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The key to the American dream

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A new poll found Americans are overwhelmingly skeptical about the fate of the American dream. 8 in 10 said it takes more effort to get ahead these days than it did for previous generations, according to a new McClatchy-Marist poll. Nearly 8 in 10 also think it will take more effort for the next generation to get ahead.

So what is driving the frustration among Americans when it comes to getting ahead? Yahoo! Finance Senior Columnist Michael Santoli offers one theory on what is behind the skepticism. “Real, average wage growth has been hard to come by for twenty years. And it’s not clear exactly how you can maximize your chances to do better than that.”

Average household income has declined 9% since 1999 when it hit an all-time high of $56,080. As of 2012 real median household income was $51,017, according to the Census Bureau. Combine that reality with the worst recession since the great depression, a housing market crash and a very slow recovery in the job market and Americans are looking for someone to blame.

Government vs. The Middle Class

A majority (55%) of Americans said the middle class is most likely to be left behind by government policies. 40% said the poor and just 4% said the rich. Nearly two-thirds (61%) said the federal government could help the economy and move the nation forward by focusing more on raising the minimum wage and providing job training and education. 35% said more focus on cutting taxes and reducing regulations on businesses would do more to help the economy. With regard to the government’s role in helping Americans get ahead, Santoli points to the cautionary tale of education and the student lending bubble the federal government essentially created. “I don’t know what else the government might be able to do. It seems like global forces have a lot more to do with it than do specific government policies,” said Santoli.

Outstanding student loan debt in this country now stands near $1.2 trillion. According to an October report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: “the risks posed by mounting student debt for the economy and for society have gained greater significance.”

Corporate America did not get a pass. Three-quarters of Americans said stockholders are the top priority for companies versus just 22% who said employees are the top priority.

So is less government involvement the key to achieving the American dream? More government involvement? Or is it just good old fashioned hard work? Tell us what you think: Do you think the American dream is still attainable?

“We have a little bit of a misty idea of just how prevalent that classic American dream was in prior generations,” said Santoli. “I don’t deny it was there or still is there, but I do think we assume that prior generations had it a little bit easier than they did.”