For Young Americans, the “American Dream” Resonates Differently

How has the “American Dream” changed over time? In September, the Sine Institute of Policy and Politics at American University released the results of a survey of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34. The poll, which was conducted in partnership with Close Up, the Generation Lab, and the Millennial Action Project, explored “what the American Dream actually means for young Americans, who are trying to sort through the churning dynamics shaping their lives, including: spiraling technological innovation, major economic transitions, changing attitudes about social justice, and what constitutes a good, or ‘successful,’ life after a devastating global pandemic with profound impacts on their physical and mental health, the extent of which is still unknown.”

The report, based on interviews of 1,568 people between the ages of 18 and 34, offers important insights into young people’s understanding of the American Dream, the economy and workplace, major social and political issues, and community engagement. One key finding is that, while young people still believe in the idea of the American Dream, they view it differently than previous generations did. Marriage, owning a home, and having children are lower priorities than they were in the past. Being happy and fulfilled and having the freedom to make significant life decisions top the list of important elements of the American Dream of today’s young people.

A second finding is that, for young Americans, individual efforts and characteristics are the most important determining factors in their ability to achieve the American Dream. However, forces outside of their control, such as the economy and the decisions of elected officials, also play a significant role. For Black and Hispanic respondents, social conditions such as inequality, bias, and discrimination are viewed as vital factors. Respondents of color were also more likely to rate the decisions of policymakers as very important.

While young Americans view the policies and decisions of elected officials as important, they are skeptical of the capacity of politics and government to help them achieve the American Dream. Respondents were just as likely to say that social and economic policy has “done more to hold me back” than “to help me achieve the American Dream.” Additionally, respondents were almost twice as likely to say that “our political system, including the way we choose our elected officials,” has hindered their ability to achieve the American Dream than to say that it has helped.

In next week’s blog post, we will use results from this survey to take a closer look at young Americans’ views of politics, political engagement, and civic life.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you believe in the American Dream?
  2. What does the American Dream mean to you?
  3. How important are the factors shown in the first image to your American Dream?
  4. Are you optimistic about your future? How about the future of the nation?
  5. How do the factors shown in the second image impact the way you think about your opportunity to achieve the American Dream?

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.



Featured Image Credit: Biden image: Sine Institute of Policy & Politics, American University 


Should There Be an Age Limit on Public Officials?

Several recent incidents have caused the public, members of the media, and some elected officials to raise alarm bells about the advanced age of several government officials. President Joe Biden (age 80),1 Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.; age 81),2 and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.; age 90)3 have all had moments in which they appeared confused, stammered, or in some way appeared to be not in control of their faculties. Nineteen members of Congress are at least 80 years old and the median age in the Senate is 65.4 Additionally, both President Biden and former President Donald Trump—the current frontrunners to be their parties’ presidential nominee in 2024—would be the oldest president ever elected.5

WATCH: “Is It Time for Age Limits for Politicians?” from CNN

In early September, Representative John James (R-Mich.) introduced a resolution to amend the Constitution to place a maximum age limit for politicians including the president, vice president, and members of Congress. If adopted, the amendment would bar people who would reach the age of 75 while in office from running for that office.6 According to a recent CBS News/YouGov poll, 76 percent of Americans either strongly support or somewhat support an age limit on elected officials.7 That number is up from 58 percent in a January 2022 poll.8

READ: Full Text of Representative James’ Resolution

According to an Axios breakdown of the polling data, many respondents felt that the rigors of the job of president are too demanding for someone over 75, and 80 percent of respondents feared that an elected official over the age of 80 would be out of touch with the times.9

While it is clear that public opinion is shifting on this issue, many also argue against using age as a factor. Nancy Jecker, a University of Washington bioethics and philosophy professor, argues, “Age is sometimes used as a marker for poor health. But it’s a really blunt instrument.” Instead, she argues, mental acuity tests would focus on specific job-related functions.10

Presidential hopeful and former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley proposed that elected officials over the age of 75 be compelled to take mental competency tests.11 Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.; age 81) pushed back on the idea: “I think that’s absurd. … We are fighting racism, we’re fighting sexism, we’re fighting homophobia, I think we should also be fighting ageism.”12

While the amendment introduced by Representative James would have a long road to ratification, it is clear that political leaders and the public are more open to a maximum age limit for politicians than in previous years, and age may play a role in many voters’ decisions.

Discussion Questions

  1. What have you heard or seen about the age of political figures in recent months?
  2. Do you believe there should be an upper age limit on people who hold elected office? Why or why not?
  3. Do you agree with Senator Sanders and others who call age limits and cognitive tests ageist? Why or why not?

Potential Follow-Up Action

Because the amendment to impose an upper limit on the age of members of Congress, the president, and the vice president is very new, many members of Congress have not weighed in. This is a good time to make your voice heard on this issue. Read the full text of the amendment (H.J. Res. 87).

