Opportunity Index

What’s Your Score? The New Opportunity Index Examines Equity in Our Communities.

June 14, 2019

In the 1970s, 30-year-olds had an approximately 90 percent chance of earning more than their parents. Fifty years later in 2019, young people have about a 50 percent chance on average—and that number drops considerably by income level. Young people born into families at lower income levels can expect only to do as well as their parents, not to earn more; there is little social mobility.

For young people of color, this is especially true. In fact, for every 10 African Americans born into the middle classes, seven will actually lose social mobility as they grow older.

This has a lot to do with race but also with Zip Code. Several studies find that where someone is born largely determines their access to opportunity and social mobility. Opportunity Nation, a campaign of the Forum for Youth Investment (SparkAction’s parent organization), examines this through its interactive tool, the annual Opportunity Index.

The latest Index launched on June 13, 2019, showcasing improvements and decreases in opportunity for the nation as a whole, as well as for every state, the District of Columbia, and more than 2,000 counties across the country.

It is interactive and visual – and designed to give community members, policymakers, funders, and other change agents data and resources to understand the strengths and challenges related to opportunity and equity in the communities where they live in and work.

We spoke with Michelle Massie, the Director of Opportunity Nation, to find out what’s new, what the data tells us, how it can help us to tell better, more accurate stories about the communities we live in, and how else we can use it.

This Year: New and Deeper Data

The 2018 Opportunity Index—so called because the latest data available is from 2018, collected and analyzed by Child Trends—measures four distinct dimensions of opportunity: economy, education, health and community. The Index breaks down the data to look at how upward mobility is either being expanded or restricted for Americans in a given state or county.

Michelle Massie joined Opportunity Nation in 2018, shortly after the project transitioned to the Forum for Youth Investment. This is the first Index she directed from the ground up, and it includes changes to the way it functions and what it explores, in order to better focus on equity.

“Opportunity and equity is so important to me because I have always had people in my life who identified my potential. They poured all their energy into me,” says Michelle Massie. “Every child should have somebody who loves them and who is willing to see their potential. I stood out [in part because] I had a presence … people could see something very early in me that they wanted to invest in. But what about the quiet kid in the corner? What about the kid who is loud, but acting out, and folks just say, ‘Get him out of my class?’”

This year, for the first time, the Index disaggregates indicator data by gender, race and ethnicity. It is also set up to more intentionally look at how systemic barriers affect people from different demographics—young black women, for example. We “wanted to explore what opportunity access looks like for anyone,” Massie explains.

  

 

Opportunity cannot be gauged simply by what is available to young people where they live, Massie says. We must also look at how the resources are influenced by systems, and what obstacles and barriers to access exist. The Opportunity Index can help show that all children have potential, but are not being invested in equally, and do not have equal access to opportunity.

Highlighting the systemic barriers can help decision-makers understand that for many young people, success is not a matter of having “grit, resilience, individual strength and spirit.” That is not enough when structural barriers have historically cut off entire populations from quality education, jobs and social networks that could help them grow.

Massie and her team hope the Index will equip lawmakers, educators and community members to understand the full picture of their communities, and adjust approaches to target what’s needed.

“Data, in and of itself, is not going to solve our problems. It is not going to change minds, but data is a baseline,” says Massie. “Data can give you a glimpse into what's happening. For some people who are simply logical and that's how they like to work—through data, and through the lens of information and evidence—here's your proof. This is your proof about the health of communities and what's happening with people in those communities.”

Massie is pushing to make access to opportunity for all young people a national priority, one that garners “real budgets, real understanding, real accountability and real movement toward increasing opportunity.”

“A generation ago, young people were able to go to college, not have debt, buy houses, do all the things you should be able to do. Then we disinvested in communities and infrastructures. We stopped investing in our own people. We stopped investing in America,” Massie says.

Find Your Community’s Opportunity Score—and Get Involved

The 2018 Opportunity Score, which is the composite measure of opportunity for our nation as a whole, stands at 53.1 out of 100. That’s an increase of 0.6 points or 1.2% since the last Index – but still just slightly above 50 percent.

How is your community doing? Find out using the interactive tool at OpportunityIndex.org and check out the social toolkit in the resources section to share!

What’s your Score? Find it in the Opportunity Index.

  • New in this year’s Index: View national trends disaggregated by race/ethnicity and gender.
  • The county most like yours probably isn’t next door. Use the Index to see which counties have similar Opportunity Scores, and start to think about what factors are at play.