With so much diversity, we have to bond to a common sense of what we’re trying to achieve. You have to understand what the common enterprise is. You have to understand what the common aspiration is. And I think we’ve lost sight of it.
PBS has just released a new production entitled “American Creed“ which explores a set of unifying beliefs that make us American. This show is presented by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and historian David Kennedy. It is worth the time to view. But, if you really want to understand the “American Creed” concept, you need to start by understanding what the American Dream actually is.
Why Understanding The American Dream Matters
The promise of our Nation is the opportunity to pursue the American Dream. It is likely the most important thing our government we expect from the government and elected officials at all levels. Admittedly, there are a lot of things that go into ensuring every American has an opportunity to achieve their American Dream including responsibilities like keeping us safe.
Note the use of the word “opportunity”. The promise is not that you will achieve your American Dream. The promise is that you will have an opportunity to do so regardless of your current personal circumstance. You still need to put forth the effort to take advantage of that opportunity. The American Dream is not guaranteed to you.
In order to better enable success, there needs to be an understanding of what the American Dream actually is. Without a clear understanding, elected officials and economic development professionals cannot create effective community development plans to better enable you to achieve your American Dream.
If you read the Media descriptions of the American Dream or listen to political speeches that leverage it as a pleasing sound bite, it is apparent there is not a clear and common understanding of what the American Dream actually is. How could it be defined as owning a home in one article and then be defined as getting an education in another?
We are constantly bombarded with examples of people who have “achieved the American Dream”. They tend to be classic rags to riches examples and reflect only a narrow sliver of what the Dream actually is. Presidents use the term in speeches whenever possible. It is part of the political rhetoric. They dwell on the Horatio Alger narrative of hard work, perseverance, strength of character and luck as the drivers of achieving the American Dream. The problem is that when you look at the examples cited the role of luck is overly prominent. As a consequence, the American Dream can be seen as success without effort or worse unattainable at all.
What Is The American Dream?
Xavier University has conducted research to statistically rigorous define the American Dream. Their findings confirm the Dream is complex. But, the research also creates a framework for civil discourse and action regarding how to make the American Dream easier to achieve.
Understanding of what the American Dream is, and on-going measurement of the degree to which residents feel they are achieving their American Dream allows for a process to gauge the success of community development plans and investments. Serving residents by better enabling achievement of the American Dream should be the driving strategic focus of Mayors, Governors, the President and the economic development profession.
The researchers found the American Dream is actually comprised of 35 dimensions which include: a) economic factors such as home ownership, financial security, and job characteristics; b) personal well-being factors such as family and friends, leisure, and happiness; c) societal factors such as trust in government, justice, civic participation; d) diversity factors; and e) the physical environment.
The methodology of the ADCI research is conceptually similar to classic brand equity research. It relies on a national survey of roughly 1,000 respondents who are statistically representative of the U.S population. The questionnaire is fielded monthly. The questionnaire contains 139 statements pertaining to various aspects of the American Dream. The statements have been rigorously reviewed to remove any cultural bias and ensure an appropriate reading level. Responses are then combined to create the 35 dimensions that make up the American Dream. These dimensions have been validated to ensure each was internally sound and related to other dimensions in appropriate and predictable ways. In addition, the 35 dimensions were tested to see if they could be grouped into overarching themes. This work led to the definition of 5 super dimensions (or sub-indexes). Each dimension is assigned to only one sub-index. The rigorous approach taken by the researchers at Xavier University has resulted in a statistically sound, valid and unique measure that reveals what people living in the U.S. do, strive for, work for, wish for, and ultimately aspire to. The ADCI is the first measurement that quantifies the American Dream in its entirety.
How Do We Get Elected Officials To Understand The American Dream?
It is important every elected official become aware of the Xavier University American Dream Composite Index research and starts to understand the findings. Xavier University has a website describing the research. And, of course, this article provides a basic overview. A great action step you could take is to send a copy of either (or both) the website link or this publication to your local Mayor, Congressman and/or Senator with encouragement to take the time and read the content. By increasing their awareness of what the American Dream actually is, they will be in a better position to identify legislative steps that could actually make it easier for you to achieve.
It is also important for every local economic development organization leadership team to have a conversation regarding what the American Dream is and how well their community is doing in enabling residents to achieve it. Analyzing the local community development plan in the context of potential impact on better enabling the American Dream will help to strengthen it.
Lastly, you can help. Whenever you see a mischaracterization of the American Dream by the Media direct the reporter to the Xavier University American Dream Composite Index website or this article. This can be particularly effective in social media platforms where comments are allowed. The more reporters understand what the American Dream actually is, the better enabled they will be to educate the public and the more accurate their reporting