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Most Americans Pessimistic About Chances At Staying Middle Class

Image: Jill Fulk, customer service representative

"I have basically been making the same salary since 2006," says Jill Fulk, seen here at her job as a customer service representitive at an insurance company in Greenbelt, Md. on Monday, Sept. 16, 2013. "I do not feel there is any hope for the true middle class - to have the American Dream," she says. Jim Seida / NBC News

The American Dream is based on a simple idea. Everyone has a fair shot at pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. But what happens when those bootstraps get frayed?

According to a report released Tuesday by the MacArthur Foundation, 79 percent of Americans think it's more likely for middle class people to fall into a lower economic class than it is for people in lower economic classes to rise into the middle class.

image: infographic
An infographic illustrating data from the 3rd annual Housing Matters survey. MacArthur Foundation

Rich, poor, Democrat, Republican, young and old, no matter how you slice the data, that number stayed steady in the phone interview survey of 1,401 adults conducted by Hart Research Associates between April 27 and May 5.

This is the third year for the Housing Matters report but the first time it has asked the social mobility question. From the beginning the report has shown Americans believe the housing crisis is ongoing, though that view is improving.

This year, 61 percent of Americans believe we are either “still in the middle” of the housing crisis (41 percent) or "the worst is yet to come" (20 percent). While this has improved since 2014, where it was a combined 70 percent, and the 77 percent in 2013, it's clear most Americans believe the economy has yet to recover.

Rebecca Naser, SVP of Hart Research, which conducted the study, said one of the biggest drivers of this new American pessimism is housing. Chiefly, not being able to afford it. Wage growth is sluggish. And while interest rates are at record lows, it's harder to qualify for a loan. Meanwhile, rents are rising in some cities.

Half of respondents said they had to make at least one cutback in order to pay their rent or mortgage. Further, 21 percent reported adding on another job or working longer hours, 17 percent stopped contributing to their retirement plan, 14 percent ran up credit card debt, and 12 percent stopped buying healthier foods.

"This is a long slog," said Naser. "There's a very entrenched feeling of pessimism."