The American Dream isn't dead. It's just not as robust as it used to be.
So says a recent MetLife study, which indicates that shifting financial burdens-from employers and government to individuals-have prompted Americans to be more concerned with financial security. So concerned, in fact, that they rate it as the most defining feature of the American Dream, and they're constantly pursuing it.
Their endless quest has reshaped the dream, said Bill Raczko, vice president of Global Brand and Marketing Services at MetLife in New York.
Raczko said the dream used to be a way of life Americans achieved. Once they achieved it, they were pretty confident they'd stay there. Now they're always vying for terra firma, he explained, and even if they get there, they're not sure they'll be able to stay.
According to the study, 75 percent of respondents said they're perpetually striving for financial security, and can always do more to achieve it; 73 percent said the same is true about the American Dream.
The American Dream, Part II?
With employers scaling back on benefits, and government programs such as Medicare and Social Security facing an uncertain future, individuals are assuming burdens once carried by corporations and government, according to the study.
The study shows that 60 percent of working Americans say they shoulder more financial responsibilities than their parents did, and "the overwhelming majority" think those burdens will increase for future generations.
"That burden has impacted consumer attitudes and has caused us to alter the American Dream," Raczko said.
When it comes to Social Security, 72 percent of respondents don't think it will be available in the future, and 53 percent aren't counting on Medicare, either. Meanwhile, 61 percent think the erosion of corporate benefits is harming their efforts to attain financial security.
Ratany Ma, a California - based entrepreneur said she believes she and her family are living the American Dream - but she worries about financial security for her 8-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter.
"I'm worried about my kids' dreams more than mine. Things are more expensive. It is a threat financially, but at the same time do we look to the government to help us?" she said. "I talk about that all the time: How are our kids going to afford a house, college, etc. Which means I have to work harder and save more."
Optimism Reigns for the American Dream
Though elements of the American Dream may be at risk, there are still many stories of individuals who get there, Raczko said.
"I think what the study points out is that there are some macro trends we need to be careful about," he said.
On the whole, the study says, Americans are still optimistic about being able to achieve the dream, and they see hard work as the way there.
Respondents said "they understand the realities they face, but they need to remain optimistic," Raczko said. "It's a psychological thing. Without optimism and belief and determination, the dream would collapse. That's always been the case."
But the study suggests an underlying conflict.
Just half of respondents say their hard work pays off, and 86 percent say they're working harder than ever just to get by.
When asked about the conflict, Raczko said optimism continues to carry the day.
"The belief is still winning," he said.