Who Smashed the Up Ramp to the American Dream? Wall Street

So says a new poll searching for why upward mobility is tougher to achieve.

Wall Street has come under a lot of fire since the financial crisis, for being greedy and for sticking it to the nation’s economy. But why stop there? A new survey finds almost half the respondents believe Big Finance has made attaining the American Dream harder.

In a poll by RealClear Opinion Research, a full 46% said that Wall Street had made achieving that goal “more difficult”—with 26% saying Wall Street made no difference, 13% indicating achieving the dream was easier, and the rest not knowing.

Now, the poll takers didn’t define the American Dream for its respondents. The term was coined by James Truslow Adams, a writer and historian, in a 1931 best-selling book called The Epic of America. He said that the dream was one of upward mobility.

In Adams’ view, this was a “dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it.”

Writing during the Great Depression, when a large chunk of the population was jobless and poverty was rampant, he noted that a cynicism had developed among some Americans that such an uplifting dream was possible.

In the same vein, nowadays there is widespread doubt about how achievable upward mobility is. According to the Federal Reserve’s 2016 Survey of Consumer Finances, the top 10% of the income pyramid garnered 25% of the nation’s income and held 75% of its wealth. This increasingly one-sided trend been under way for years, starting in the 1970s.

Wall Street has been low on the public trust list for the past decade, and is widely blamed for the 2008 financial crisis, with some justice. Subprime mortgages packaged into bonds were a big part of the meltdown. A 2007 Bloomberg poll found that only 31% of Americans viewed Wall Street favorably.

For what it’s worth, in the RealClear survey, Wall Street wasn’t the biggest villain, stopping people from realizing the American Dream. No. 1 was Congress (56%), followed by President Donald Trump (51%), the judicial system (47%), and the Republican Party (46%).

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