Featured Indicator: Which States Actually Have the Most Opportunity? A Look at the 2015 Opportunity Index

Overall, every state and the District of Columbia, have seen increases in their Opportunity Index scores since 2011.

Everyone knows that the United States is the land of opportunity, but do some states offer more opportunity than others? According to the annual Opportunity Index, absolutely. The Opportunity Index was specifically designed by Measure of America and Opportunity Nation, so that states and counties can get a better idea of what exactly opportunity looks like in their specific region, and how they measure up compared to other states and counties.

So, which states exactly offer the most opportunity? Below is a graph including the top 10 ranked states of 2015, and their corresponding opportunity index score on a 100-point scale.

Vermont, being the #1 ranked state for opportunity, has overall scores that far surpass the national average. Another interesting conclusion of the 2015 index is that 6 out of top 10 states are located in the Northeast. But really, this graph begs the question...

How does someone actually quantify opportunity?

The Opportunity Index gathers information, for all 50 states and the District of Columbia, on the basis of three dimensions, including:

  • Jobs and Local Economy
  • Education
  • Community Health and Civic Life

Then, these three dimensions are divided into more specific themes that can easily be measured. The Jobs and Local Economy dimension includes jobs, wages, poverty, inequality, access to banking, affordable housing, and internet access. The Education dimension includes preschool enrollment, high school graduation, and postsecondary completion. Lastly, the Community Health and Civic Life dimension includes group membership, volunteerism, youth economic and academic inclusion, community safety, access to healthcare, and access to healthy food.          

With these specific themes, the Opportunity Index compiles, normalizes, and averages the data within each of the three dimensions, ultimately providing us with each state or county's score. (For a more in-depth explanation as to how the Opportunity Index is measured check out the Index Report)

The index has been calculated every year since 2011, and the good news is that data shows overall opportunity in America has increased by 8.9% in the past 5 years[i]. Overall, every state and the District of Columbia, have seen increases in their index scores. These gains can be attributed to better employment statistics throughout the economic recovery, which began in 2009. But, the bad news is that national median household income has decreased by $2,144, the national poverty rate has increased by 10.5%, and income inequality is still on the rise. The index shows that despite the fact that there have been many economic gains in the past 5 years, we are still far from a full rebound. The index also provides us with a more detailed look of how we can improve our communities by showing us which of the three dimensions are doing well or need some work.

Why is this important for economic development?

The Opportunity Index is important for communities because they can see how well their county and state is doing in the three dimension areas. Communities can get exact information on both economic and social indicators that drive growth. They can also gauge how they are doing compared to other counties and states near them and across the country. The Index allows communities to get the best possible picture of opportunity in their area, which can give them an idea about how likely any given person is to become economically successful in their region.

For a more detailed explanation of the Opportunity Index check out the full briefing: Opportunity in America 2011-2015.


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