What Is Your American Dream?

wggjjgn4_ck-angela-benitoMy dream is of a place and a time where America will once again be seen as the last best hope of earth.

Quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln

The American Dream is something many people talk about authoritatively, but few actually know what it is.  The Media compounds this lack of understanding by being all over the board in their description of the American Dream.  One time they will describe it as owning a home.  The next headline you read will describe it as getting an education.  Often the Media will claim the American Dream is a fantasy or nightmare and unattainable.  Sometimes, they even claim it is “dead”.  Unfortunately, elected officials often seek votes by promising a return of the American Dream when they have no clue what it really is.

How could a concept that represents our Nation’s brand promise be so misunderstood and mischaracterized?  … The simple answer is collective Ignorance

So, what actually is the American Dream?  What is the promise of Brand America?

Wikipedia is a good place to start any journey to understand what the American Dream actually is.

The American Dream is a national ethos of the United States, the set of ideals (Democracy, Rights, Liberty, Opportunity, and Equality) in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility for the family and children, achieved through hard work in a society with few barriers. In the definition of the American Dream by James Truslow Adams in 1931, “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.

It is the foundational promise our Nation makes to residents and immigrants.  It is embedded in the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights.  And, it is far from dead.

I became fascinated with better understanding the American Dream when I first discovered Xavier University’s quantitative research into its meaning.  The study is called the American Dream Composite Index (ADCI).  It is the only statistically validated description of the American Dream.

The ADCI recognizes the American dream is multifaceted. The ADCI does not pre-determine the definition of the American Dream. It includes 139 statistically derived statements pertaining to various aspects of the American Dream. Then (based on factor analysis) responses to these statements are reported as 35 dimensions which in-turn roll up to 5 ADCI sub-indexes:

  1. Economic – Includes things like financial security, job satisfaction, education.
  2. Well-Being – Includes things like support of family/friends, happiness, and personal health.
  3. Societal – Includes things like fairness, level of trust in people, government and business, as well as personal safety.
  4. Diversity – Includes things like acceptance of religious, sexual and political differences.
  5. Environment – The impact of the physical space in which you live and work.

Xavier University conducts a nationally representative survey on a monthly basis to track how people living in the United States feel about their ability to attain their American Dream.  The study findings suggest our relationship with the American Dream varies based on life experiences, so demographic differences exist.  It also finds the degree to which residents feel attainment of their American Dream changes from one state to the next, and one community to the next so geographic differences also exist.  For example, based on an analysis of the latest available 3-years of data, a) members of the greatest generation feel like they are achieving their American Dream to a statistically significantly greater degree than members of either the Baby Boomers, Millennials or Gen Xers; and b) residents of Oregon feel like they are achieving their American Dream to a statistically significantly greater degree than residents of Vermont (Sorry Senator Sanders).

There are couple big take-aways from the ADCI study worth noting.

First, the American Dream is far from “dead”.  Listen to Dr. Greg Smith, professor at Xavier University and founder of the ADCI study talk about the American Dream.

Second, the American Dream is complex.  It isn’t just about owning a home, or getting a job, or having a good education.  This things are important, but not sufficient to describe the American Dream.  So, when politicians promise to help you achieve the American Dream, you might want to test their understanding of what it is.  My guess is they are simply blowing smoke up your … well you know where I mean.

Third, the American Dream is just as worth fighting for today and tomorrow as it was in 1776.  It is the promise of our nation and the only reason for American exceptionalism.


Take some time to read more about the American Dream.  Then challenge elected officials to enact legislation and regulations targeted to help enable you to better achieve your American Dream.  In my mind, that is the only litmus test that matters.

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