How Do Americans Feel About Our Country?

The Statue of Liberty can be seen with the Macy's Fourth of July Fireworks as seen looking across the Hudson River from Bayonne, N.J., Monday evening, July 4, 2005.
It is the most American of holidays: the Fourth of July, celebrated every year with parades, fireworks, flags and just about anything else you can imagine.

There are as many different ways to celebrate as there are different kinds of Americans — there are more than 300 million of us now.

So who are we on this 231st birthday of these United States? A snapshot shows us older, on average, than we were several decades ago — and more diverse.

"There's over 40 million Hispanics in a nation of 300 million people — that's a record number," demographics researcher Peter Francese told Sunday Morning host Charles Osgood.

Francese says the big picture for America is good.

"We're healthier, we're living longer, we're better educated than ever before, women have vastly more economic opportunities than they ever have before," he said.

But there are still many problems.

"We have 45 to 50 million people without health insurance," Francese said. "We still have millions of people living in poverty. We still have many more struggling to get an education, or to get a decent job."

As for the American dream, it's very much alive in 2007. Many Americans still refer to the United States as the land of opportunity. In fact, a new poll released today conducted by CBS News for Sunday Morning shows that eight out of 10 Americans believe that you can go from rags to riches — with hard work.

The poll asked if it is still possible to start poor, work hard, and get rich. Eighty-one percent answered "yes" while only 18 percent said "no." That can-do attitude, says historian Douglas Brinkley, is what unites a country that's increasingly diverse.

"Optimism is our oxygen, this belief that you can do better for yourself through work, and your children, and your children's children can do better, too," Brinkley said. "And that holds true not just for new immigrants coming but traditional Americans, too."

And yet, the gulf between rich and poor continues to widen.

"The top 20 percent of households — that is, households in the top one fifth of the income scale — take home 50 percent of all the money earned in this country," Francese said.

Sixty percent of Americans get by on just one-quarter of the wealth. But for one group of Americans, things have never been better.

"The older people in this country, people 60 and older, are better off economically than they have ever been in American history," Francese said.

Older Americans are better off with savings, pensions and Social Security. But, Francese says, there's a catch.

"They still feel anxious, and they still feel concerned that their children will never live as well as they do," he said.

In response to the question asking what will the future for the next generation will be, 25 percent said it will be better, and 48 percent it will be worse.

"I would not want to be raising a child right now, with so many problems, with education, and the way the world is going and with every aspect of life, there's just a lot of problems right now," grandmother Beverly James said.

Another problem is that, according to the poll, 71 percent of Americans believe the United States is not respected in the world today. Only 24 percent believe it is. Three-quarters of respondents said the country is on the wrong track, compared to only 19 percent who say it is headed in the right direction.

Two-hundred and thirty-one years ago, our founding fathers devised a national blueprint that had never been tried: A country ruled by the people who lived in it, with each person given a voice. But today, 72 percent of respondents said the founders would be disappointed; only 20 percent said they would be pleased. But historian Douglas Brinkley disagrees.

"They would be so proud of the progress the United States has made," Brinkley said. "I mean, here was basically a laboratory experiment forged on the battlefields with blood spilled in the revolution. Nobody knew if the constitution would work, the elasticity and flexibility of it. And here we are, many decades later, and the United States is still a place of great prosperity."

Something to celebrate, he says, on this one holiday all Americans share.