Introducing the Opportunity Index to Vermont•
One of my favorite things to do is introduce the Opportunity Index to new places around the country. We are so thrilled this web-based tool is being used by companies, researchers, university professors, community organizers and city officials as a way to bring diverse groups together to focus on expanding upward mobility to more Americans. St. Paul, MN; Quincy, MA; Washington State; and Kentucky are just a few of the places where the Index is being used to drive discussion and policy about opportunity-related issues.
So when Jim Moulton, executive director of Addison County Transit Resources, and Robin Scheu, executive director of the Addison County Economic Development Corporation, reached out and invited me to talk with their group this September about Index Scores for Addison County, Vermont, I couldn’t wait to meet with them.
After all, Vermont has ranked #1 of all states since the Index launched in 2011, indicating it provides the best access to key economic, educational and community conditions that contribute to opportunity for residents. And Addison County, home to 37,000 Vermonters and Middlebury College, earned a B+ on last year’s Index. Even top scoring states and counties, however, know they have a lot of work to do.
The Addison County group was particularly interested to learn that the two factors that correlate most closely with a state’s Index Score or a county’s Index Grade are the region’s poverty level and the number of youth ages 16-24 who are neither in school nor working, so-called “disconnected” youth.
The number of teens and young adults ages 16-24 who are disconnected in Addison County is 8.6 percent – far below the national average of nearly 15 percent, but far higher than these Vermonters want to see.
“We are so excited to have a deeper understanding of the Index, the indicators behind it and a feeling of increased ability to share and communicate this to other leaders in the community,” said Jim Moulton.
They are now considering a larger convening of more community and business leaders to explore ways to lower the number of disconnected youth in Addison County, potentially led by the United Way, a key partner of Opportunity Nation.
“Not only does the disconnected youth indicator have the greatest impact on Opportunity Scores, but we understood right away that this issue connects to a lot of interests around the table,” Jim said. “These include transportation, substance abuse, incarceration and education. We feel it’s a manageable number, and we could really make strides in this critical area if we all work together.”
Opportunity Nation hopes more communities will use the Index as an impetus to remove barriers to opportunity, particularly for teens and young adults, and collaborate to boost Opportunity Scores and Grades.