Poor but still dreaming

Publication Title

The Routledge Handbook on the American Dream: Volume 1

Document Type

Book Chapter - Open Access

Department or Program


Publication Date



Poor Americans have faced increasingly grim prospects. Given this, scholars have investigated their disillusionment with the American dream. While sophisticated, that research has relied on limited sets of interviews. As such, it remains unclear whether, in the aggregate, poor Americans have in fact given up on the promises of their country. An alternative research stream points to a continued commitment to the “dream.” It too, however, relies on generally small data sets. This chapter examines large-scale survey data indicating that poor Americans are indeed still clinging to the dream. Given this, it then reports on the author’s recent research in Alabama and Montana on how these Americans reconcile their personal economic travails with their beliefs in the dream. Four themes are highlighted. They center on self-responsibility, optimism, worth as not monetary, and limited knowledge of other countries. The conclusion reflects on whether the respondents’ views ensure further struggles or can serve as a source of practical and existential inspiration.


Original version is available from the publisher at: https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003020028