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America No Longer Seen as a Land of Opportunity

The number of Americans who believe regular people have “plenty of opportunities” to get ahead has dropped sharply over the past decade. This is one of the most profound changes in how Americans view their own country. From Gallup:

Trend: Some people say there's not much opportunity in America today -- that the average person doesn't have much chance to really get ahead. Others say there's plenty of opportunity and anyone who works hard can go as far as they want. Which one comes closer to the way you feel about this?

Similarly, the number of people who see the United States’ economic system as basically unfair has jumped from 29 percent in 1998 to 44 percent this year.

It will be interesting to see how such a dramatic shift impacts politics in this country. Our flimsy social safety net has often been justified on the grounds that anyone can get ahead by just working hard. The rhetoric of empowering opportunity instead of simply enhancing living standards for all has been so dominant in our political dialect over the past generation that it has impacted almost every government program.

As more Americans see success as a result of luck and birth as opposed to merit and diligence, it could significantly change what role they think the government should play in economic matters.

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Jon Walker

Jon Walker

Jonathan Walker grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2006. He is an expert on politics, health care and drug policy. He is also the author of After Legalization and Cobalt Slave, and a Futurist writer at