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.
Despite jokes like “My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met.”, you may be surprised married residents report they are achieving their American Dream to a level greater than national average. Single residents struggle 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.
It may surprise you but, according to the Pew Research Center, nearly two-thirds of adults with college degrees are married, while less than half of those with a high-school diploma or less are wed. Unfortunately the marriage rate is declining. It has fallen by nearly half since the 1960s, and from then to 1980 divorce nearly doubled, although it has since decreased from that high rate.
Marriage helps ensure economic stability for children and contributes to their future success. If policy makers truly care about the welfare of children, they would give preferential treatment to policies that encourage marriage and stable family units.
AEI/Brookings published a report entitled: “Opportunity, Responsibility, and Security.” Opportunity refers to the American Dream. One of the Report recommendations is to “promote marriage as the most reliable route to family stability and resources.” This is expected to help establish young people’s expectations and (in my opinion) encourage them to aggressively pursue the American Dream.
One disappointing thing I found is that the Millennial generation may be taking a different path with respect to marriage. A study by the Urban Institute found the percentage of Millennials marrying by age 40 will actually fall lower than any generation before them. Given the Xavier University data, I personally worry that this trend may result in the American Dream becoming even harder for Millennials to achieve.
As economic development professionals and elected officials, it is important to understand how marriage impacts your resident’s ability to achieve their American Dream. If your community has a large population of unmarried residents, the solutions you fund to better enable achievement of the American Dream will (and should) be unique.
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