NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

AARP Poll Shows American Optimism

May 24, 2000

There is a general lack of class consciousness in America and no serious support for redistributing wealth or imposing income equality. A new poll from the American Association of Retired People (AARP) suggest why.

For starters, money plays less of a role in peoples' happiness than is generally assumed. Only 27 percent consider earning a lot of money to be absolutely necessary for success; 23 percent say it has little or no importance. They consider non-monetary factors to be more important, including having a good marriage, a good relationship with one's children, helping those in need, having an interesting job and being well-educated. In the poll, each of these was considered essential for happiness by between 79 percent and 94 percent of respondents.

  • People still believe strongly in the ability to get ahead in America.
  • Sixty-nine percent of those polled say they are better off than their parents were at the same age.
  • Furthermore, 67 percent think their children will be better off than they are.
  • Remarkably, the percentages of blacks and Hispanics thinking so were significantly higher at 80 percent and 81 percent, respectively, suggesting long-term optimism.

What is wealthy? Some 22 percent think someone could be considered wealthy on an income of less than $50,000 per year; only 15 percent think one needs an income of more than $200,000. In terms of assets, 28 percent think someone with less than $100,000 in investments could still be considered wealthy; only 8 percent think one needs more than $1 million.

More than 150 years ago Alexis de Tocqueville saw America's lack of class consciousness as one of its greatest strengths, in contrast to the rigid class structure of Europe. The AARP poll shows that Americans still view themselves as essentially classless.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, senior fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis, May 24, 2000.


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