Quote attributed to Hillary Rodham Clinton
An Analysis of American Dream Composite Index Data (calendar 2013 – 2015)
The American Dream Composite Index (ADCI) study is “a unique and robust measure of American sentiment”. The study is conducted monthly by Xavier University. It looks at behaviors, attitudes and satisfaction with dimensions such as economic conditions, personal well-being, societal and political institutions, cultural diversity and the physical environment. The study is conducted monthly and results are reported by Xavier University on their website.
Xavier University provides The Burghard Group with aggregated data to use in helping economic development professionals and elected officials better understand how people living in their communities feel about their ability to achieve the American Dream. For the purpose of this analysis, aggregate data for the three-year period of calendar 2013 to 2015 has been used.
It will come as no surprise, residents who are either employed full time or do remote work are achieving their American Dream to a level greater than national average. The unemployed and disabled are struggling the most. But, it is also important to point out that on a national basis residents averagely report realizing only 64.6% of their American Dream. This is far from the best that can be achieved. To better enable residents to achieve the remaining 35.4%, it is imperative economic development professionals and elected officials understand specific local barriers and develop strategies around infrastructure investment, public policies/programs and asset creation to knock those barriers down.
The ADCI is comprised of 35 dimensions. These dimensions are statistically grouped into 5 indexes and a total composite score:
Economic – Measures one’s satisfaction with respect to their finances, job, home ownership and healthcare
Well-Being – Measures the extent of one’s contentment, health and prosperity in life.
Societal – Measures the extent to which the government, businesses, and people are fair and trustworthy.
Diversity – Measures the attitudes toward the assimilation in one’s community.
Environment – Measures the extent of pollution in the air, food, water and land that one encounters on a regular basis.
The Xavier University research gives insight into resident sentiment about the American Dream, but we have to look elsewhere to try and understand why residents feel as they do. Surprisingly, I couldn’t find much written on the impact of employment on the American Dream.
I found articles discussing the lack of upward mobility as a deterrent to achieving the American Dream. But, these articles also made the assumption that upward mobility is synonymous with the American Dream (and the Xavier University ADCI research statistically confirms it is not).
For example, PEW Research took this position as the central theme of their Road Map To Enhancing Economic Mobility In America publication. In the Report, the authors conclude “Many government programs and expenditures do not incentivize the behaviors and activities that would lead individuals on a path to upward mobility…”. (Are you surprised?) And then they go on to make recommendations on how to create a “portfolio shift”.
I don’t believe it should be a big surprise that having confidence in your personal economic stability is an important enabler of the American Dream. It allows you to check an important box on Maslow’s hierarchy. But, I am personally not confident that means upward mobility is necessarily required for achieving the American Dream. For many residents it could simply mean reaching a comfortable income level and being confident you can maintain it. For a percentage of the population (particularly the poor) this might actually require upward mobility. But, it won’t mean that for everybody. Consequently, contrary to the political pundits upward mobility alone isn’t a proxy for achieving the American Dream. It is more complex than that.
In fact, when you think through the Xavier University research findings, it is logical to assume employed and retired residents are the most confident in their economic stability and both disabled and unemployed residents are the least confident. Looking at the barrier to achieving the American Dream as one of “confidence in personal economic stability” helps explain why job creation is only part of the solution. Programs that give a hand-up rather than a hand-out may be as (or even more) important.
What are your thoughts on why only 64.6% of the American Dream is being achieved? If you think about the barrier as a lack of confidence in personal economic stability, what barriers do you see and what solutions come to mind? Please leave a comment.
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