What Is Blocking The American Dream In Florida?

The Sunshine State

Roughly 20.6 million people live in Florida. he state’s economy relies mainly on tourism, agriculture, and transportation, which developed in the late 19th century. Florida is also renown for amusement parks, orange crops, the Kennedy Space Center, and as a popular destination for retirees. Florida has four MSAs with a population greater than 1 million: Miami, Tampa Bay, Orlando,and Jacksonville.

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 Florida residents compared to national averages. I elected to focus on reporting dimensions where Florida 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).


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

State of Florida

Generational Progress (96.7)

Job Environment (96.8)

Trust in Government (95.6)

Social Status (98.4)

Trust in Business (95.4)

Educational Quality (97.4)

Support of Friends (98.6)

Fruits of My Labor (98.4)

Civic Participation (94.7)

Trust in People (98.0)

Job Benefits (94.9)

Health Care (98.4)

Just Society (96.8)

Access to Education (97.9)

Financial Security (94.9)

There are often different perceptions when you drill down to the MSA level. Here are the statistically significant differences for the 2 additional MSAs referenced above. Note, the dimensions will vary versus the state. If a dimension is listed under the state, but not under an MSA it means the perception of residents living in that MSA is not statistically significantly below national average.

Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach MSA

Entrepreneurship (96.8)

Generational Progress (92.8)

Job Environment (94.2)

Exposure to Diversity (97.0)

Trust in Business (93.5)

Civic Participation (87.4)

Job Benefits (92.7)

Financial Security (93.7)

Tampa Bay- St. Petersburg- Clearwater MSA

Job Environment (94.8)

Trust in Government (92.7)

Social Status (96.4)

Trust in Business (94.4)

Fruits of My Labor (96.7)

Civic Participation (92.1)

Job Benefits (92.4)

Health Care (94.8)

Just Society (93.7)

Destinations in Life (95.6)

Orlando- Kissimmee MSA

Trust in Business (92.5)

Education Quality (93.7)

Just Society (94.7)

Access to Education (95.9)

Jacksonville MSA

Job Environment (92.3)

Education Quality (88.2)

Personal Health (94.4)

Civic Participation (85.5)

Acceptance of Diversity (95.5)

Possible Next Steps

Clearly, residents of Florida feel there are many dimensions representing a roadblock to achieving their American Dream. The list is extensive and resident perception of 1) what the barriers are and 2) the degree to which they are roadblocks varies across the state.

It is important to understand the MSA differences. These differences imply there are some barriers that can be addressed at the State level, but others requiring local strategies.

Economic development professionals and elected officials should explore resident sentiment in these areas more closely 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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