Workers feel the American Dream is slipping away, according to a Labor Day survey commissioned by unions.

A slim majority of workers, 51 percent, still believe the American Dream is attainable, according to the “American Dream Survey: Hope and Fear in Working America,” but more than a third (36 percent) either feel they cannot reach it or are unsure. Just 14 percent believe they have already attained the American Dream.

The national survey, conducted by Lake Research Partners, found the nation’s proud history of optimism is waning for the working class. Fewer than one in five (18 percent) of workers believe the next generation will be better off economically than the current generation, while 51 percent believe it will be worse off.

Workers overwhelmingly interpret the American Dream as having a good job and making a comfortable living. Just 1 percent in an open-ended question mentioned being wealthy or affluent as the American Dream.

The most widespread worries of today’s workers are not being able to afford health care when they need it–a serious concern for 77 percent–not having enough money for retirement (77 percent), losing their health care benefits (72 percent), not being able to keep up with bills (69 percent) and having their standard of living slip further (68 percent).

More than two thirds (68 percent) said belonging to a labor union could make things better for working people.

Nearly two in three (63 percent) said both the country and national economy have gotten off track. Sixty-five percent said economic opportunities are either declining (43 percent) or stagnating (22 percent), while 21 percent felt they are increasing.

Half (51 percent) said wages are not keeping up with the cost of living. Four in five (81 percent) said no matter what the media say about economic recovery, working families are falling behind.

The study was commissioned by Change to Win, a group founded in September 2005 by seven unions representing six million workers. The seven affiliated unions are Service Employees International Union, UNITE HERE, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Laborers’ International Union of North America, United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America and United Farm Workers of America.

“The promise of the American Dream is real to workers in America, but the belief in the fulfillment of the American Dream is being shattered and is at risk of being lost for the children of working America,” said Anna Burger, chair of Change to Win.

“Working Americans are the foundation of our country and our economy,” she said. “We must keep the dream real for them and for future generations.”

“The American Dream should be more than just a dream for everybody who works hard,” said Chris Sanders, political counsel for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union in Kentucky. “But, with low pay and high prices, average working people have fallen behind just in the last few months.”

Sanders, a seminary graduate and member of Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., said escalating gasoline prices, for example, translate into a substantial income loss for working people earning the minimum wage. That means people have not only less to spend, but also less to give away.

“Scripture says, ‘Work honestly with your own hands, in order to have something to share with the needy.'” Sanders said. “With these wages and these prices, honest working people have less and less to share for missions and charity, as well as feed their own families. Something has to change.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of

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