Data & Scoring

The Opportunity Index is designed to provide a snapshot of what opportunity looks like at the state and county levels. The Index focuses on the conditions present in different communities and is designed to help local communities connect economic, academic, civic and other factors that support increased opportunity and economic mobility.

The 2015 Opportunity Index provides Opportunity Scores for all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, and Opportunity Grades for 2,673 counties and county equivalents [1], comprising 99 percent of the nation’s population. These notes provide the methodology for calculating the 2015 Opportunity Index.

Several changes, described below, have been put in place to improve the Opportunity Index since it was first published in November 2011. In order to provide an annual series such that this year’s Index can be compared to that of previous years, these change have been applied to the previous Indexes.

To download a PDF of the findings and methodology or briefing book, visit the Resources Page.

The following table summarizes the themes and indicators that make up the 2015 Opportunity Index.

Dimension Theme Indicator

Jobs and Local Economy Dimension

JOBS Unemployment Rate (%)
WAGES Median Household Income (2010 $)
POVERTY Poverty (% of population below poverty line)
INEQUALITY 80/20 Ratio (Ratio of household income at the 80th percentile to that at the 20th percentile)
ACCESS TO BANKING Banking Institutions (commercial banks, savings institutions and credit unions per 10,000 residents)
AFFORDABLE HOUSING Households Spending Less than 30% of Household Income on Housing  (%)
INTERNET ACCESS High-Speed Internet (% of households for states; 5-level categories for counties)

Education Dimension

PRESCHOOL ENROLLMENT Preschool (% ages 3 and 4 in school)
HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION On-Time High School Graduation (% of freshmen who graduate in four years)
POSTSECONDARY COMPLETION Associate Degree or Higher (% of adults 25 and over)

Community Health and Civic Life Dimension

GROUP MEMBERSHIP Group Membership (% of adults 18 and over involved in social, civic, sports, and religious groups) [STATES ONLY]
VOLUNTEERISM Volunteerism (% of adults ages 18 and older who did volunteer work any time in the previous year) [STATES ONLY]
YOUTH ECONOMIC AND ACADEMIC INCLUSION Young People Not in School and Not Working (% ages 16-24)
COMMUNITY SAFETY Violent Crime (per 100,000 population)
ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE Doctors (per 100,000 population)
ACCESS TO HEALTHY FOOD Grocery Stores and Produce Vendors (per 10,000 population)

Methodology

The Opportunity Index is made up of a set of indicators grouped into three broad dimensions, Jobs and Local Economy, Education and Community Health and Civic Life. The state Index is made up of 16 indicators; the county Index includes only 14 indicators. This is due to the unavailability of reliable, stable data for two indicators related to civic participation at the county level: group membership and volunteerism. The indicators that make up the Opportunity Index are taken from official national datasets (see sources below).

The methodology for calculating the Opportunity Index requires three steps: normalizing the indicators in order to put them all on a common scale; averaging rescaled scores together within each of the three dimensions of the Index; and averaging the three dimension scores together to calculate the Opportunity Index. All of the indicators in the Opportunity Index are weighted equally, and each of the three dimensions makes up one-third of the final Index value.

Data Definitions and Sources

Jobs and Local Economy Dimension

Jobs-and-Economy-Icon

Indicator: Unemployment Rate (%)
Definition: 
The total number of people who do not have jobs but who have actively looked for work within the preceding four weeks and are available to work as a percentage of the total number of people in the labor force.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Local Area Unemployment Statistics tables and news releases (http://www.bls.gov/lau/).

Indicator: Median Household Income ($)
Definition: 
The income of the household exactly in the middle of the distribution of households by income, ranked from wealthiest to poorest. Household income includes earnings from work and other income from interest, dividends, Social Security, pension payments, unemployment compensation, and other regularly received forms of money for all members of the household.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey (http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml).

Indicator: Poverty (% of population below poverty line)
Definition:
Percentage of people of all ages living on incomes below the federal poverty line.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey (http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pag-es/index.xhtml).

Indicator: 80/20 Ratio (Ratio of household income at the 80th percentile to that of the 20th percentile)
Definition: 
The 80/20 ratio describes the disparity in the size of the income of the household at the 80th percentile relative to that of the income of the household at the 20th percentile. The 80/20 ratio for the United States in is 5, meaning that the income of the household at the 80th percentile is 5 times that of the household at the 20th percentile.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey (http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml).

Indicator: Banking Institutions (commercial banks, savings institutions, and credit unions per 10,000 residents)
Definition: 
Total number of commercial banks, credit unions, and savings institutions (NAICS 522110, 522120, and 522130) per 10,000 residents.
Source: Measure of America analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau, County Business Patterns and Population Estimates Program (http://www.census.gov/econ/cbp/index.html and http://www.census.gov/popest/).

Indicator: Households Spending Less than 30% of Income on Housing (%)
Definition: 
The percentage of households spending less than 30% of their household income on rent and utilities for households who rent or on mortgage payments and other housing costs for those who own their homes.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey (http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml).

Indicator: High-Speed Internet (% of households for states or 5-level categories for counties)
Definition:
Ratio of the number of residential fixed Internet connections with a speed of at least 200 kbps in at least one direction to the total estimated number of households in that geographic area. County scores for this indicator fall on a scale of one to five, with five being highest Internet coverage.
Source: Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Internet Access Services (http://transition.fcc.gov/wcb/ iatd/comp.html).

