*NEW YORK -– A new American Dream that is less conventional and more personalized is emerging among African Americans, according to the fifth annual MetLife Study of the American Dream. The nationwide survey reveals that although the American Dream is alive and well, African Americans, similar to the general population, are replacing many traditional elements of the Dream to create a “do-it-yourself” model.
MetLife’s 2011 Study also uncovers significant gaps in financial safety nets that help Americans achieve and protect their Dream, even as desire to build adequate safety nets remains strong. Nearly 70 % of African Americans and 72% of Americans overall believe that having a financial safety net is key to achieving the American Dream. Yet only 30% of African Americans and 30% of general population feel theirs is adequate.
“Times are tough, but people are adapting and pursuing their own version of the Dream,” said Dwight Raiford, senior financial planner with MetLife. “The good news is that, like Americans overall, African Americans can take small steps to build their safety nets and achieve financial security.”
Rise of the “Do it Yourself” American Dream
Twenty-six percent of African Americans say they have achieved the American Dream, compared to 34% of the general population, and achieving the Dream remains very important to those who have yet to achieve it. However, the study reveals that, like Americans overall, African Americans no longer place importance on many traditional elements of the Dream: 72% say you don’t have to be wealthy to achieve the Dream; 65% say you don’t need a college degree; 71% and 69%, respectively, say marriage and children aren’t essential; 58% percent say you don’t have to own a home.
However, more than half of African Americans (56%), still believe their standard of living needs to be higher than their parents to feel they have achieved the American Dream. This compares to only 44% of the general population who say the same. African Americans also say that a sense of personal fulfillment and work/life balance are most important in assessing whether they have achieved the Dream.
Materialism, once symbolic of achievement, has waned significantly. Today 80% of African Americans say the current economic situation in this country has caused them to reevaluate their priorities in life and place greater importance on relationships in their personal life and family rather than material possessions.
It appears that the Dream has “gone social” among the general population. Across generations, more Americans have difficulty choosing between a roof over their heads and having close friends and family. Gen Y places the highest premium on relationships with 33% rating close friends and family as most important compared to just 23% who say it is most important to have a roof over their head.
Americans Do Whatever it Takes
Perhaps because of their desire to achieve a higher standard of living than their parents, 76% of African Americans say they are working just as hard or harder than their parents did at their age: 19% are working additional hours, 17% are freelancing and 17% are working second jobs to get ahead. More African Americans are also starting their own businesses, with 21% who say they are doing so compared to 12% of the general population. Almost two thirds of African Americans (63%) are willing to relocate to another part of the country to sustain or achieve the American Dream.
Financial Safety Nets Important, but Difficult to Achieve
A financial safety net includes savings to cover living expenses in the event of illness, job loss, or other serious emergency, as well as financial and protection products such as life, home and health insurance, annuities and retirement accounts.
While most Americans, including African Americans, recognize the importance of having a financial safety net, achieving one is proving extremely difficult. Only 30% of all African Americans say they have an adequate safety net in place, and 64% agree that there is more risk to their family’s financial future than in the past. Despite the majority of African Americans saying they don’t have adequate safety nets, they are most optimistic about their personal financial situation. Fifty six percent say they expect their personal financial situation to be better in 2012, compared to only 33% of Americans overall who expect the same.
From September 26 – October 10, 2011, Penn Schoen Berland in partnership with Strategy First Partners conducted 2,420 online surveys amongst the general population as part of the 2011 MetLife Study of the American Dream. This is the fifth annual edition of the Study.
To download The 2011 MetLife Study of the American Dream, visit www.metlife.com/dream.
MetLife, Inc. is a leading global provider of insurance, annuities and employee benefit programs, serving 90 million customers in over 50 countries. Through its subsidiaries and affiliates, MetLife holds leading market positions in the United States, Japan, Latin America, Asia Pacific, Europe and the Middle East. For more information, visit www.metlife.com.