Opportunity Nation Releases Groundbreaking Index at National Summit; Accessing the American Dream Now Out of Reach or Impossible for Many Americans

Nov 04, 2011, 14:54 ET from Opportunity Nation

Opportunity Index Assigns Every State and Almost Every County in the Country an Opportunity Score to Provide a First of Its Kind Measure of Opportunity in America

NEW YORK, Nov. 4, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- More than five hundred local leaders, activists, entertainers, and political luminaries gathered today at Columbia University as part of the Opportunity Nation Summit, a national convening to officially kick-off the Opportunity Nation campaign and to serve as a starting point to develop a shared plan to restore opportunity to more Americans. 

Opportunity Nation – a broad-based, cross-partisan coalition of nearly 200 public, private, non-profit, civilian and military organizations – envisions an America where every citizen that works hard can achieve their full potential.  The diverse group of organizations have joined together to collectively create and advocate for an agenda that provides better skills, quality jobs and stronger communities to all Americans. 

A centerpiece of the Summit focused on what opportunity in America looks like today, demonstrated by a groundbreaking new "Opportunity Index," developed jointly by the American Human Development Project and Opportunity Nation.  

"At a time when many Americans are worried about how they're going to pay next month's bills, Washington is stuck in political gridlock and doing nothing to relieve these very real fears," said Kevin Jennings, CEO of Be the Change, Inc., the parent organization behind Opportunity Nation.  "This Summit – and the Opportunity Nation campaign – is the start of a dialogue to change all of that.  Next year is going to be a time when the nation takes a long, hard look at itself and asks what kind of future we want for our country.  Opportunity Nation has a plan for ensuring that every American has access to the American Dream now and into the future, and we're going to be asking every elected official and candidate for office, What's Your Plan for Restoring Opportunity to Americans?"

Over the coming months, Opportunity Nation will leverage the collective support from its cross-partisan coalition and work to engage elected officials at all levels of government, as well as the candidates running for president in 2012. 

The Opportunity Index

With the groundbreaking Opportunity Index, Opportunity Nation has created a tool for national, state and local leaders – as well as engaged community members – to use as a guide for measuring and improving opportunity for everyone in their area.  The Index data is displayed in a user-friendly and interactive website: www.opportunityindex.org.  

More than a dozen data points were used to rank every state and assign almost every county in America a first of its kind Opportunity Score ranging from "A" for excellent to "F" for failing.  The data was compiled from almost a dozen different sources including the U.S. Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the Federal Communications Commission, the National Center for Education Statistics, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Department of Justice.   These data points were grouped into three sets of dimensions:  Economy, Education, and Community and together were used to calculate and assign an overall Opportunity Score. 

"Opportunity Nation starts from the belief that the zip code you're born into shouldn't pre-determine your destiny, and that when social mobility grinds to a halt, we are in grave danger of losing the best of America," said Mark Edwards, executive director of Opportunity Nation.  "For too long we have sliced and diced the interconnected issues of education, jobs, families, and communities – the framework underlying the idea of opportunity – into narrow silos that are disconnected, as if opportunity was a zero-sum idea.  That approach is no longer working because these factors work in tandem to determine the potential success of our citizenry.  That's what the Opportunity Index provides – an unprecedented picture of what opportunity in America looks like at the local, state and national levels."

The Index reveals some interesting new facts:

Income is surprisingly not the strongest indicator of opportunity.  Nevada has higher than average median household income, but ranks last in the nation in opportunity due to low scores in education, community dimensions.
The strongest indicator of an area with high-opportunity is youth academic and economic inclusion.  Conversely, states with a higher percentage of "Teenagers (16-19) Not in School and Not Working" have low opportunity.
States with low opportunity scores tend to have higher military recruitment rates.
The fifteen highest scoring states are fairly evenly distributed across the nation. Five are from the Northeast, five are from the Midwest, three are in the South Atlantic region, and two are Western states.
Of the lowest-scoring 15 states, 12 are located in America's South.  The remaining three are Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada.

