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Americans not confident about getting rich

The Great Recession seems to have pushed Americans into a negative mindset about their prospects for getting rich.

Seven out of 10 (70 percent) say it is harder to get rich in America today than it used to be, according to the most recent Bankrate.com survey conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International.

Compare that response to a similar poll taken in 1999, during the era of the dot-com bubble: Only 38 percent of Americans said it was harder to get rich than it used to be. Just more than a quarter (26 percent) said it was easier. Today, 9 percent say it's easier.

Do you think it is easier or harder to get rich today than it used to be?

When asked to predict whether it will be easier or harder to get rich 10 years from now, nearly eight out of 10 Americans (76 percent) say it will either be harder or no different, according to Bankrate's poll.

The recency effect

Responses to Bankrate's new poll may have less to do with Americans' ability to get rich and more to do with the recent past, says Dan Danford, principal and chief executive officer of the Family Investment Center in St. Joseph, Mo.

"Instead of looking back over the last 20 years, we look at what happened in the last six months or year, and then project that into the future. If you've just been through tough times, then the prevailing attitude is that we're going to keep going through tough times," he says.

Back in the Clinton era, everyone seemed to be getting rich. Today, after the financial crisis, new words like recessionista have entered the lexicon. Saving money and hunkering down are on everybody's minds.

"You could have everything lined up -- lots of productive people, good resources, great infrastructure -- but if people don't feel in their gut that risks are worth taking, then they don't," says Peter Rodriguez, associate professor of business administration at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business.

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"And the sad part is that if no one is taking risks, then no one can really benefit from going out and building better mousetraps and investing in new entrepreneurial ventures -- or even feel confident that investments in their own skills will pay off," he says.

Biggest obstacle: misplaced priorities?

Most people continue to feel some degree of anxiety about the economy. Even those who still have jobs are on edge due to the incidence of bank failures, collapsing industries and rampant layoffs.

When asked to identify the biggest obstacle to achieving personal prosperity, 27 percent of respondents say job loss or income reduction. Another 27 percent say too many bills and not enough income are keeping them down.

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