What is Blocking The American Dream In Pennsylvania?

The Keystone State

Roughly 12.8 million people live in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.   Pennsylvania is a major agricultural state and an industrial powerhouse. The State’s 5 top industries include: industrial machinery, fabricated metal, food, chemicals and publishing. Although lately, with the decline in coal and discovery of shale gas, the energy sector has been getting a lot of national attention. Pennsylvania is mostly rural, but has 2 MSAs with population greater than 1 million: Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, and Pittsburgh.

I believe the most appropriate measure of success for economic development professionals and elected officials is to make it easy for residents to achieve their American Dream. Thanks to the Xavier University’s research, we can now quantitatively define the American Dream and we can measure the degree to which residents in states and mid-large MSAs feel they are achieving their American Dream. These data can be used to strategically identify existing roadblocks and guide planning to remove them.

The American Dream

Xavier University has defined 35 dimensions that combined define the American Dream. These dimensions cluster into 5 super dimensions that reflect the scope of a person’s life:

  1. Economic – Satisfaction, freedom and progress with respect to finances, job, home ownership and health care.
  2. Well-Being – The extent of contentment, health and prosperity.
  3. Societal – The extent the government; businesses; and people are seen as fair and trustworthy.
  4. Diversity – Attitudes toward assimilation of differences in the community.
  5. Environment – The extent of noticeable pollution in the air, food, water and land.

A national random sample of residents completes the online survey each month. The researchers at Xavier University then compile the data and once a year provide The Burghard Group with a geographically aggregated 3-year data set. This data set is used to publish the annual selection of American Dream States and Cities Report.

In this blog post, I am using this 3-year data set to compare perceptions of Pennsylvania residents compared to national averages. I elected to focus on reporting dimensions where Pennsylvania resident perceptions of achievement fall short of national average. However, it should be noted the data set could also be used to identify where the state is doing better than national average.   Another helpful analysis is to compare local resident perceptions with perceptions of residents in other states.

A complete description of all dimensions and a listing of States and Cities where residents feel it is easier to achieve their American Dream (statistically significant positive difference versus national average) can be found in the January issue of Site Selection magazine (article starts on page #182).

Results

The data are presented as an index versus national average. Only dimensions with statistically significant negative differences are identified.

State of Pennsylvania

Entrepreneurship (97.2)

Generational Progress (94.0)

Leisure Activity (95.3)

Job Environment (93.7)

Material Prosperity (94.4)

Diversity (94.5)

Optimism (92.3)

Trust in Government (87.1)

Social Status (94.8)

Safety in Travel (92.9)

Trust in Business (88.3)

Educational Quality (92.2)

Freedom of Choice (95.3)

Support of Friends (97.5)

Fruits of Labor (96.9)

Support of Someone Special (98.2)

Happiness (94.9)

Personal Health (95.9)

Civic Participation (87.4)

Trust in People (91.0)

Job Benefits (91.6)

Health Care (95.3)

Home Ownership (98.1)

Satisfaction Residence (97.0)

Just Society (90.9)

Destination in Life (95.5)

Access to Education (93.0)

Financial Security (87.0)

There are often different perceptions when you drill down to the MSA level. Here are the statistically significant differences for each of the 2 major MSAs referenced above.

Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington MSA

Safety in Travel (97.5)

* No mistake, the MSA is statistically significantly below national average on just one dimension.

Pittsburgh MSA

Entrepreneurship (96.3)

Generational Progress (91.4)

Leisure Activity (94.0)

Job Environment (93.9)

Material Prosperity (93.7)

Diversity (93.0)

Optimism (90.1)

Trust in Government (85.0)

Social Status (93.0)

Safety in Travel (89.7)

Trust in Business (85.1)

Educational Quality (90.8)

Freedom of Choice (93.3)

Support of Friends (96.4)

Fruits of Labor (96.0)

Support of Someone Special (98.2)

Happiness (90.9)

Personal Health (91.8)

Civic Participation (81.9)

Trust in People (88.5)

Job Benefits (91.0)

Health Care (93.7)

Satisfaction Residence (95.0)

Just Society (89.8)

Destination in Life (92.4)

Safe Community (95.7)

Access to Education (90.6)

Financial Security (82.1)

Possible Next Steps

Clearly, residents of Pennsylvania feel there are a considerable number of dimensions representing a roadblock to achieving their American Dream.

The comparison of how residents of Philadelphia feel versus residents of Pittsburgh is definitely worth noting. This implies there is something fundamentally different going on in the two MSAs. This would be worth a much deeper and thoughtful exploration by economic development professionals and elected officials in the state to better understand the drivers. This can be achieved through additional local qualitative and/or quantitative research. Understanding why residents feel the way they do is an important step toward identifying strategies to reduce or eliminate these barriers to fully achieving their American Dream.

What Can You Do?

Share this post with your local economic development organization and your elected officials (Mayor, member of Congress, Senator, Governor). By doing so, you will help create a better understanding of what the American Dream is and the roadblocks to achieving it in your state. And, if you have any ideas why residents in your state feel the above are roadblocks please leave a comment.

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1 Comment so far

  1. John F. Beary

    February 19, 2017

    Very interesting tool for political leaders to diagnose problems and to start to work on priorities, that would move them to a better future state.

    The new book “Hillbilly Elegy” by JD Vance, talks about his coming of age in Middletown Ohio, and gives insight to what happens to the local culture when blue collar jobs go away.
    Vance is a good writer, and his book of 250 pages is quite accessible and interesting…..for those who want to understand what is going on in the rust belt.

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