Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The American Dream is moving further and further out of reach for millions in the U.S.

Why it matters: That promise is essential to American identity — and its erosion will affect how we live, work and vote for decades to come.

What's happening: It's increasingly unaffordable to buy a home or pay for college — and millennials, many of whom entered the job market at the height of the recession, are feeling the crunch.

  • The cost of higher education is ballooning. From 1978 to 2017, the Consumer Price Index grew fourfold, but the price of college increased 14-fold, according to research by Ana Hernández Kent, a policy analyst at the St. Louis Fed.
  • The price of homes is rising much faster than incomes. Per a study by real estate company Clever that looked at census data from 1960 to 2017, U.S. housing prices have skyrocketed 121%, but incomes have increased just 29%.
  • Wage growth has been sluggish. Wage growth in the U.S. has decelerated since 1979 — and the middle and low ends of the wage spectrum have been hardest hit, the Economic Policy Institute reports. Average hourly wages for all American workers grew 2.2% from 1947 to 1979, but just 0.7% from 1979 to the present.
  • And socioeconomic mobility is at an all-time low. As we've reported, fewer Americans are faring better than their parents did — and more are doing worse. Per a recent UPenn study, around 60% of people born in the 1940s did better than their parents, compared with 40% of those born in the 1980s.

Why we're still confident: There remain bright spots and reasons for optimism, experts say — and America's reputation as a land of promise continues to beckon people from abroad, whose homelands offer less mobility.

Americans are more entrepreneurial than ever before. There were 3.4 million applications to start businesses last year, a record number, per the U.S. Census Bureau.

  • The idea that people can try out ideas, turn them into businesses, "and see if they catch has always been a driving force of pursuing the American Dream," Holly Wade, research director at the National Federation of Independent Business, a right-leaning small business lobbying group, tells Axios.
  • But the number of budding companies that researchers estimate will turn into job creators — a measure of success — hasn't returned to its pre-financial crisis level. "There is recovery in the quantity but not so much in the quality of business applications," according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The U.S. homeownership rate is back to pre-recession levels, despite the rising cost of homes.

  • Around 65% of American families own homes. That's up from recession-era lows and mirrors the U.S. homeownership rate of much of the 20th century, says Mike Fratantoni, chief economist at the Mortgage Bankers Association.
  • That rate could climb even higher. "In the past six months, there's been a pickup in the pace of home construction," he says. "The average size and cost of homes are coming down a bit."
  • Still, the homeownership rate among millennials remains quite low. Around 44% of older millennials — those born between 1980 and 1989 — own homes, which is 4 percentage points lower than what would be expected based on older generations, Kent says.

The bottom line: "Sink or swim by your own strength is not applicable to this generation as it was with previous ones," says Kent. "The tide is much stronger."

Go deeper

Exclusive: Conservative group launches $2M Supreme Court ad

Screengrab of ad, courtesy of Judicial Crisis Network.

The Judicial Crisis Network is launching a $2.2 million ad campaign to put pressure on vulnerable Senate Republicans in battleground states to support a quick confirmation when President Trump announces his Supreme Court nominee.

The big picture: "Follow Precedent," previewed by Axios, is one of the first national and cable television ads to run following Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg's death Friday.

Updated 7 mins ago - Politics & Policy

CDC says it mistakenly published guidance about COVID-19 spreading through air

CDC Director Robert Redfield. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Pool/Getty Images

The CDC has removed new guidance that acknowledged airborne transmission of the coronavirus, posting in a note on its website that the guidance was only a draft and had been published in error.

Why it matters: The initial update — which was little noticed until a CNN story was published Sunday — had come months after scientists pushed for the agency to acknowledge the disease was transmissible through the air. The CDC previously said that close person-to-person contact was the bigger concern, and the language has been changed back to erase the warning about airborne transmission.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg will lie in state in Capitol's National Statuary Hall

Photo: Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Monday that the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will lie in state in the Capitol's National Statuary Hall on Friday.

The state of play: The Supreme Court also announced Monday that Ginsburg will lie in repose on the front steps of the building on Wednesday and Thursday, allowing the public to pay respects to the late justice outside.