The History of Opportunity


Central to our identity as Americans is a shared belief that, no matter how humble your origins, with hard work and perseverance, you can improve your prospects and give your children a shot at a secure and productive future. For generations, Americans lived this dream. But today, the American Dream is too often just that—a dream. Increasingly, it’s your zip code that predetermines your destiny.

college-student-1970sIn 2011, Opportunity Nation and Measure of America created the annual Opportunity Index to analyze community conditions that impact opportunity. Now, it’s time to look back at the history of opportunity.

What did opportunity look like 40 years ago? New research by Opportunity Nation and Measure of America reveals that:

  • Despite dramatic educational progress, many Americans still lack access to opportunity for upward mobility due to uneven economic progress.
  • Post-secondary completion rates (the percentage of adults with at least an associate’s degree or higher) grew 105 percent over the past four decades.
  • The rate of disconnected youth has increased since 1990, affecting nearly 15 percent of young adults in 2010.

Download our new Historical Report of Opportunity and explore the economic, educational and civic factors that impacted opportunity in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s for all 50 states and Washington, DC.

We envision the Historical Report as a tool to explore what policies, programs, investments and events have expanded opportunity in some places over time, and stunted or diminished it in others. We must take these lessons from the past so we can expand opportunity for today.



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