For more people, the American Dream doesn’t include a home of their own

Homeownership, once a cornerstone of the American Dream, has taken a big hit in public esteem, according to a recent poll conducted by The Washington Post and the Miller Center at the University of Virginia. In the past three decades, the number saying owning a home is “very much” how they define the Dream has declined to 61 percent, down from 78 percent in a 1986 Wall Street Journal poll. That year, owning a home was as emblematic of the American Dream as being free to live any way one chooses.

The change in prioritizing homeownership has opened up fissures that did not previously exist. In the new poll, there are apparent differences between men and women, young and old, and renters and homeowners, with the former in each example less concerned about ownership than the latter. Just 54 percent of African Americans, who suffered disproportionately heavy losses during the foreclosure crisis, now say homeownership is very much a part of the American Dream, among the lowest of any demographic group, according to the Post-Miller poll.

But of all of these groups, renters — some of whom, like Brown, endured foreclosures — have become the most ambivalent. In 1986, three out of four said it was a big part of the American Dream. But the number plummeted in 2013 to 52 percent of renters, who are now 15 points less apt than owners to put homeownership on a pedestal.