The American Dream Prosperity Index


The Rising, Unequal Distribution of US Prosperity


Milken Center for Advancing the American Dream and the Legatum Institute


U.S. prosperity increased across the United States in all states in varying degrees, except in North Dakota; but it remains unequally distributed within states.

When we reflect on the past decade, the American Dream Prosperity Index (ADPI) reveals that all states apart from North Dakota experienced higher levels of prosperity in 2022 compared to 2012, but prosperity remains unequally distributed across and within the States. Let us dig into the data and understand how prosperity varied across different states and counties.

The Northeastern states exhibit the highest levels of prosperity, with Massachusetts frequently being the top-performing state over the past decade, especially in education and physical health. However, Massachusetts has struggled with the mental health crisis with a high drug overdose rate and can also improve its roads and bridges, indicating that every state and county has areas for improvement. 

Beyond the Northeast, Minnesota (ranked third in overall prosperity in 2022) and Utah (ranked fifth in overall prosperity in 2022) are other notable mentions. The least prosperous states are in the Southeast, with Mississippi (ranked 51st in overall prosperity) being the weakest-performing state in 2022 and in six of the last 11 years; Arkansas (ranked 50th in 2022) ranked as the weakest in other years. 

In analyzing the counties of 17 selected states, the distribution of prosperity among counties can significantly vary.

On one hand, in Nebraska (ranked 11th overall on state prosperity), the state’s counties share similar levels of prosperity, with two-thirds of its counties in the first quintile (the top 296 of 1,481 counties in the Index) and the remainder of Nebraska’s counties are in the second quintile.

On the other hand, California (28th in overall prosperity) and Florida (31st in overall prosperity) have considerably greater levels of variation in county prosperity. California’s most prosperous county is San Mateo, which has one of the healthiest populations amongst all counties surveyed and falls within the first quintile of the County index. In contrast, the least prosperous California county is Trinity, which has a homeless population of 39 per 10,000 people, which is twice the national average, contributing to the county ranking in the fifth quintile for prosperity.

Prosperity characteristics also vary between urban and rural counties. Urban counties generally exhibit a stronger economic performance (especially infrastructure) and social wellbeing such as education and health, whereas rural counties have lower crime rates and stronger social networks. Lower crime rates in rural counties result in residents experiencing greater safety and security in rural areas compared to urban areas. There are exceptions to this rule, however. For example, Minnesota’s Filmore County, despite being classified as ‘deeply rural’, is also one of the most prosperous counties across the 17 states.

In sum, the American Dream Prosperity Index is a helpful tool to understand how prosperity varies across different places, and we hope that you will find it useful in your research.

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