 

Education Dimension

Education-Dimension-Icon

 

Indicator: Preschool (% ages 3 and 4 in school)
Definition: The percentage of children ages 3 and 4 enrolled in public or private nursery school, preschool, or kindergarten.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey (http://factfinder.census.gov/home/saff/main.html?_lang=en)

Indicator: On-Time High School Graduation (% of freshmen who graduate in four years)
Definition:
The percentage of high school freshmen who graduate after four years of high school.
Source: State and county data are from the U.S. Department of Education: EDFacts Adjusted Cohort Gradua- tion Rate (ACGR) for the 2012-13 school year.

Indicator: Associate Degree or Higher (% of adults ages 25 and over)
Definition:
The percentage of adults ages 25 and over who have completed an Associate degree or higher.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey (http://factfinder.census.gov/home/saff/main.html?_lang=en).

Community Health and Civic Life Dimension

Community-and-Civic-Life-Icon

Indicator: Group Membership (% of adults 18 and over involved in social, civic, sports, and religious groups)
Definition:
The percentage of adults 18 and over who report being members of social, civic, service, recreational, or religious groups in the previous year.
Source: Measure of America analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau, DataFerrett, Current Population Survey, Civic Engagement Supplement. Due to limitations of the survey data, this indicator is only calculated at the state level.

Indicator: Volunteerism (% of adults ages 18 and older)
Definition:
The percentage of adults 18 and over who did volunteer work through or for an organization at any time in the previous year.
Source: Measure of America analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau, DataFerrett, Current Population Survey, Volunteering Supplement. Due to limitations of the survey data, this indicator is only calculated at the state level.

Indicator: Youth Not in School and Not Working (% ages 16-24)
Definition:
The percentage of the population ages 16 to 24 who are not enrolled in school and who are not working (either unemployed or not in the labor force).
Source: Measure of America analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey PUMS Microdata (http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml) and custom tabulations for county and county equivalents provided by special arrangement with the U.S. Census Bureau.

Indicator: Violent Crime (per 100,000 population)
Definition:
Total number of violent crimes per 100,000 people. Violent crimes can include homicide, rape, robbery, and assault.
Source: State data from the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics (www.ucrdatatool.gov); county data from the County Health Rankings analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation Criminal Justice Information Services. County Health Rankings are from the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute in collaboration with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Indicator: Primary Care Providers (per 100,000 population)
Definition: 
The number of active, non-federal medical doctors per 100,000 residents.
Source: Measure of America calculations using medical workforce data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Area Health Resources Files and population data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Population Estimates Program (http://www.census.gov/popest/).

Indicator: Grocery Stores and Produce Vendors (per 10,000 population)
Definition:
The rate of supermarkets, grocery stores, and produce stands (NAICS codes 445110 and 445230) per 10,000 residents.
Source: Measure of America analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau, County Business Patterns and Population Estimates Program (http://www.census.gov/econ/cbp/index.html and http://www.census.gov/ popest/).

Changes to the Opportunity Index Since 2014

The 2015 Opportunity Index includes modifications to one indicator:

On-Time High School Graduation (% of freshmen who graduate in four years). In previous years, the Opportunity Index has used an indicator that is technically called Average Freshman Graduation Rate (AFGR) for on- time high school graduation. Over the past few years, there has been a shift away from collection of the AFGR by states towards a new indicator for on-time high school graduation called the Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate (ACGR). While both indicators are about the percentage of freshmen who graduate high school in four years, the ACGR is thought to be a more precise indicator because it accounts for the transfer of high school students into and out of the school during the year.

As a result, the Department of Education has not updated AFGR since 2012 and so it is impossible to continue to use this indicator. It is widely accepted that the ACGR will be replacing the AFGR. Measure of America studied the difference between the AFGR and the ACGR at the national level and found a 1 percentage point difference between these two indicators. There is more variation when you drill-down to the state and county level. For example, in 2012, the District of Columbia’s AFGR was 71 percent compared with a 2012 ACGR of 59 percent. Detailed comparisons and a full explanation of the two measurements can be found in this report “Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic. Annual Update 2015.” Please note that Idaho did not report a 2012-13 ACGR at the state level. In this instance we used the 2012 AFGR from the 2014 Opportunity Index.

Although both the AFGR and ACGR estimate on-time high school graduation rates, they use different methodologies. This technically means that the 2015 Opportunity Index is not strictly comparable to that of earlier years. But given the difference in this one indicator is relatively small, and it comprises only one of 16 (for states) or 14 (for counties) indicators that make up the Index, overall Index comparisons can be made but must be made with caution. Comparisons on this one indicator from 2015 to earlier years should also be made with caution.

For a complete breakdown of how the Opportunity Index is calculated as well as source notes, please download the Opportunity Index 2015 Methodological Notes

To access the state and county data spreadsheets, please fill out the data sharing form.  

References

U.S. Census Bureau. “American Community Survey Multiyear Accuracy of the Data,” 2010. http://www.census.gov/acs/www/Downloads/data_documentation/Accuracy/MultiyearACSAccuracyofData2010.pdf.

Grad Nation: America’s Promise Alliance. “Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic.” 2015. http://gradnation.org/report/2015-building-grad-nation-report.

 


[1] County equivalents refer to several places that use alternate names to describe counties: boroughs and census areas in Alaska, parishes in Louisiana, and cities with county-level status in several states. There are 3,143 counties and county equivalents in the United States. The 2015 Opportunity Index for counties includes 2,673 counties and county-equivalents in the U.S., or 99.2 percent of the U.S. population.