The American Dream In Black And White

Ed BurghardIt Is The Unexpected That Changes Our Lives

author: Unknown

To what degree do residents of different ethnic backgrounds feel they are achieving their American Dream?

 

I decided to take a look at the latest American Dream data from Xavier University to answer the question.  A priori, I expected the data to show a wide discrepancy in perceived attainment.  After all, you can’t pick up a newspaper or listen to a newscast that doesn’t highlight some aspect of the racial differences in quality of life across the USA.  But, I also knew that 1) the American Dream is about much more than standard of living, and 2) the supposedly obvious answer isn’t always the actual right answer.  So, I decided to let the data speak for itself.

THE DATA

It is probably worth a quick review of the Xavier University American Dream research.  The ADCI represents the first measurement that quantifies the American Dream in its entirety. A comprehensive and robust measure, the ADCI gauges our nation’s well-being as a function of the multifaceted American Dream. The ADCI takes into account all aspects of life in its calculation. It measures true aspiration.

As a statistically validated measure, the ADCI provides business, media and non-profit organizations, universities, and institutions with valuable insight into the current economic, political, and societal conditions in the United States. Furthermore, the Index reveals how people living in the U.S. feel about their personal well-being and the physical environment.

Each month, some 1,000 respondents—representative of the US population—respond to 139 statements pertaining to various aspects of the American Dream. Responses to these statements comprise the 35 ADCI dimensions that ultimately make-up the ADCI.  These 35 dimensions are rolled up into 5 sub-indexes.

As long as there are people who are not satisfied with any aspect of their lives, the ADCI will never be able to reach 100 percent as a national scale. However, it is possible that there are individuals who could potentially achieve an ADCI score of 100.

It is important to note that these data are self-reported.  They represent how the individual perceives he/she is attaining their American Dream.  Consequently, it represents the individual’s reality rather than somebody else’s assessment.

The data is collected among a statistically represented national sample on a monthly basis.  Then the team at Xavier University provides The Burghard Group with annual aggregate numbers.  To answer the question, we will be looking at calendar 2014 data and calendar 2013/14 combined data.

THE RESULTS

Surprisingly (or maybe not so), the data suggest no real difference overall in attainment of the American Dream between Black and White resident populations in the USA.  Remember, these data are self reported.  That means the individual is using their personal standard to measure attainment against rather than an assigned performance standard.  Blacks feel lower attainment of economic expectations and environmental expectations.  But, Whites feel lower attainment of societal expectations.

2014 Data

2014 Data

To validate the results, I decided to look at 2-years of data and see if the same conclusion made sense.

Combined 2013 and 2014 Data

Combined 2013 and 2014 Data

The overall conclusion was confirmedBlack residents and White residents in the USA believe they are attaining their American Dream to an essentially equivalent degree.

DISCUSSION

I know this conclusion likely flies in the face of what most readers might believe.  But, it is consistent with the data.  It could be argued that individuals may not have a high enough expectation of personal performance against many of the dimensions that make up the American Dream.  But, that is an external judgment call.  I prefer to let people set their own standard for what good looks like.  Higher expectations (e.g. greater wealth) don’t necessarily translate into a more fulfilling and balanced life.  I also find it a bit disingenuous to expect people to adopt my personal standard rather than their own.  There is nothing wrong with people having different expectations based on their personal journeys in life.

I also expect readers to have a knee jerk reaction to totally discount the data since most every government established measure suggests there should be a more dramatic difference in how these two groups perceive attainment of their American Dream.  Although, I am not sure why anybody should view a government established national average as a better representation of how people feel about their lives versus using data collected directly from people.  In my own case, I know my paycheck was never a good indicator of my satisfaction with my life.  I encourage you to resist immediately discounting the data and instead take the time to learn more about the Xavier University American Dream Composite Index.

If you are a reporter, I apologize that these data differ from what you have been telling the American public.

As always, your comments are appreciated.  I also appreciate you sharing this post with others you think may have an interest.

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2 Comments so far

  1. Mark Barbash

    July 26, 2015

    Ed, actually the data makes sense to me as well. The larger challenge in helping people to achieve the American Dream is how you use the data for action to help. If the view of progress on the AD is “an external judgement call”, how do you use the data to make policy or programmatic changes? Help me with that.

  2. Ed Burghard

    July 26, 2015

    Mark – I am glad you raised that question. First, let me clarify for readers that the data represent true resident perception (I know you know). Consequently it is a valid measure of how well a community’s leadership is doing in enabling the American Dream. The data is best used by comparing relative performance versus communities that compete for capital investment and skilled labor attraction.

    Knowing how your community stacks up against a relevant competitive set helps you identify points of positive and negative differences (from the 35 measured dimensions in Xavier University’s study) to potentially address in the community’s strategic design process. This helps you answer the question of “Where to play”. To answer the “How to win” question, benchmarking best-in-class communities on the dimensions selected will provide program. infrastructure and/or policy solutions for improving performance.

    I have authored a series of 4 posts outlining the process that is worth skimming (links to all 4 are included in this post) – http://strengtheningbrandamerica.com/blog/2013/05/strategic-planning-4th-in-a-series/

    I have been advocating this approach for a number of years now. I simply believe success is best defined by enabling residents to better achieve their American Dream. And, since Xavier University has a metric that reliably evaluates performance on that measure, it is a practical approach.

    You may be interested in a recent article about Santa Monica published in FastCompany about how the city leaders are using happiness research to guide strategic decision making – http://www.fastcoexist.com/3048092/can-you-run-a-city-based-on-happiness

    Santa Monica invested $1 million to generate the data. For communities with an MSA population of 1 million or more, I can provide a report outlining performance on the 35 dimensions of the American Dream (including a dimension for happiness) comparing calendar 2014 performance to national and one competitive MSA. The cost I charge is only $500. The data is there to be used, and it is affordable to purchase.

    In the interim, I suggest readers take a look at the 2014 state performance data to get better acquainted with the Xavier University study. There is no cost for this report – http://strengtheningbrandamerica.com/tools/2015-american-dream-state-ranking-report/

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