After five years of incremental progress, the nation's Opportunity Score has stalled, according to the 2016 Opportunity Index. Produced in partnership with Measure of America, the annual Index measures 16 opportunity indicators in all 50 states and the District of Columbia as well as more than 2,700 counties, representing 99 percent of the U.S. population. The continued mixed results seen in the Index year to year and over time serve as a powerful call-to-action to renew our efforts to expand access to the American Dream for the rising generation. We all must continue to prioritize this work.
Check out the Opportunity Index scores for your state and county and be a part of expanding opportunity in your community.
This is the first time in the six years that we did not see improvement in the nation's overall Opportunity Score: the 2016 overall Index score is the same as the previous year's, holding steady at a score of 54 out of 100. So as with 2015, overall opportunity in 2016 has increased 8.9 percent and 4.4 points since 2011, the first year of the Index. This lack of movement from 2015 to 2016 implies stagnant upward mobility and economic security for millions of Americans, including teens and young adults, despite improvements in several areas of the Index.
Since our first Index six years ago, more Americans have jobs, median wages are up and fewer Americans are living in poverty, according to the 2016 Index. Also in this same time period, the rate of violent crime in the U.S. decreased by over 15 percent, with 41 states improving. Positive trends like these appear to keep the nation's Opportunity Score steady.
But the nation faces real challenges. Income inequality increased in 45 states. Nearly 30 states' Community Health and Civic Life scores dropped in the 2016 Index, reflecting decreasing social connections - connections imperative to opportunity, particularly for youth and young adults.
Key indicator, youth disconnection rates improve
The rate of youth disconnection, represented by young adults ages 16 to 24 who are not in school and not working, fell 9.1 percent since 2011 and 4.5 percent since 2015. Roughly 411,000 fewer young people nationwide are disconnected compared to the 2011 Index. We follow this rate closely as it has the strongest correlation with overall Opportunity Scores, meaning as youth disconnection rates rise, Opportunity Scores drop and vice versa. Today 5.3 million young people, or 13.2 percent, remain disconnected, according to the 2016 Index. This rate remains above pre-recession levels. In 2007 there were 4.9 million disconnected youth. Overall, 41 states made progress in reducing youth disconnection since 2011.
Because we know from the data provided by our Opportunity Index that when our youth do well, our communities do well, we believe policies and programs that ensure children and young adults thrive will help close the opportunity gap for all. Though youth disconnection transcends geography, ethnic background and income bracket, we know that low-income youth and youth of color are disproportionately represented. These young adults are most at risk and therefore most in need of urgent action and support.
Bipartisanship, collaboration can restore the American Dream
We know one sector or political party can't close the opportunity gap alone. Our Index acts as a guide for policymakers and community leaders to shift their focus to the necessary cross-sector, bipartisan and evidence-based solutions that can improve citizens' lives, prospects and communities.
We are proud to partner with so many organizations in our Coalition, representing tens of millions of people, all working toward closing the opportunity gap and restoring the American Dream. In September 2016 we released a comprehensive plan, "Our Opportunity Nation," which was signed by more than 125 members of our Coalition. This plan establishes six Opportunity Millennium Goals that will help close the opportunity gap.
Let's continue to work together to ensure that every child and young adult gets the right start in life, and can pursue their purpose and thrive.