WASHINGTON - A poll of young adults sponsored by two youth organizations shows most do not think they will be financially better off than their parents.

But they are not totally pessimistic. While 57 percent are very concerned about the middle class disappearing, 77 percent think they personally can achieve the American dream.

That means economic status may not play as large a role in defining the American dream for the 18-34 age group, said Chris Matthews, one of the pollsters. The poll was conducted for two youth groups, Young Invincibles and Demos.

"Maybe the American dream means something else for this generation," Matthews said. "I think they acknowledge that, financially, it's very difficult out there and are seeking ways of living a more balanced life instead."

The financial outlook for the age group started looking bleak long before the recession hit, according to a report released along with the poll.

Since the 1990s, student debt has doubled and, controlled for inflation, the average cost of four years of college now is $30,400 compared with $8,400 in 1980.

Three years after the recession started, the age group's unemployment rate is nearly twice the national average, and more than half make less than $30,000 a year.

All sorts of big life decisions are postponed as well, especially within minority groups. Almost half have delayed purchasing a home, a third have delayed moving out on their own or starting a family and a quarter have delayed getting married.

Washington, D.C.-based Young Invincibles is a research and policy organization focused on issues affecting youth, and New York City-based Demos is an economic research and policy development organization.