PPIC Logo Independent, objective, nonpartisan research
Blog Post · November 27, 2023

Is the American Dream in California Dying?

photo - US Flag Waving in the Wind

Many Californians no longer believe the American Dream holds true, while many believe that the dream is harder to achieve in California. The California Dream—which predates the American Dream—was born out of the Gold Rush and the idea that those who work hard can move up in life. The Golden State was seen as an ideal place where any hard worker could prosper, and people flocked to the state. Today income inequality in California is among the highest in the nation, and the population in the state has dropped.

Just one in three Californians (32%) say that the American Dream—if you work hard you’ll get ahead—still holds true, while two in three say it either never held true (15%) or that it once held true, but does not anymore (52%), according to our November survey. The view that the American Dream has not endured has grown 7 percentage points since our initial Californians and Their Economic Well-Being survey in December 2020. This negative view is held by about half or more across parties, regions, and demographic groups and has increased—at least modestly—across all of these groups.

For most Californians (61%), the American Dream is harder to achieve in California than elsewhere in the US, and about six in ten Californians have held this view since 2020. At least half across all groups hold this pessimistic view, but differences do emerge. Eight in ten Republicans—compared to two in three independents and just over half of Democrats—think that achieving the American Dream is more difficult in California. White Californians are much more likely than other racial/ethnic groups to hold this view, and this perception is more common among those with higher incomes and older Californians.

Who are the Californians casting doubt on the California Dream? Thirty-six percent of all Californians believe both that the American Dream has come and gone and that it is harder to achieve in the Golden State; they are more likely to be Republicans and consider themselves conservative. These Californians are also much more pessimistic about the direction and economic outlook for the state and are more likely to say they are considering a move outside the Golden State.

However, despite their negative outlook, this group supports policies that could improve the economic well-being of Californians. Overwhelming shares of Californians with pessimistic views support increasing government funding for childcare programs for lower-income working parents and for job training programs; they also support a government health insurance option. Moreover, solid majorities in this group support making tuition free at public colleges, expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, and increasing the minimum wage.

Californians who have soured on the American Dream offer salient perspectives on the state as we turn to an election year. In 2024, California voters will elect a new US Senator, play a role in the control of the US House of Representatives, as well as vote on measures that could improve economic mobility. Stay tuned to the PPIC Statewide Survey as we continue to track Californians’ views on economic opportunity as well as preferences in upcoming elections.


2024 Election Economic Mobility Economy income inequality Political Landscape Poverty & Inequality Statewide Survey voters