Recent media reports and comments by President Barack Obama highlight a troubling fact about the United States today: all too often, your zip code determines your economic destiny
Running in direct contrast to the ideal of the American Dream, evidence is clear that we have less economic mobility than we think we do. Low-income children born in a dozen other wealthy countries stand a better chance of improving their lot in life than U.S. children who are born into poverty today. Four out of five Americans have been unemployed, lived in or near poverty or have turned to public assistance at some point in their lives, according to a new Associated Press survey.
This is why Opportunity Nation – a bipartisan, cross-sector campaign of 250 organizations that reach 100 million Americans – launched in 2011 to develop private and public sector solutions to expand economic mobility. It’s also why we partnered with nonpartisan Measure of America, A Project of the Social Science Resource Council, to create the Opportunity Index. This unique tool measures what contributes to a region’s capacity to provide opportunity to its residents in three domains: economic, educational and civic.
The Opportunity Index grades all 50 states plus Washington, D.C., and 2,900 counties, giving communities a way to assess the level of opportunity they provide their residents.
Providence County received a “C” on the Opportunity Index. Measure of America found that specific actions in four key areas could boost Providence County’s score to a “C+” over a period of two to three years, assuming that all related factors remain constant.
• Youth economic and academic inclusion. The percentage of disconnected youth would need to decrease by 10.1 percent, from 11.9 percent to 10.7 percent. This means 1,117 young people would need to be reconnected with educational or economic opportunities.
• Postsecondary completion. The percentage of adults who hold a two-year associate degree or higher would have to increase 15.3 percent from 32.7 percent to 37.7 percent. This can be achieved by helping 20,446 more adults to pursue and complete a degree.
• Jobs. The unemployment rate would need to be reduced by 20.2 percent, from 11.9 percent to 9.5 percent, by assisting 7,449 currently unemployed people to find jobs.
Expanding opportunity and increasing economic mobility for more Americans is the key to advancing our country’s global competitiveness. A growing body of research and tools such as the Opportunity Index offer powerful evidence that living in different communities means having vastly different levels of mobility, a disparity that hurts all of us. •
Mark Edwards is executive director of Opportunity Nation.