Racial Differences in Achieving The American Dream

mlk copyI say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.  It is deeply rooted in the American Dream.

quote attributed to Martin Luther King Jr.

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.

Executive Summary

Asian and White residents appear to be achieving their American Dream to a greater degree than other sub-populations in the United States. Black and Hispanic residents are comparable to the national average. But, it is important to point out that nationally residents report realizing only 64.6% of their American Dream. To enable residents to achieve the remaining 35.4%, economic development professionals and elected officials need to understand specific local barriers and then develop specific 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.

Index Versus National Average By Race

This index is calculated based on data over the three year period of calendar 2013 - 2015


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.  The data suggest the greatest racial disparities are in the areas of respondent’s Economic and Societal Dreams.

For additional insight, it is often helpful to look at other data sources. The PEW Research Center reported on a study in 2013 which concluded “King’s Dream Remains an Elusive Goal; Many Americans See Racial Disparities”.  The research found only 45% of Americans felt the country had made real progress toward racial equality.  The gaps in median household income, marriage rate and median household wealth widened between 1967 and 2011 (the reported period).  Another PEW Research Center paper authored in 2014 makes the case that “Wealth inequality has widened along racial, ethnic lines since end of Great Recession”.  And, in 2016 the PEW Research Center published a piece titled “On Views of Race and Inequality, Blacks and Whites Are Worlds Apart”.  A 2013 Gallup poll suggests “In U.S., 52% of Blacks Unhappy With Societal Treatment”.  And of course the creation of Black Lives Matter organization in response to the court’s acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin is tangible evidence of racial dissatisfaction with societal treatment.

Taken together, it becomes easier to understand why the Economic and Societal Dreams would be different by race in our nation.  In fact, it is surprising the resident sentiment on the overall degree of achieving the American Dream isn’t much wider than the research suggests.

What are your thoughts on why only 64.6% of the American Dream is being achieved? What barriers do you see? And why would seniors feel more satisfied than everybody else in the sub-indexes of economic and environment? How would you propose your community address the barriers you see? Please leave a comment.

You may also be interested in the post – Generational Differences in Achieving The American Dream


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