Millennials of Color Are Optimistic About the American Dream
Do Generation Z and Millennials expect to succeed in life and experience the American Dream? What helps them succeed?
Contrary to today’s conventional wisdom, young people—especially youth of color—are optimistic about their futures. They believe they will succeed in life and achieve the American Dream, defined on their terms. And they say education plays a key role in this effort.
More than 4,000 respondents ages 13 to 23 (Gen Z) and 24 to 39 (Millennials) were surveyed in late June 2020 by Echelon Insights on their beliefs and attitudes concerning the American Dream, along with issues like education and their community.
The most striking attitude of these young people is their faith in the work ethic. More than eight in ten think that “If I work hard, I…will…succeed in life”. Hard work not only brings success, seven in ten believe it allows them to move up the economic ladder.
Nearly eight in ten believe their individual lives will be better or the same as their parents—though Gen Z are more optimistic than Millennials.
Despite today’s racial turmoil, Gen Z and Millennials of color are more likely than whites to think they will have a better life than their parents.
On the other hand, nearly two in three Black Gen Z and Millennials see racial inequality as either “extremely” or “very” big problems that will keep them from pursing opportunity. Four in ten Hispanics and Asians and around one in four whites answer in similar fashion.
What of the American Dream? Two in three believe that, individually, they have the opportunity to achieve it. A similar proportion across racial and ethnic groups believe they are as likely as whites to realize it.
These young people were asked in an open-ended question to define the American Dream. Their answers were clustered under eighteen categories. The top five responses were: freedom, especially to choose whatever one wants to be; financial well-being; family; good job or career; and housing.
Interviews with nearly 150 individuals provide details on what the Dream means to these young people. In responses similar to the top category of the open ended question, they describe it as having the freedom and opportunity to build their life on their own terms.
Many used the word “opportunity” to define what it means. For them, opportunity is about creating many pathways to success. This is counter to the view that there is a “one size fits all” definition of success.
When asked about what might help them have the opportunity to live a better life, respondents were given 13 possible answers. The top three “extremely” or “very important” responses were family, environment, and public schools.
So they believe that the school as a key local institution plays an essential role in making the American Dream a reality.
What makes for a good community in which to live and opens doors to opportunity? When asked to choose the two or three items from a list of nine, they responded: affordable cost of living; good job opportunities; and good environment, as in clean air and water.
How does COVID-19 affect their views? Two in three believe that it’s made success in life a “lot” or “little” harder. But nearly four in ten think that after having an effect for a few years, “we will get past it.” Around a quarter believe it will cause permanent change.
What are we to make of this?
The new American Dream Gen Z and Millennials are pursuing emphasizes freedom and the opportunity to build one’s own life on one’s own terms. Opportunity is not a “one size fits all” description of success. Rather, there are many pathways to and definitions of success.
Opportunity is about building the life one wants in a local community that’s affordable, has good jobs, and a clean environment. And education unlocks the door to both opportunity and the American Dream.