Once you have an opinion on the issue, reach out to your members of Congress to make your opinion known. If you don’t know your members of Congress, you can find their names and contact information here.

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.



Featured Image Credit: Biden image: Nhac Nguyen/AFP via Getty Images | McConnell image: Jacquelyn Martin / AP
[1] Newsweek:
[2] NPR:
[3] Ibid.
[4] Fox News:
[5] NBC News:
[7] YouGov:
[8] YouGov:
[9] Axios:
[11] The Hill:
[12] The Hill:


Climate Emergency: Wildfires

The summer of 2023 saw record-breaking temperatures across the United States and a global average temperature hotter than any time in the past 120,000 years.1 Along with the heat, regions across the globe—including 33 U.S. states—are experiencing drought conditions.2 The combination of severe heat and drought creates ideal conditions for wildfires.

In June and July, nearly 70 million people across 32 states were impacted by smoke from Canadian wildfires.3 For many people, particularly those living on the East Coast, this marked the first time they had ever experienced the smoke, smog, and hazardous air quality associated with wildfires. Meanwhile, states like California experience recurring wildfires each year. Historically, “wildfire season” tended to last from July until October, but perennial drought conditions have placed these states at risk year-round.4

Most recently, Hawaii suffered a devastating wildfire on the island of Maui. Centered in the town of Lahaina, the fire broke out on August 8 and has seen the destruction of 80 percent of the town and the death of at least 115 people with hundreds still missing.5 Some climate scientists had warned of a strong potential for wildfire on Maui. They also suggest that over half of all addresses in the United States are at risk for wildfire.6

The harrowing climate conditions of the summer have led some Americans to ask how the government will respond now and, with a presidential election a little over a year away, how it will aim to address these issues going forward.

READ: “July 2023 is Hottest Month Ever Recorded on Earth,” from Scientific American

The Biden Administration’s Response and Policy 

The immediate climate crisis response to the Maui wildfire saw thousands of federal aid workers deployed to the island to provide medical, food, and housing relief to those impacted by the fire. However, with wildfires becoming a recurring threat for large swathes of the country, President Joe Biden’s administration has attempted to address the issue since its earliest days.7 Through directives to executive agencies, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Department of the Interior, and the Department of Energy, as well as congressional legislation, much of the administration’s strategy has focused on the recruitment and training of firefighters and efforts to make forests more “resilient and fire adaptive.”8 These measures include weakening future fires by cutting down trees, removing underbrush, and holding controlled burns which are intended to clear away extremely dense forests before uncontrolled fires can start.

Republican Candidates Weigh In

Republican officials immediately criticized President Biden for what they judged to be a lack of urgency in visiting the site of the Maui fire.9 In terms of addressing climate change and natural disasters more broadly, the most significant measure put forward by Republican leadership in Congress has been to join a global effort to plant one trillion trees to capture carbon from the atmosphere and to pass the Lower Energy Costs Act.10 The latter would aim to make U.S.-based fossil fuels cheaper to use. Although these sources still add to global emissions, Republicans leaders have argued that the act would reduce overall emissions because foreign energy producers use less efficient methods, thus producing more greenhouse gases.11

As for the Republican candidates currently vying for the 2024 presidential nomination, the approach to climate change policies are mixed. The current frontrunner, former President Donald Trump, reversed many climate-oriented policies during his administration and dismisses the threat of climate change. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis takes an adaptive approach, aiming to strengthen infrastructure against natural disasters but denies the threat of climate change itself. Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley both acknowledge the existence of climate change but do not prioritize it as an imminent threat to the extent that many Democrats do.12 Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy denies climate science as a “climate cult” and has committed to expanding the United States’ use of fossil fuels.13

What Do Climate Scientists Say?

In general, climate scientists find the climate change responses and approaches of both the Biden administration and Republican candidates to be insufficient. Carbon recapture through reforestation, like the plan put forward by Republican leadership, has thus far had little impact on carbon emissions and will likely do little to prevent the heat waves and droughts which can either cause or worsen natural disasters like wildfires, famines, and disease.14 These scientists continue to emphasize that the Biden administration and any potential Republican administration must put their greatest efforts toward reducing carbon emissions, particularly in the industrial and power-producing sectors.15 While the Biden administration did include emission-reducing provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act, these policies would reduce emissions by 40 percent in the next decade. Climate scientists say this goal falls short of the 50 percent reduction needed in the same time frame, and far short of a total elimination of carbon emissions by 2050.16

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you feel that addressing climate change and natural disasters should be a top priority of the U.S. government?
  2. What are the main obstacles you feel exist to addressing climate change? Are they mostly political or do you think there are other challenges?
  3. How do you think the United States can best strike a balance between meeting its energy and economic needs and combating climate change?

Related Posts

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.



Featured Image Credit: Erin Hawk /Reuters
[13] Ibid.
[16] Ibid.