But for all the optimism of youth, nearly one in six Americans younger than 30 do not believe they will pull ahead financially in the near future.
“I don’t think I have as easy a time of finding a good job as my father did,” said David Borck, 29, who lost his $7,000-a-month job as an overseas military contractor earlier this year during sequestration. He now is studying to get an airframe and power plant license in Ashland City, Tenn.
Borck blames the faltering economy on an overreliance on government. “People expect the government to do more for them instead of doing for themselves,” he said.
“The American Dream I always was told about in school was you work hard, you study hard and you’ll be able to do whatever you want to do,” he said. “But now you’re given things for doing nothing, and you get nothing for working.”
What’s at fault?
Washington gets the most blame in the poll for the lack of good-paying jobs. Nearly seven in 10 people cite political gridlock as a top culprit, followed by competition from cheap overseas labor. More than half say the Democratic and Republican parties as well as President Obama are not offering effective solutions to help the middle class.
Democrats are more likely than Republicans to pin the blame on high executive pay, Wall Street and corporations not investing enough. Republicans are more likely to cite high business taxes and regulations, the cost of health care and American workers themselves.
Ken Reichard has lost trust in the financial industry and Congress. Now 70, he had planned on retiring five years ago. Instead, he is still working as an administrator for the federal government and living in Montgomery County.
Reichard said a financial planner advised him to diversify his retirement portfolio, so he took money out of stocks and bonds and directed it into real estate funds before the market crashed in 2008. Since then, stocks have rebounded, but his real estate investments have not.
“I don’t make anywhere near the money I used to,” said Reichard, who has pared down from five vehicles to two and even sold the motor home that once figured so prominently in his retirement plans. Inflation and a federal pay freeze that has lasted almost three years have taken their toll on his bottom line. “The American Dream used to be a white picket fence and a house. Now most people are just happy to make the mortgage.”
Reichard said he sees no solutions coming from Washington.
“I blame a lot on Congress,” he said. “The tea party people are not there for solutions — they’re there to screw things up.”
Washington gridlock has taken its toll on the finances of Barry, the IT technician.
When sequestration cuts took effect earlier this year, the IT technician had six mandated furlough days. And with Congress debating next year’s budget and the threat of a government shutdown, more furlough days are on the horizon, he predicted.
“I don’t see much difference between one party or another,” he said. “Everyone’s standing on principle. They don’t realize you can’t stand on principle if someone else’s principles are 180 degrees from yours. Me and my wife are polar opposites, and we find a way to get along. You can’t just throw a temper tantrum. That’s what Congress is doing. Those guys are playing chicken with my future.”
Tara Bahrampour and Michelle Boorstein contributed to this report.