A Peek Under The Tent – Which Are The 2015 American Dream States?

SBA ImageWe must stop talking about the American dream and start listening to the dreams of Americans.

Quote attributed to: Max Beerbohm

This Report is based on the 2014 American Dream Composite Index data provided by Xavier University. The data reflect the degree to which residents of each state perceive they are achieving their American Dream.  I am in the process of authoring the Report, but thought you might like an early peek at the results.

In order to be considered an American Dream State, the reported degree of achievement needs to be +5% or higher than national average. This year five states have met the criteria.

2015 American Dream States (based on calendar 2014 data)

  1. Delaware
  2. Vermont
  3. New Mexico
  4. South Carolina
  5. Alaska

What Is The American Dream Composite Index?

According to Xavier University:

“The American Dream Composite Index™ (ADCI) powered by Dunnhumby is a unique and robust measure of American sentiment that values the American Dream on a monthly basis.  The notion of the American Dream encompasses our behaviors, attitudes and satisfaction with economic conditions, personal well-being, societal and political institutions, cultural diversity, and the physical environment.  The ADCI reveals what people living in the United States do, strive for, work for, wish for, and ultimately, hope for as they assume multiple roles, including but not limited to, consumers, parents, children, students, employees, employers, parishioners, voters, etc.”

Xavier University reports the ADCI as a single composite number and five statistically unique sub-indicies.

  • American Dream Economic Index – measures one’s satisfaction, freedom, and progress with respect to their finances, job, home ownership and health care.
  • American Dream Well-Being Index – measures the extent of one’s contentment, health, and prosperity in life.
  • American Dream Societal Index – measures the extent to which the government, businesses, and people are believed to be fair and trustworthy.
  • American Dream Diversity Index – measures the attitudes toward assimilation of differences in one’s community.
  • American Dream Environmental Index – measures the extent of pollution in the air, food, water and land that one encounters on a regular basis.

Isn’t This Just More Of The Same Old?

It is important to note that the ADCI is different than other published indicies such as the Consumer Price Index and Consumer Sentiment Index. In fact, according to Xavier University“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.”

How Do The American Dream States Perform On The Sub-Indicies?

Delaware is +5% or greater than national average on all the sub-indicies except Environment.

Vermont is +5% or greater than national average on all sub-indicies except Economic.

New Mexico is +5% or greater than national average on all sub-indicies except Societal.

South Carolina is +5% or greater than national average on all sub-indicies except Societal and Diversity.

Alaska is +5% or greater than national average on all sub-indicies except Societal and Diversity.

What Are The Actionable Implications?

The above suggests that even American Dream States have an opportunity area for improvement. From an action step focus, elected officials and economic development professionals in these states should have discussions about potential assets and infrastructure investments along with public policies/programs that might be implemented to improve resident perception on their level of ADCI sub-index achievement. For example, Delaware would benefit from better understanding WHY residents don’t rate Environment as high as they do other sub-indicies.


In the media you will read a number of descriptions for the American Dream. The most popular associates the American Dream with homeownership. Another popular media definition is “upward mobility”.

These descriptions fall way short of what the American Dream actually is. The Dream cannot be distilled to a single variable. It is a far more complex and a very personal concept. The media would have you believe that renters are not in a position to achieve their American Dream. But, what if you don’t want to own a house? Does this mean you will never be able to achieve your American Dream? Of course it does not. It just means that home ownership is not important to achieving your American Dream.

To illustrate the point, I was recently shocked by an article in the Chicago Real Estate Daily entitled “Zell puts new spin on the American Dream”. For perspective, Sam Zell is a billionaire. Apparently when people with billions speak the media listens. Sam was quoted in the article as saying “The American Dream is freedom, not a house.” In the spirit of full disclosure, I am not a billionaire but – DUH!

Sam is right that the American Dream is not a house. But, it is also more complicated than the concept of freedom. Sam and elected officials would be well served to familiarize themselves with the Xavier University research so they can provide an informed perspective of what the American Dream really is.

By the way, if you know Sam Zell (I do not) please forward him this post so the next time he speaks about the American Dream to the media his perspective can be informed by data.

In the meantime, take a moment of your time to visit the Xavier University American Dream Composite Index website and learn what the American Dream really means to people residing in our Nation. I think you will find their work fascinating.



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