American dream? 80% will experience some economic hardship

Updated
Mlissa Ruella and her son Randy, 3,  wait in line for groceries at the Greater Waterbury Interfaith Ministries on May 20, 2013 in Waterbury, Connecticut....
Mlissa Ruella and her son Randy, 3, wait in line for groceries at the Greater Waterbury Interfaith Ministries on May 20, 2013 in Waterbury, Connecticut....
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Four out of five Americans will live near poverty, without work, or relying on welfare at least once during their lives, according to a new survey from the Associated Press.

The survey shows signs of a deteriorating economy, growing economic inequality, and a disappearing American dream, just as the president looks to re-energize his economic agenda and champion the middle class.

“This growing inequality is not just morally wrong, it’s bad economics,” President Obama said last week in Galesburg, Illinois. “When the rungs on the ladder of opportunity grow farther and farther apart, it undermines the very essence of America—that idea that if you work hard you can make it here.”

America’s wealth distribution looks like a lopsided ladder: The bottom 40% of the population owns just 0.3% of the nation’s wealth, while the top 20% has 84% of the nation’s wealth, according to a 2010 study on wealth distribution and balance.

According the latest Census, 46.2 million Americans—15% of the country—are poor. But the Associated Press/GFK survey notes that Census figures are a snapshot—they don’t account for those who shift in and out of near-poverty, welfare reliance, or unemployment. When those numbers are accounted for, the number of Americans who face such hardships surges to 79%.

The survey also found that the racial disparities in poverty are lessening: for the first time ever, the number of white, single moms living in poverty is equal to the number of impoverished black, single moms.

Whites particularly see their economic futures deteriorating—63% called their families’ economic futures “poor.” In numbers that surpass government data, 76% of whites will face a year or more of economic insecurity by the time they’re 60. Minorities still face the greatest risk of falling into economic hardship and insecurity with 90% of nonwhites living near poverty in their lifetimes.

Steve Rattner, Morning Joe economist, reminded the panel that it’s a growing change.

“Income inequality has been growing for 20 years…It relates to a whole lot of factors from globalization, to liberalization of the way businesses can hire and fire,” he said. “Companies are at record profits and those profits are not being shared by the workers. The fact is that over the last three years, over a hundred percent of the income gains in this country went to the top one percent.”

For more, watch the discussion below.

American dream? 80% will experience some economic hardship

Updated