Dec 3, 2023 - Economy

The American dream for some is leaving the U.S.

Illustration of the statue of liberty from behind carrying a suitcase

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

For some, the American dream lies overseas.

The big picture: As recent polling suggests a dwindling sense of confidence in the American dream, some U.S. citizens are flocking to foreign countries in search of more affordability and flexibility than they experienced in the U.S.

Catch up quick: Recent surveys have uncovered concerns about the American dream declining or even already being extinguished, Axios' Dave Lawler reports.

  • Only 36% of respondents said the American dream — defined in this case that "if you work hard you'll get ahead" — still held true, per a WSJ/NORC poll from October. That's a steep drop from previous polling.
  • Meanwhile, younger Americans are struggling to get on the housing ladder, and Americans of all ages are increasingly pessimistic about the opportunities that will be available to the next generation, as one recent NBC poll found.

At the same time, opportunities presented by remote work and expat lifestyles reflected in social media posts have led some Americans to consider life overseas.

  • Since 2020, there has been a rise of the digital nomad visa, per the Europe-based law firm Lexidy.
  • Dozens of countries now offer a "visa pathway enabling remote workers to legally reside in the host country for a year plus under certain conditions," according to Lexidy.
  • Across social media sites, including TikTok, some Americans are documenting their new lives outside of the U.S. while expressing shifting attitudes about the American dream.
  • JP Stonestreet and Amelia Basista, two married American expats who left Colorado to move to Ecuador in 2017, now run a business for helping people to live abroad and earn online income.

What they're saying: "We grew up in a country of opportunity for everybody. If you were smart and worked hard, you could achieve the American dream, and that is not the case anymore," Stonestreet told Axios.

  • "It just takes one unforeseen incident ... to completely change that and take the dream away from you," said Stonestreet, who cited high living costs in the U.S. as a major part of the couple's decision to leave.
  • Stonestreet and Basista said they have seen a large increase in the number of people both thinking about and making the decision to move.
  • Most of their online followers are people nearing or at retirement who realize they cannot afford to live in the U.S. anymore and are seeking a higher quality of life for a lower cost of living elsewhere.

Though the two became mired in medical, student loan and credit card debt prior to leaving the U.S., the pair is now debt free since moving to Ecuador.

  • Both in their 50s, the two said they are "aging in reverse," which they mostly attribute to reduced stress from living outside of the "toxic hamster wheel" they refer to as the U.S.

Of note: There is no data from a U.S. federal agency that explains the true extent of Americans leaving the states for life abroad.

  • As of 2020, the State Department estimated that 9 million U.S. citizens lived overseas, but according to a department spokesperson, the agency no longer provides these estimates.
  • U.S. citizens are not required to register their travel with the department, and the spokesperson told Axios that the agency does not want to provide potentially inaccurate figures.

Reality check: It remains the case that many more people are seeking to move to the U.S. than away from it. But for younger generations of Americans, the world beyond the U.S. has grown more easily accessible and perhaps more appealing.

Go deeper: Americans think the American dream is dying

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