|by Howard R. Gold, Special to USA TODAY|
No idea is more central to Americans' outlook than the American dream — the belief that with hard work and the freedom to pursue your destiny you can achieve success and provide better opportunities for your children.
For the vast majority of Americans, there is a sense that achieving the American dream is becoming more difficult," wrote
Chasing the American Dream.
In fact, three-quarters of Americans polled by the
They're right to worry. An analysis by USA TODAY shows that living the American dream would cost the average family of four about
In an interview, co-author
"It's not about getting rich and making a lot of money. It's about security," he said. It's also as much about hope for the next generation as it is about the success of this one. "They want to feel that their children are going to have a better life than they do," said Hirschl.
In their book, the authors write that besides economic security, the American dream includes "finding and pursuing a rewarding career, leading a healthy and personally fulfilling life, and being able to retire in comfort."
With that in mind, USA TODAY added up the estimated costs of living the American dream:
•Home ownership is central to the American dream. So, we took the median price of a new home (
•We used the
•In May, AAA estimated it would cost
•The Milliman Medical Index pegged annual health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket medical expenses at
•Total federal, state, and local taxes were pegged at 30% for households at this income level, based on a model developed for
•USA TODAY calculated current educational expenses for two children at
•Finally, the maximum annual pretax contribution to a retirement plan for people under 50 is
It sounds like a lot — and it is in a country where the median household income is about
There are big regional variations, too. It costs a lot less to live the American dream in, say,
And many people achieve the dream on much less. Some immigrants, for example, have extended families and other support systems to help bear the burden.
Nonetheless, it's clear that though the American dream is still alive, fewer and fewer of us can afford to live it.