Highlighting successes AND obstacles connected to upward mobility, the Index measures economic, educational, and civic opportunity at state and county levels for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. It uniquely combines data with other indicators to help policymakers and community leaders identify challenges and solutions. Explore the data and share Index Scores with your community.
Today, the most commonly discussed measures of economic strength and security are the Dow Jones Industrial Average, gross domestic product, unemployment and the poverty rate. These measures are limited and do not provide communities the comprehensive information they need to understand the progress they can make to boost economic mobility for Americans.
Opportunity Nation is a bipartisan, national coalition of more than 350 businesses, nonprofits, educational institutions and community leaders working to expand economic opportunity. Opportunity Nation seeks to close the opportunity gap by amplifying the work of its coalition members, advocating policy and private sector actions and releasing the annual Opportunity Index.
Measure of America, a Project of the Social Science Research Council, provides easy-to-use yet methodologically sound tools for understanding the distribution of social well-being and mobility in America and for stimulating fact-based conversations about issues we all care about: health, education and living standards.
Opportunity can be measured and defined in many ways. The Opportunity Index measures conditions present in different communities. We include indicators at the community level that can be changed to expand or restrict economic health and mobility. The Opportunity Index does not measure individual traits, although these factors do matter. For example, we can’t pick our ethnicity, the family we are born into, or our IQ. The Opportunity Index instead measures conditions present in communities that are amenable to policy change and community action. The Index prompts questions such as, “are there jobs available that pay family-sustaining wages?” “What percentage of 3- and 4- year olds are enrolled in preschool?” “Is there high-speed Internet access?”
Much of the indicator data used to compile numerical State Scores and County Grades A-F is gathered at both the state and county levels, making the information consistent and comparable year-to-year. By offering detailed information at both the state and county levels, policymakers, elected officials and foundations get a big-picture view as well as a more localized perspective on the conditions that expand or constrict opportunity where they live.
Opportunity Nation recognizes that opportunity varies from city to city and town to town, and in many cases, even neighborhood to neighborhood. Several of the Opportunity Index indicators we use are only available at the state and county levels. In the future, we would like to also offer city- and neighborhood-level analyses using data sources that can be standardized.
The places where people live are pivotal to the opportunities open to them. Neighborhoods and regions matter for employment, education, housing quality and stock, law enforcement and public safety, community organizations and political processes. Some communities have characteristics that open many doors of opportunity for their residents; others do not. The Opportunity Index measures three dimensions: economic, educational and civic health indicators, to produce an overall opportunity score for all 50 U.S. states plus Washington, DC. The Index is also used to grade between 2,600 and 3,100 counties and county equivalents each year, depending on what data is available. However, even in years when the number of counties included is nearer 2,600 because of missing data or unacceptably high error margins, that still accounts for 99.2 percent of the U.S. population. (There are 3,142 counties and county equivalents in the United States).
The data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the Federal Communications Commission, the National Center for Education Statistics, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Justice. All the data is publicly available. You can find each source and download the complete methodology by visiting “Data & Scoring.”
Measure of America did additional calculations for: banks, food stores, group membership, volunteerism, and youth not in school and not working. The “disconnected youth” rate is calculated from the overlap (from Census Bureau data) between those 16-24 who are unemployed/not in the labor force AND not in school.
Measure of America uses data from the American Community Survey, which asks young people if they are employed or have been in school during the past three months, in an effort to weed out students who are on summer break. These surveys are conducted in June and July. Based on calculations made by Measure of America, there were 5.3 million disconnected youth in the United States in 2016.
One challenge in creating a composite index is the temptation to include every data point possible. The disadvantages of this are two-fold: 1. unwieldy indexes become difficult to use as an advocacy tool because they are too complex to explain and; 2. you end up measuring the same important goal through multiple measures. We wanted to ensure that the Opportunity Index was both broad and encompassing while also being useful as a tool to create community change.