report Details Anxiety Over 'American Dream'

A recent study (March 2007) entitled "Economic Anxiety and the American Dream", finds middle class Americans look at their economic future with a combination of optimism and anxiety. The report by Lake Research Partners finds Americans are making more money than ever, but they are also working harder than ever to achieve their financial goals. For producer Ivana Kuhar, VOA's Jim Bertel has more on the economic life of the American middle class.

In an era of record corporate profits, a recent public opinion survey shows the American middle class is becoming increasingly anxious about their economic security.

E.J. Dionne is a Washington Post columnist and economics scholar. "In the Depression years, the song was: 'Brother, can you spare me a dime?' Now, the song would go: 'Brother, can you spare me some health insurance' or 'Brother can you spare me from outsourcing?' "

According to a recent poll conducted by Lake Research Partners, only 18 percent of Americans believe they have achieved the coveted "American Dream".

"The 'American Dream' is firmly rooted in work and in the workplace. It is tied to a job. It is not rooted in a Bahamas vacation, it is not rooted in winning the lottery," says Lake Research Partners President Celinda Lake. She adds Americans define the "American Dream" as basic economic security. "They said that the cornerstones were wages that support a family, affordable quality healthcare, opportunities for your children, respect for the work you do, and retirement security."

Yet, 31 percent of working Americans say they have incurred debt to pay for essential necessities. Meanwhile, American corporate profits are soaring. The Economic Policy Institute reports in 2005, the average CEO of America's 500 top companies earned 262 times the pay of the average worker.

Elisabeth Jacobs of the Brookings Institution says total U.S. wealth has increased over the past decade. But, she adds, the middle class is not getting its slice of the American economic pie. "The household incomes have risen, but Americans are working harder than ever in order to achieve those gains. Household income volatility has risen as well, suggesting that many families face unpredictable futures."

Jacobs says major income losses are increasingly common, as more Americans lose their jobs to outsourcing or company downsizing. Further, health care costs are rising dramatically, leaving an estimated 46 million Americans without health insurance.

Jim Kessler of the Third Way, a strategy center for progressive issues, says economic anxiety among working class Americans is a by-product of global economic changes. "We're in a once-in-a-century period of just vast, convoluting, unremitting economic change that is going on and that is making people uncertain. The middle class feels that the rules for economic success have changed and they are on their own to figure them out."

Kessler says the ongoing global economic restructuring will not be stopped nor slowed. He suggests the way to help American workers prepare for success in the new global economy is to make high quality education more affordable to all Americans.