Americans increasingly see tension between rich and poor. A sharp change in American attitudes is summarized in this report:
A new Pew Research Center survey of 2,048 adults finds that about two-thirds of the public (66%) believes there are “very strong” or “strong” conflicts between the rich and the poor—an increase of 19 percentage points since 2009.
However, the part of the Pew study that caught my primary attention were the public misperceptions about the source of wealth. The misperception remained unchanged from a previous survey in 2009 despite several recent books and studies that attempted to address the issue.
Only 43% believe that wealthy people became rich “mainly because of their own hard work, ambition or education”. The truth is that the large majority of American millionaires rich were not born rich but achieved this success through their own work. Similarly, a large majority of the super-rich families achieved that status because they started a company and then sold it. The misperception is blamed on public media, especially television that focuses on young people like Paris Hilton and the Kardashians born into rich families.
It is especially discouraging to read that young adults are even more unlikely to believe in this fundamental principle of the American dream than older people. This false belief may directly explain why we see fewer young people today with ambitions of working hard and getting a good education.
In a larger perspective, the combination of these two beliefs taken together (increased class tension plus a lack of personal influence) reported in the Pew study raises significant concern for the long-term sustainability of our society.