Media Highlights

Zip Codes Continue to Determine Upward Mobility in America

by Opportunity Nation   •  

Cara Willis, Director of Communications, Opportunity Nation

Poverty and Income Inequality Rise Nationwide, According to 2013 Opportunity Index

BOSTON, MA – Opportunity Nation released today the 2013 Opportunity Index, the nation’s most comprehensive measure of economic, educational and civic factors that influence the upward mobility of Americans.  While the data shows modest growth – 2.6 percent – in Opportunity Scores nationwide between 2011-2013, the zip code where a person is born still largely determines his or her chances of success.

A Look Inside the 2013 Opportunity Index

The Opportunity Index is an interactive online tool ( that focuses on the conditions present in different communities that expand or constrain upward mobility. The Index is designed to connect economic, educational, civic and community factors together to help identify obstacles to opportunity and economic mobility and develop concrete solutions.  The 16 interconnected factors include unemployment and poverty rates; preschool enrollment and high school graduation rates; access to healthy food and safe neighborhoods. The Opportunity Index was jointly developed by Measure of America and Opportunity Nation in 2011. The Index gives policymakers and community leaders a powerful tool to advance opportunity-related issues and work, advocate for positive change, and track progress over time.

In 2013, Vermont ranked #1 out of all 50 states and Washington, D.C.; Nevada ranks last for the third year in a row.

“While we are pleased to see some improvement in the conditions that expand opportunity for Americans, the fact is your zip code can still determine your chances in life,” said Mark Edwards, executive director of Opportunity Nation. “The data discredits the widely held belief that Americans have equal opportunities across the country to climb the proverbial economic ladder.”

In comparison, low-income children born in Canada and a dozen European countries stand a better chance of improving their lot in life than low-income children born in the U.S.

“The Index shows the interconnected conditions present in America’s communities that impact upward mobility and access to opportunity,” said Kristen Lewis, Co-Director at Measure of America. “GDP and unemployment rates do not give the whole picture of opportunity.”

Highlights from the 2013 Opportunity Index Data:

Slightly over half of states (26) and Washington, D.C., improved their Opportunity Score. Twenty-four (24) states showed declines or no improvement since 2011

  • One in seven young adults between the ages of 16-24 are not in school and not working (called “disconnected” or “opportunity” youth)
  • Forty-six (46) states experienced a drop in median household income in 2013, and income inequality increased in 39 states over three years
  • Forty-nine (49) states reported an increase in poverty since 2011
  • Forty-four (44) states have experienced a drop in their violent crime rate – a major improvement in community health and civic life since 2011

Opportunity varies greatly depending on where you live, perhaps more than at any point in recent American history, given the growing inequality in the U.S. right now. It is encouraging to see some improvements in some regions, but much work remains. The implications of these findings are especially troubling for our nation’s young people. There are an estimated 5.8 million “disconnected youth” (16-24 year olds not in school and not working). These numbers have remained stagnant for the past three years. The data show that the percentage of people living in poverty and the number of disconnected youth correlate most closely with Opportunity Scores. As youth disconnection and poverty climb, the Opportunity Index tumbles.

Other Results:

  • Education and economic outlooks have improved on a national scale
  • Unemployment rates declined, yet poverty rates increased–a finding that suggests many people may have given up their job search or have taken low-wage jobs that make it difficult to support a family.
  • Despite heavy student loan burdens and the changes to national curricula, high school graduation rates and the number of people with associate degrees or higher have increased significantly

Overall, location continues to greatly determine the availability of economic, education and civic and community opportunities in the United States. 

“This runs counter to the vision of our country as a land of opportunity,” said Edwards. “We all need to work together to jumpstart the American Dream for the next generation.”

About Opportunity Nation
Opportunity Nation is a bipartisan, multi-sector national campaign comprised of more than 275 businesses, educational institutions, nonprofits, civic organizations and individuals working together to expand economic mobility and close the opportunity gap in America.

About the Opportunity Index
Opportunity Nation partnered with Measure of America, A Project of the Social Science Research Council, to create the Index in 2011. The Opportunity Index is a unique tool that measures the economic, educational and community factors that contribute to the expansion or constriction of upward mobility for Americans where they live. The Index measures the climate for upward mobility across the country, ranking all 50 states and Washington, D.C. and assigning letter grades A-F to more than 3,000 counties each year.

For more information, please visit:, and


Cara Willis, Director of Communications
Opportunity Nation


Opportunity Nation Opportunity Nation is a bipartisan, national campaign comprised of more than 350 cross-sector organizations working together to expand economic mobility and close the opportunity gap in America. Opportunity Nation envisions the United States as a nation where everyone – regardless of where they were born – has equal access to opportunity, economic mobility, and success at all stages of life.

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