Opportunity is something we are usually able to feel when it happens, especially when a really good one comes along, but opportunity is also something we can measure.
For the sixth year in a row, we at Opportunity Nation are excited to share new data in the Opportunity Index. Created in partnership with Measure of America, the Opportunity Index measures upward mobility and opportunity in all 50 states and the District of Columbia as well as more than 2,700 counties, representing 99 percent of the U.S. population. Check out your score.
National opportunity trends
The nation’s overall Opportunity Score is 54 out of 100. This score is the same as last year’s and is the first time in six years we did not see a year to year improvement in the nation’s score. This lack of movement implies stagnant upward mobility and economic security for millions of Americans, despite improvements in several areas of the Index.
Since 2011, more Americans have jobs, median wages are up and fewer Americans are living in poverty, according to the 2016 Index. Also, the rate of violent crime in the U.S. decreased by over 15 percent since our first Index six years ago, with 41 states improving. Positive trends like these appear to keep the nation’s Opportunity Score steady.
But we’re also struggling. Income inequality increased in 45 states. Nearly 30 states showed a drop in the Community Health and Civic Life category, which includes indicators like access to health care, access to healthy food, group membership and rates of volunteering, reflecting an overall decrease in connectedness. These connections prove imperative for opportunity, particularly for youth and young adults.
When 16 to 24 year-olds do well, communities do well
The rate of youth disconnection, represented by young adults ages 16 to 24 who are not in school and not working, is a rate we follow closely as it has the strongest correlation with overall Opportunity Scores, meaning as youth disconnection rates rise, Opportunity Scores drop and vice versa.
Today 5.3 million young people, or 13.2 percent, remain disconnected, according to the 2016 Index. This rate remains above pre-recession levels. In 2007 there were 4.9 million disconnected youth. Overall, 41 states made progress in reducing youth disconnection since 2011.
We know from the data provided by our Opportunity Index that when our youth do well, our communities do well. We believe policies and programs that ensure children and young adults thrive will help close the opportunity gap for all. Though youth disconnection transcends geography, ethnic background and income bracket, we know that low-income youth and youth of color are disproportionately represented.
We do this work to expand access to the American Dream
The continued mixed results seen in the Index year to year and over time serve as a powerful call-to-action to renew our efforts to expand access to the American Dream for the rising generation. We all must continue to prioritize this work.
We know one sector or political party can’t close the opportunity gap alone. Our Index acts as a guide for policymakers and community leaders to shift their focus to the necessary cross-sector, cross-silo and bipartisan solutions that can improve citizens’ lives, prospects and communities.
We work with so many organizations in our Coalition, representing tens of millions of people, all working toward closing the opportunity gap and restoring the American Dream. This includes our support of Opportunity America’s This Way Up Summit, happening this week in Washington, DC. We are co-hosting this summit, which will bring together policymakers and practitioners, including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, to talk about how we are working together to come up with ideas that look beyond government and harness the power of communities to help close the opportunity gap.
Let’s continue to work together with the new administration to ensure that every child and young adult gets the right start in life, and can pursue their purpose and thrive.
Monique Rizer is the Executive Director of Opportunity Nation. Opportunity Nation is a bipartisan, cross-sector, national campaign to expand economic mobility and restore the American Dream. She can be found on Twitter: @rizermonique.