When It Comes to the American Dream, the U.S. Ranks 27th in the World

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The American Dream -- the notion that anybody, regardless of background, can achieve financial stability and build a secure life for his or her family -- is a huge part of America's self-identity. For centuries, it has been enshrined in our literature, in our history and in our politics. It is, in many ways, the most important aspect of life in this country.

However, a recent study suggests that, like so many other American things, the American Dream may have been outsourced to other countries. Specifically, the 26 other countries where median wealth is higher than in the U.S.

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Credit Suisse's annual Global Wealth Data Book publishes a ranking of median wealth in countries around the world. Basically, this study looks at the sum of all assets, subtracts all liabilities, and comes up with the amount of money that the household in the middle of the wealth distribution can put its hands on. As one might expect, rich enclaves like the UAE (21) and Luxembourg (2) did well. Similarly, countries with a strong social safety net -- like Canada (12), Sweden (24), and Germany (23) -- also outpace us. But there are a few surprises, too. For example, the U.S. ranks behind Ireland (18), Spain (20) and Cyprus (25), countries that are generally recognized for their abysmal economies.

Why does America rank so low? The answer shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody who watches the news: To begin with, financial deregulation has concentrated wealth at the top of the income pyramid, wage stagnation has made life harder for workers, and the shredding of America's social safety net has made it ever more difficult for people to climb out of poverty. If you're interested in seeing a more comprehensive explanation, Les Leopold has written a pretty solid rundown.

The other side of the story -- and another aspect that makes this income inequality even more appalling -- is that, while the Global Wealth Data Book's numbers are based on the average of all households, the wealth held by the richest of the rich badly skews the equation. As this video notes, the top 1 percent of households own almost 50 percent of all stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. By comparison, the bottom 50 percent of all households own 0.5 percent of those wealth instruments.

Or, to put it another way, the middle class dream is alive and well in America -- as long as you're part of the upper class.

When It Comes to the American Dream, the U.S. Ranks 27th in the World

The number of poor households in the suburbs of Dayton, Ohio increased 109% to 97,581 from 2000 to 2011.

The increase in poverty was tracked by the Brookings Institute in "Confronting Suburban Poverty in America."

The number of poor households in Dallas increased 111% to 474,023 from 2000 to 2011.

Dallas metro area includes Fort Worth and Arlington. The increase in poverty was tracked by the Brookings Institute in "Confronting Suburban Poverty in America."

The number of poor households in Charlotte, N.C. increased 113% to 140,760 from 2000 to 2011.

Charlotte metro area also includes Gastonia and Rock Hill. The increase in poverty was tracked by the Brookings Institute in "Confronting Suburban Poverty in America."

The number of poor households in Detroit, Mich. increased 115% to 453,784 from 2000 to 2011.

Detroit metro area also includes Warren and Livonia. The increase in poverty was tracked by the Brookings Institute in "Confronting Suburban Poverty in America."

The number of poor households in Minneapolis, Minn. increased 128% to 204,901 from 2000 to 2011.

Minneapolis metro area also includes St. Paul and Bloomington. The increase in poverty was tracked by the Brookings Institute in "Confronting Suburban Poverty in America."

The number of poor households in Provo, Utah increased 129% to 39,784 from 2000 to 2011.

Provo metro area also includes Orem. The increase in poverty was tracked by the Brookings Institute in "Confronting Suburban Poverty in America."

Photo: Michael.Jolley, Flickr.com

The number of poor households in Boise City, Idaho increased 130% to 62,459 from 2000 to 2011.

The increase in poverty was tracked by the Brookings Institute in "Confronting Suburban Poverty in America."

The number of poor households in Phoenix, Ariz. increased 134% to 275,085 from 2000 to 2011.

Phoenix metro area also includes Mesa and Glendale. The increase in poverty was tracked by the Brookings Institute in "Confronting Suburban Poverty in America."

The number of poor households in Denver, Colo. increased 138% to 163,434 from 2000 to 2011.

Denver metro area also includes Aurora and Broomfield. The increase in poverty was tracked by the Brookings Institute in "Confronting Suburban Poverty in America."

The number of poor households in Las Vegas increased 139% to 214,883 from 2000 to 2011.

The increase in poverty was tracked by the Brookings Institute in "Confronting Suburban Poverty in America."

The number of poor households in Salt Lake City, Utah increased 142% to 115,109 from 2000 to 2011.

The increase in poverty was tracked by the Brookings Institute in "Confronting Suburban Poverty in America."

The number of poor households in Austin, Texas ballooned 143% to 103,248 from 2000 to 2011.

Austin metro area also includes Round Rock and San Marcos. The increase in poverty was tracked by the Brookings Institute in "Confronting Suburban Poverty in America."

Photo: heatheronhertravels, Flickr.com

Atlanta suburban poverty rose 159% to 780,078 from 2000 to 2011 –– by far the fastest growth in suburban poverty in the nation.

Atlanta metro area also includes Sandy Springs and Marietta. The increase in poverty was tracked by the Brookings Institute in "Confronting Suburban Poverty in America."
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Bruce Watson is DailyFinance's Savings editor. You can reach him by e-mail at bruce.watson@teamaol.com, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.
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