WASHINGTON -- The American dream of life getting better for each new generation feels like a myth to many of today's young adults.
After coming of age during a deep recession, most expect to have a harder time buying a house and saving for retirement than their parents did. More than 4 in 10 predict it will be tougher to raise a family and afford the lifestyle they want, according to an Associated Press-Viacom poll of Americans ages 18 to 24.
Only about a fourth expect things to be easier for them than it was for the previous generation -- a cherished goal of many hardworking parents.
"I just don't really see myself being able to obtain the kind of money my parents could when they were my age," said Mark McNally, 23, who earned a history degree from the University of Minnesota a year ago but works part-time in a liquor store now.
San Francisco State University nursing student Ashley Yates is confident she'll build a career in health care but expects money to be tighter in her lifetime. "Social Security may not even exist when I'm older," said Yates, 23. "Health insurance is going up. Everything just costs more."
Sounds like a bummer, right? Yet most young adults are shrugging it off. Despite financial disappointments, they overwhelmingly say they're happy with their lives, much more so than older folks in similar surveys.
Youthful optimism, with perhaps a touch of naivete, lives on. A whopping 90 percent expect to find careers that will bring them happiness, if not wealth.
Linka Preus, who's taking a year off her career track to work in an Ithaca, N.Y., bagel bakery, figures every generation has its own struggles, and bad economies eventually improve.
"Even if it never gets better permanently, we'll adjust to whatever it is," said Preus, 22, a linguistics and cognitive science grad from Cornell University who plans to pursue her passion for science in graduate school.
McNally, the history major, says he's enjoying life as a part-time clerk in the Minneapolis suburb of Edina before he gets tied down in a research or analyst job. "I'll be able to find one in the future, I'm sure of it," McNally said. "I'll find one or go back to school."
High unemployment has left lots of young lives in limbo. Among students who don't plan to go to work right after college, three-fourths say the limited number of open jobs in their field was important to their decision.