The intro says it all:
A new Pew Research survey shows that the number of Americans who consider themselves “lower class” has climbed dramatically in President Obama’s America. More importantly, a full 77 percent of Americans thought it was harder to get ahead now than it was 10 years ago; just 51 percent said hard work bring success.
I thought this was an interest quote when taken in relation to Ragged Dick, because of how the term "lower class" seems to signify failure.
In Ragged Dick, the Boot-blacks were considered amongst the lowest classes, but Dick and Henry still had the opportunity to make money, go to church and learn to read and write in order to begin to better themselves. Their class was not the hindrance to their success, it was his education and his presentation. Once he put on new clothes he was automatically taken more seriously and then working hard to learn to write helped him obtain a respectable job.
But that didn't mean he didn't work hard as a bootblack.
The quote (and indeed the article) above suggests that people in America today don't believe they have the same opportunities that Ragged Dick had, even though they are in regular employment (or at least have welfare checks to live off) and ready access to some of the best free education (up until college) in the world.
So even though people in America have never had it so easy, the definition of what it means to be a success (note that is "success" and not "respect" that people want now) has shifted.
Although both the book and the quote state that hard work is essential, the book believes in giving 100% no matter what your goals, it is just how one should be at work, and then working smarter (less gambling, more reading) in order to progress. The article seems to imply that people believe today that hard work in only useful in getting a promotion, and if there isn't one available then why bother.
I believe that it is representative of new TV shows which set an unrealistic bench mark for being "successful" - things like expensive clothes, cars, a big house...you are a nobody until you have a pool...and showing a lot of young, beautiful people living the high life who have never had to work for their lifestyle. With the economic crisis making that upper class (because that's what it is really, not even middle class is good enough) smaller and less stable, people don't have anyway of being able to reach the goal of buying a Ferrari.
Ragged Dick just wanted a middle management job to be happy...