New Report Finds Increased Opportunity in America
Improvements in education, healthcare, and the economy helped to drive an increase in Americans’ overall access to opportunity in 2017, according to Opportunity Nation’s 2017 Opportunity Index. The findings were unveiled at an event at the National Press Club on Wednesday.
Since 2011, the Index has been used to measure opportunity across the country and identify areas for improvement. We’re working to “redefine how we think about poverty and then measure it,” explained Monique Rizer, executive director of Opportunity Nation.
The Index ranks states and counties on a range of indicators across four key dimensions: the economy, education, community, and health. This marked the first year that health and corresponding indicators, such as birth weight, health insurance, and deaths by alcohol, drugs or suicide, were included. “We are learning more and more about how health underlies success,” said David Murphey, a research fellow at Child Trends.
This year, the national “Opportunity Score,” a composite measure of opportunity, was 52.4 out of 100, an increase of 1.3 points from the past year. Vermont (63.3) had the highest score in the country, with New Mexico (40.9) ranking last.
Much of the progress over the past year was driven by positive trends among economic indicators, including the continued decline in the unemployment rate and modest wage growth, but the other three dimensions also saw improvements in 2016.
“What you see is the culmination of several different trends at the national level,” said Camille Busette, director of the Race, Prosperity, and Inclusion Initiative at the Brookings Institution. “The economy is picking up, but this is also situated in a social context where you have the Affordable Care Act and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and you’ve also seen a national trend towards more wraparound social services.”
Still, while the report illustrates clear progress, disparities remain. Over two-thirds of the counties that saw significant declines in their Opportunity Scores are located in the South. Additionally, death rates from drugs, alcohol, and suicides increased in 43 states while voter registration rates dropped in 32 states.
The latest Index is also supplemented by new tools to help understand how communities can improve their Opportunity Score and learn from best practices. These resources include sorting counties into peer groups to better understand which trends may be driving progress, and examining the skills that are in high supply and demand in each county.
“There’s a wealth of information here and this guide is only the beginning,” Rizer said. “Taking action is up to us.”