'Downward mobility' pushing American Dream out of reach

The quest for the "American Dream" has been part of the country's cultural and social fabric for generations, but increasing numbers of middle class Americans are finding that that destination doesn’t exist anymore.

Among them is Sam Blick, a 48-year-old construction appraiser who has never married and lives alone in Denver. After 10 years with the same company, Blick was called into his sales manager’s office one morning last May, in the middle of a typical work week.

“He just basically stated, ‘Sam, you've seen the projects decrease in number, and sorry to have to tell you, we're going to have to lay you off.’ There was no promise of a rehire if things got better,” Blick told Fox News in an interview at his home this week. “I just kind of sat in stunned silence.”

Since then, Sam has begun collecting state unemployment insurance and hunted for jobs nonstop. But at this point, having become one of the “long-term unemployed” – someone who spends longer than 26 weeks to find a new job – Sam is resigned to the prospect that he will have to take a salary cut of 50 percent, and to never again enjoy the annual boating, fishing and Disneyland vacations on which his father, a middle-class manager at a Denver utility company, used to take Sam and his brother in the early 1970s.

“The concept and idea of the American Dream is still there,” he says, “but I don't see that happening for myself or several of my family members. It's just not in the works because we just can't afford it," he said.

Blick’s story is emblematic of a larger, decades-long trend, which was recently documented by the Pew Charitable Trusts. In its report "Downward Mobility from the Middle Class: Waking Up from the American Dream," researchers tracked the economic well-being of American babies born, like Sam, into the middle class back in the early to mid-1960s. The report’s sobering finding was that one-third of such babies had, by the time they became adults, fallen out of the middle class.

Such findings call into question the continued viability of what has long been known as the American Dream: the notion that you can own your own home and car, make ends meet and still have enough left over to take the kids annually to Disneyland, or someplace else fun, for a summer vacation.

“A person with some college or a college degree is more likely to stay in the middle than someone with a high school diploma or less,” explained Erin Currier, manager of Pew’s Economic Mobility Project. “A person who is married is more likely to stay in the middle than someone who is single or divorced. And a person with higher test scores is more likely to stay in the middle than someone with lower test scores.”

Race and gender also appear to play a role. The Pew study found, for example, that 38 percent of black men fall out of the middle class, compared to 21 percent of white men; and while one-fifth of white men demonstrate this “downward mobility,” nearly one-third of white women do.

“The bottom line is that being raised in the middle class is not a guarantee of remaining in the middle class as an adult,” Currier said. In what passes as the report’s good news, she added: “A variety of factors influence economic mobility, and those factors include things that policymakers have control and influence over.”