Seeking hope in America and why it matters

Submitted by Eleni Delimpaltadaki Janis
February 28, 2012

Most would agree that hope, invividual and societal, matters because it has real-life consequences that impact us all. Hope that a core American value becomes a reality for all: if you work hard enough, you can make it because in America there is equal opportunity for everyone to achieve their full potential.

Most Americans, but especially young adults (18-34 years old) in our country, are pessimistic about their long-term future. Only one out of five among the latter believe they, Millenials, will be better off financially than their parents (Demos), and 57 percent are very concerned that the middle class our parents and grandparents fought for may be disappearing. White young adults are the most pessimistic with only 12 percent saying that their generation will be better off than their parents. How young adults feel matters a lot because our future, myself included, is America's future. The decisions we make today are and will continue to be impacted, at least in part, by our assessment of today's state of affairs and future potential. These decisions reach every apsect of life, from getting married and having children to how we invest our money and pursue further job growth, and standing up for our labor rights without fear of losing our jobs.

But why are young adults discouraged about the future of their generation? The national and global financial uncertainty, which tends to dominate media coverage and public discourse is destined to play a role in the millenials' attitudes about the future. Another yet important variable influencing people's judgment of any situation or issue is their day-to-day experiences. A majority of young adults (18-34 years old) across race say it is harder to make ends meet since the "Great Recession:" although a majority  (68 percent of young adults) are employed. Among all races and genders, the hardest hit are Latinos with 78 percent reporting that it has become harder or much harder to make ends meet compare to 69 percent of whites, and 66 percent of men. Further, only half of young workers have seen earnings increases in the past four years, while the earnings of the rest have remained flat or decreased. Although African American workers are the most likely to have made gains, with 64 percent reporting increased earnings over the past four years more than two-thirds of them (69 percent) report annual incomes below $30,000. Similarly, 67 percent of Latinos fall in the below $30,000-income category, and only 41 percent of this group have seen earnings increases in the past four years. White young adults tend to make more than other racial and ethnic groups but still more than 1 out of 2 (55 percent) earn $30,000 or less and about the same share of whites reports earnings increases in the last four years (all above data from Demos).

Decades away from retirement, one out of three are extremely worried or "experience intense worry" about being unable to save enough for it. Young adults' greatest financial worry is about their ability to provide for their families or future families scoring an overall average of 7.1, the highest average among all questions about their worries (on a scale of 0 to 10, where “5” is neutral and “10” is very worried).

All that b, most young Americans (77 percent) hold hope that they, personally, will achieve the American dream with hard work and education. But for that to happen education needs to be more affordable. For 68 percent of young people making college more afforable was a top priority only surpassed by creating more jobs (89 percent). An affordable college education was especially important to African Americans and women, of whom 91 percent and 72 percent, respectively, named it a top priority. School loans is the leading cause for debt increase among those surveyed (42 percent).

Hope matters because it has real-life consequences that impact us all. Hope that a core American value becomes reality for all: if you work hard enough, you can make it because there is equal opportunity for everyone to achieve their full potential.