10 American Cities Where the American Dream Seems Far-Fetched

The American Dream is that anyone can achieve financial security, home ownership, and a better life for themselves and their children through hard work and determination. It has long been a cornerstone of the American ethos. However, this dream is becoming increasingly hard to achieve in many of the country’s major metropolitan areas.

Skyrocketing housing costs, stagnant wages, and widening income inequality have made it exceedingly difficult for average Americans to attain the proverbial American dream.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA

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Los Angeles, often referred to as L.A., is the second-most populous city in the United States, following New York City. It is also the second-most expensive city in the U.S. and fourth-most expensive city in the world, making it almost impossible to achieve the American dream in L.A.

Unemployment is extremely high in the city of Angels, leading to increased homelessness; L.A.’s unemployment rate stands at 5%.

Despite being employed, people with lower wages are unable to afford homes in the city because housing is 130% more expensive than the national average in Los Angeles.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA

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San Francisco is the fourth largest city in the U.S., but achieving the American Dream in San Francisco has become impossible owing to the city’s astronomical housing costs and income inequality.

Housing is expensive in San Francisco, with homes selling for a median price of $1415000, making it difficult for people to own homes in the city.

The cost of living is 71% higher than the national average, with utilities 35% costlier than elsewhere in the U.S. Healthcare is 25% higher than the national average.

Children are an important part of the American dream, but childcare costs are skyrocketing in San Francisco; families spend an average of $2000 monthly per child.

DETROIT, MICHIGAN

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Detroit is the largest city in Michigan. It is nicknamed “Motor City” because of the automobile industry. General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler all started in Detroit and have headquarters there.

The city has many problems, from racial disparities to poor education levels to displacement. On average, people spend 30% to more than 50% of their income on rent. Buying a house is also not feasible, with homes selling for a median price of $80000; such high costs and fewer opportunities have forced people to migrate, leaving the city with numerous abandoned buildings.

The annual cost of raising a child in Detroit is $28917, which puts a huge dent in parents’ pockets.

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

Chicago skyline with skyscrapers viewed from Lincoln Park over lake.
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Chicago, also known as the “Windy City,” is one of the largest cities in the U.S. It is famous for iconic skyscrapers like the John Hancock Center.

The cost of living in Chicago is 14% more than the national average, and the basic necessities are 7% higher.

Housing in Chicago isn’t cheap either, the median selling price of a house stands at $364250, making it 38% more expensive than the national average. It takes an average of $22310 to raise a child in Illinois.

NEW YORK CITY

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New York, or NYC, is the most populous city in the U.S. It is nicknamed the “city that never sleeps” and “The Big Apple.”

Despite being one of the most famous cities in the world, NYC is incredibly hard on its residents.

NYC is the most expensive city in the world, making it impossible for anyone other than the rich to achieve the American dream in the city.

The cost of living is 27% higher than the national average. Despite the wages being higher than elsewhere in the U.S., half of the families find it impossible to survive without financial assistance from the government. Raising a child costs $26017 in New York.

There is a vast disproportion between New Yorkers’ expenses and earnings, with costs increasing by 131% and median earnings showing an increase of only 71%.

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS

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Boston is one of America’s most historically rich cities. It is also nicknamed “Beantown” for its historical importance in the coffee trade. The city is home to prestigious universities like Harvard, MIT, and Tufts.

Yet the city’s high costs have caused an affordability crisis for its residents. Living the American dream is difficult when people can’t afford houses.

A study shows that for a single adult to live comfortably in Boston, they must make $124966, which is much higher than the nationwide average income of $59428.

Additionally, it costs $32000 to raise a child in Boston, making the American dream of providing a good life for children nearly impossible.

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA

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San Jose is the heart of Silicon Valley. Major tech companies like Apple, Paypal, and Google call the city home. However, such prosperity comes with a price.

Housing in San Jose costs 226% more than the national average, and the cost of living is 75% higher. Monthly utilities are also 31% more expensive, and healthcare is 23% more expensive.

It should be noted that San Jose is ranked the No.1 “Most expensive large U.S. city based on monthly costs.” residents pay 71.2% more than the national average for monthly expenses.

All these add up, making it nearly impossible for people to achieve financial stability or live the American dream.

HONOLULU, HAWAII

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Honolulu means “sheltered bay” in Hawaiian. It is the most populous city in Hawaii, and tourists from around the U.S. and worldwide are drawn to it.

The residents pay 63% more than the national average for utilities and the cost of living is 81% higher.

Tourism and luxury hotels inflate the housing prices in Hawaii; according to Kiplinger, an average home costs $1.7 million in Honolulu, making it next to impossible for middle-class folks to buy a house in the city.

Honolulu is a beautiful city; it looks like paradise, but achieving the American dream is impossible for the middle class here.

MANHATTAN, NEW YORK

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Manhattan, the heart of New York, is one of the five boroughs of this iconic city. It is home to the Statue of Liberty. Manhattan is both the smallest and the most densely populated borough.

The dense population inflates the prices of everything from housing to utilities to healthcare. The cost of living in Manhattan is 126% more than the national average, while healthcare costs 21% more.

Manhattan’s housing, like its skyscrapers, touches the sky. In March 2024, the median selling price was $1.2 million, 404% higher than the national average. Raising a small child in Manhattan costs $26,017.

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON

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Seattle, famous for its iconic landmark—the Seattle Space Needle; is home to many world-famous companies, including Starbucks, Microsoft, and Boeing. The presence of numerous Fortune 500 companies tends to push the prices upwards.

The cost of living in the Emerald City is 45% more than the national average, and the housing is extremely high, with the median selling price at a whopping $847500

Seattle is in Washington, and while there is no personal income tax, the state cannot be called tax-friendly because residents pay a high sales tax of 10.35%. Apart from this, childcare isn’t cheap either. Raising a small child costs anywhere between $12,907 to $24,277 depending on the wages and standard of living.

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