The Opportunity Index is designed to empower community leaders, engaged citizens, and elected officials at all levels to take a serious look at the opportunity they are providing to those living in their areas.  The Index will be issued annually, giving leaders a way to track progress and measure the effectiveness of their efforts. 

The Summit

The Summit – which was co-convened by AARP, AARP Foundation, Ford Foundation, TIME, and United Way Worldwide – attracted several high-profile leaders and advocates, each of whom offered their perspectives on the opportunity barriers currently facing many Americans and adding their support for the Opportunity Nation campaign, including:

The Honorable Michael Bloomberg, New York City Mayor
The Honorable Michael Bennet, United States Senator, Colorado
The Honorable Deval Patrick, Governor, The Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Rick Stengel, Managing Editor, TIME
Fareed Zakaria, Editor-At-Large, TIME and Host of CNN's GPS with Fareed Zakaria
Suze Orman, Personal Finance Expert
Dr. Rick Warren, spiritual leader and author
Arianna Huffington, President and Editor-in-Chief, AOL Huffington Post Media Group
Bud Bucha, Medal of Honor Recipient
Serena Williams, U.S. tennis champion
Russell Simmons, CEO, Rush Communications and music magnate
Luis Ubinas, President, The Ford Foundation
Jo Ann Jenkins, President, AARP Foundation
Rodney Slater, Board of Directors, United Way

Throughout the Summit, participants and coalition members were asked to make "opportunity commitments," pledges of how their organization could take specific steps to break down barriers to individual success and build more fruitful pathways for individual achievement.

A complete Summit agenda, full list of speakers, and commitments made by Summit participants can be found at www.opportunitynation.org/summit.

Statements of Support from Summit Co-Conveners

"TIME is delighted to be a co-convener of Opportunity Nation and to help further amplify this crucial national issue to our millions of readers with our cover story this week, Can You Still Move Up in America?, focusing on the nexus between social mobility and income equality."
Rick Stengel, Managing Editor, TIME

"Older Americans are hurting in this economy.  They remain out of work longer, struggle to put healthy food on their tables and make the heartbreaking choices between health care and mortgage payments.  The Opportunity Nation Summit directly aligns with AARP Foundation's vision of a country free of poverty, where no older person feels vulnerable.  We're proud to support this effort as leaders from around the country work to put opportunity back on the agenda."
Jo Ann Jenkins, President, AARP Foundation

"Too many of our fellow citizens believe that America is no longer an opportunity nation. That is why today's event, bringing disparate views together under one roof to talk about America's future is so vital," said Luis Ubinas, president of the Ford Foundation. "We will not be America if we don't make this commitment to opportunity central and real for every one of our fellow citizens. We hope that today's event—and the work of Opportunity Nation—will set us on the path toward making that vision a reality."
Luis Ubinas, President, The Ford Foundation

"We know the hardships Americans are facing and we all share aspirations for a better life for all.  As a non-partisan effort, the Opportunity Nation coalition is well-positioned to develop effective solutions because it encourages people to put aside special interests and opposing ideologies and come together to focus on the country's most pressing needs.  This aligns well with United Way's efforts to engage and activate people to make a difference in causes that matter to them."
Stacey D. Stewart, Executive Vice President of Community Impact Leadership and Learning, United Way Worldwide

Opportunity Nation is a campaign to promote opportunity, social mobility, and access to the American Dream. The campaign has built a broad coalition of nearly 200 businesses, non-profits, corporate partners, faith-based organizations, educational institutions, and military groups to help create and advocate for a shared, cross-partisan plan that will provide better skills, more quality jobs, and healthier communities to all Americans. For more information please visit  www.OpportunityNation.org and check us out on Twitter @oppnation and on Facebook at OpportunityNation.


SOURCE Opportunity Nation