Publication

Jun 17, 2019
Authors:
Samuel Beckwith,
David Murphey

Introduction

Creating opportunities for all families to thrive in their communities requires a complex set of strategies. These will vary according to each community’s history, culture, needs, assets, and demographic makeup. Both historically and currently, opportunity in the United States is not distributed equally. Where a baby is born, grows into childhood, moves into adolescence, and
seeks an adult role (which can include raising a family or starting a career) can greatly influence whether this journey is supported and fulfilling, or full of overwhelming obstacles, dangers, and disappointments.

Across our nation’s states and counties, community members, policymakers, philanthropic leaders, and other change agents need tools to understand the strengths and challenges related to building opportunity in the communities in which they live and serve. Since 2011, the Opportunity Index has provided insight into this critical question, offering a comprehensive and detailed examination of conditions that affect opportunity, place by place, across the United States.

The Opportunity Index is a composite measure made up of indicators in four distinct dimensions of opportunity: Economy, Education, Health, and Community. This report shares the latest Index scores for all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, ranking them from 1 to 51, with 1 indicating the state with the greatest opportunity. The report also presents overall levels of opportunity for more than 2,000 counties (representing 97 percent of the U.S. population, with even greater coverage for most indicators).

To highlight the uneven distribution of opportunity in our nation, we also share, for those indicators with available data, breakdowns of the data by gender and race/ethnicity.

The Index was first launched in 2011, and Child Trends led a structural change in 2017 affecting a number of its indicators and dimensions. Because of this change, composite Opportunity and Dimension Scores from 2011 to 2015 should not be compared with those from 2016 and forward. This report focuses on progress since the publication of the 2017 Index to bring continuity to the way we measure opportunity. The 2018 Opportunity Index was jointly developed by Child Trends and the Forum for Youth Investment’s Opportunity Nation campaign. The 2017 Technical Supplement has a more detailed discussion of the structural change.

As of this report’s release, data for a number of indicators are not yet available for a 2019 Index. Thus, this report combines the 2018 Opportunity Index with a limited preview of the 2019 Index, based on the data that are available. Partial 2019 data is not currently available on the Opportunity Index website, but can be requested on opportunityindex.org.

Findings and Trends

For the nation as a whole, the 2018 Opportunity Score, which is the composite measure of opportunity, stands at 53.1 out of 100. This increase of 0.6 points (1.2 percent) in overall opportunity since 2017 is driven by improvements in the Economy, Education, and Community dimensions. The largest increase (4.6 percent) was in Economy, while Education and Community saw growth of 1.5 and 1.8 percent, respectively. The Health dimension, however, declined by 2.8 percent.

Since the Opportunity Index first launched in 2011, through 2017, Vermont was the state ranked number one in overall opportunity. However, in 2018, Minnesota moved to the fore, at 62.5 points, while Vermont placed a close second, at 62.3.

For the fourth consecutive year, New Mexico had the lowest Opportunity score. However, at 42.8, its score did improve from 2017’s score of 40.9. From 2017 to 2018, opportunity increased in 44 states while it decreased in six states and the District of Columbia.

In a large majority (83.2 percent) of counties where changes could be calculated, opportunity increased from 2017 to 2018. At the county level, overall opportunity is indicated by a letter grade, based on each county’s performance on the indicators that comprise the Opportunity Index. In 2018, 18 counties received an Opportunity Grade of A, three more than in 2017. The number of counties receiving an F decreased substantially, from 18 to seven.

The 2018 Opportunity Index Briefing Book, Where Is Opportunity in America?, summarizes important findings and trends from the 2018 Opportunity Index at the national, state, and county levels.

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Authors

Samuel Beckwith
David Murphey