17 Places in the States Where the American Dream is Fading Away Quickly

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George Carlin famously said, “It’s called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.” With today’s stagnant wages, soaring property prices, high-interest rates, and extreme income inequality, he might be right.

Is the idea that anyone in America can climb the socioeconomic ladder with grit, gumption, and hard work still realistic? It seems unlikely – especially in some parts of the country. Here are 17 places where the American Dream is quickly fading away.

1. Cleveland, Ohio

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Cleveland is often nicknamed the “Mistake on the Lake.” It’s an unfair description of a diverse port city that’s come a long way since the 1980s. Yet there’s no denying its economic and social troubles.

For example, the median household income in Cleveland is just over $37,200 – roughly half the national average. The rate of poverty and violent crime are among the highest in the country, too.

2. Baltimore, Maryland

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Baltimore faces similar challenges. At $58,349, the median household income is much higher than in Cleveland, but it’s still almost $17,000 less than the US average. 

Charm City’s population is also in decline, with job losses, economic hardship, and crime contributing to the problem. Indeed, the crime rate in Baltimore is 153% higher than it is elsewhere.

3. Detroit, Michigan

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Nicknamed “The Motor City,” Detroit’s fortunes have long been tied to the automotive industry. Once a booming metropolis, it’s struggled ever since vehicle manufacturing moved to suburban areas in the late 1940s. The transition prompted a mass exodus from Detroit, which lost over 61% of its population between 1950 and 2010.

The city’s median household income is $37,761, its population continues to fall, and over 31% of those remaining live in poverty.

4. Flint, Michigan

Flint, Michigan
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Flint suffered a similar fate. Nicknamed “Vehicle City,” General Motors was founded here back in 1908, and it boomed for decades thanks to the company’s success. Over the last 50 years, though, it’s been devastated by GM plant closures, huge job losses, and then the Flint Water Crisis of 2014.

Flint’s population fell by around 20% between 2010 and 2020, and the median household income is now $35,451. Combine that with a rate of violent crime 223% higher than the US average, and evidence of the American Dream is hard to find here.

5. Gary, Indiana

Gary, Indiana
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Gary is another once-flourishing city that’s deteriorated since the decline of the steel industry in the 1970s. In its heyday, the steelworks here employed 30,000 people – a number that’s fallen to less than 4,000.

As employment prospects declined, so did Gary’s tax base. Its population has dropped by more than half since the 1960s, the median annual household income is just $36,874, and the crime rate is 56% higher than the national average.

6. Tucson, Arizona

Tucson, AZ
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Old Pueblo is a UNESCO City of Gastronomy known for its beautiful desert landscapes. However, there are several challenges to overcome if the American Dream is to stay alive there. For example, the median household income in Tucson is just over $52,000, and the poverty rate is 19.6%. Statistically speaking, it’s also one of the most dangerous cities in the nation to walk around.

7. Buffalo, New York

Buffalo, New York
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Once the second-largest city in New York State, Buffalo suffered hugely from the decline of manufacturing and industry in the 20th century. It’s yet to fully recover. The City of Light has lost over 50% of its population in the last 70 years, and over 27% of those remaining live in poverty. The median household income is $46,184.

8. Jackson, Mississippi

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The American Dream must seem like a distant reality for residents of the fastest shrinking city in the US. According to the US Census Bureau, almost 20,000 people left Jackson between 2010 and 2020.

An ongoing drinking water crisis, high homicide rate, lack-luster job market, and widespread poverty are just a few of the reasons behind the population decline. 

9. Memphis, Tennessee

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Memphis is the home of the blues and the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll. Unfortunately, it’s also the most dangerous place to live in America. That, alongside its high poverty rate of 23.6%, is a big reason so many people are leaving.

The population of Memphis is now around 621,000. In 2010, it was almost 647,000. At $48,090, the median household income is also significantly lower than the US average.

10. Allentown, Pennsylvania

Allentown, Pennsylvania
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Billy Joel’s famous song Allentown starts with the line, “Well, we’re living here in Allentown, and they’re closing all the factories down.” It came out in 1982 when the city was reeling from the decline of the steel industry.

While it has improved considerably since then, Allentown, like other Rust Belt locations, continues to struggle with high poverty, crime, and unemployment.

11. New Orleans, Louisiana

New Orleans
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New Orleans is known for its vibrant atmosphere, iconic French Quarter, lively festivals, and finger-licking food. But it isn’t the best place to chase the American Dream.

The Big Easy’s poverty rate is almost 23%, there’s serious income inequality, and its metro area saw the largest population drop in the US between 2020 and 2023. Affordability, education opportunities, and natural disasters are a few issues cited as driving the exodus. 

12. San Bernardino, California

San Bernardino, California
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The American Dream feels even further away in San Bernardino. Not so long ago, this Southern California city was a blue-collar town with a solid middle class. After years of huge economic difficulties, though, it’s become a shell of its former self.

Crime, unemployment, drug use, and homelessness are rampant. Likewise, San Bernardino’s poverty rate is 20%, and the median household income is $61,323 – significantly less than the state median of $91,905.

13. Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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A Rust Belt city, Milwaukee flourished thanks to the manufacturing industry, then suffered urban blight and population loss when it went away in the mid-20th century. Over 740,000 people lived there in 1960. Today, there are only around 563,000.

Nevertheless, Milwaukee maintains a positive reputation (it was recently voted one of America’s friendliest cities) despite struggling socioeconomically. The median household income is $49,733, and the poverty rate is almost 24%. 

14. Camden, New Jersey

Camden, New Jersey
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Camden was once one of New Jersey’s largest cities. At its peak, over 120,000 people lived here, supported by steady manufacturing jobs at companies like the New York Ship Building Company. Deindustrialization devastated it, though, and Camden’s been on a slippery slope since.

With urban blight, massive population decline (less than 71,000 people live there today), and high crime and poverty rates continuing to plague the city, the American Dream must seem like a foreign concept.

15. Stockton, California

Stockton, California
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Stockton is in a better position today than in 2012, when it became – at the time, at least – the largest city in American history to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy. It has stabilized its financial situation, and Census data shows the population is growing.

Yet Stockton also has one of the highest crime rates in the country, and 15.6% of residents live in poverty. Similarly, its median household income of $71,612 is approximately $20,000 less than the median in California.

16. Atlanta, Georgia

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The Big Peach is a prosperous city on the surface. Its population has skyrocketed by almost 80,000 people since 2010, and the median household income ($77,655) is above the national average. But dig a little deeper, and troubling realities emerge…

For example, the Atlanta Wealth Building Initiative says the city has the highest rate of income inequality in America. Someone born into poverty there has a lowly 4% chance of escaping it. That doesn’t sound like the American Dream. 

17. Los Angeles, California

Downtown Los Angeles California Skyline MSN
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The City of Angels is having a hell of a time battling income inequality, a homelessness crisis, and entire neighborhoods riddled with addiction and mental health issues. These factors, combined with a lack of affordable housing, help explain why over 75,000 people left between April 2020 and July 2022.

Of course, this doesn’t paint a complete picture of LA life. But the American Dream certainly feels a long way away in poverty-stricken areas like Skid Row. 

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