CNN Fact Check: Most Americans think today’s kids will do worse?

Updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri August 31, 2012

Story highlights

Mitt Romney says most Americans "for the first time" doubt that children will have better future than them

Some polls indeed have shown this level of doubt since 2009

But majority pessimism isn't unheard of; Pew Research Center recorded it in 1996

(CNN) —  

Mitt Romney says that after more than three years of a Barack Obama presidency, the United States is uncharacteristically pessimistic about the future of its children.

The GOP presidential nominee said Thursday at the Republican National Convention that America’s immigrants would always arrive confident that they could build a better life, and “that in America their children would be more blessed than they.”

“But today, four years from the excitement of the last election, for the first time, the majority of Americans now doubt that our children will have a better future,” Romney said.

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The facts:

Polls do appear to show a recent, downward trend in optimism for kids’ futures, and four polls from two different organizations since 2009 indeed had a majority of adult respondents saying they don’t expect today’s children to be better off than their parents.

But these results aren’t unheard of. A poll also showed this type of result some 16 years ago.

Let’s start with the more recent surveys.

Consider this set of four Rasmussen Reports polls, from January 2009 to this year.

January 2009: 47% said today’s children wouldn’t be better off than their parents.

October 2009: 62% said so.

March 2011: 60%

July 2012: 65%

The question for the July 2012 Rasmussen poll was: “Will today’s children be better off than their parents?” The national survey of 1,000 adults had an error margin of +/- 3%.

Similarly, an April 2011 Gallup/USA Today poll had the pessimists in the majority, with 55% saying it was either somewhat unlikely or very unlikely that “today’s youth” will have a better life than their parents.

Here’s how those Gallup/USA Today numbers looked from 2008 to 2011 (sample of 1,013 adults, with a +/ 4% margin of error):

February 2008: 33% somewhat/very unlikely

December 2008: 42%

March 2009: 40%

January 2010: 38%

October 2010: 48%

April 2011: 55%

Gallup also keeps a collection of older, CBS News/New York Times poll results that used the same question:

October 1996: 42%

January 1998: 34%

December 2001: 27%

January 2003: 31%

Reports of majority pessimism, however, are not unique to the last three years. The Pew Research Center reported it in 1996, and near-majority pessimism in 2002 and 2006.

Here are some Pew results:

1996: 55% said children will be worse off.

1999: 36%

2002: 50%

2006: 50%

The 2002/2006 Pew surveys asked: “When children today in the U.S. grow up, do you think they will be better off or worse off than people are now?” The 2006 survey polled 2,250 people and had a margin error of +/- 2%.

The 1996 and 1999 surveys asked: “Looking to the future, do you think most children in this country will grow up to be better off or worse off than their parents.”


Surveys in the past three years, from two different organizations, show the majority of respondents don’t expect today’s children to be better off than their parents. But a poll from a third organization also showed this level of attitude back in 1996.

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CNN’s Jason Hanna and Emily Smith contributed to this report.