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New Opportunity Index™ Shows Incarceration, Higher Education Strongly Linked to State and County Opportunity Scores

by Opportunity Nation   •  


New Opportunity Index™ Shows Incarceration, Higher Education Strongly Linked to State and County Opportunity Scores
As unemployment, median household incomes improve, community and health factors slow progress


WASHINGTON, DC, DEC. 6, 2017– Opportunity Nation released its 2017 Opportunity Index today. Findings show improvements in all four dimensions of the 2017 Opportunity Index — Education, Economy, Health and Community — with the biggest gains in the Economy dimension. Among states, 43 Opportunity Scores improved and seven state scores declined. Vermont ranked as the number one state for opportunity for the seventh year in a row, followed by Minnesota, Iowa, Massachusetts and North Dakota. The nation’s 2017 Opportunity Score is 52.4, an increase of 1.3 points, or 2.6 percent since 2016.

The 2017 Opportunity Index measures 20 economic, educational, health and civic indicators that expand or constrict access to opportunity. The 2017 Index ranks each state and Washington, DC, and grades more than 2,000 counties with an Opportunity Score. For the first time since the original Opportunity Index was released in 2011, the report includes a dimension on health and indicators related to incarceration and voter registration.

“The 2017 Opportunity Index shows that by many measures, opportunity has increased in the wake of the recession–more people are working, the median household income is rising and violent crime has decreased since we first began measuring opportunity in 2011,” said Monique Rizer, Executive Director of Opportunity Nation. “But critical factors like health, incarceration rates and income inequality are holding Opportunity Scores down and in some states correlating with significant decline. The continued mixed results we’ve seen in the Index year to year and over time serve as a powerful call to action to focus on specific community challenges that help all sectors and people rise equally.”

PwC US provided resources to support the development of the 2017 Opportunity Index, as well as a pro bono team of professionals from PwC’s Artificial Intelligence Lab contributing to the development of new analyses. The new indicators will provide insights that can be used to develop better solutions to the complex problems that impact our society.

“This work clearly demonstrates how AI (artificial intelligence) can be used not only for commercial gain, but can also be used for the social good,” said Dr. Anand Rao, Global AI Lead for PwC. “We have leveraged leading technology for machine learning techniques to generate new insights on the opportunities available at the local level.”

“Two of the most pressing issues facing our society today are wealth inequality and the resulting opportunity gap. By identifying areas of unequal access to opportunity across the US, Opportunity Nation is taking a critical step toward expanding economic mobility,” said Shannon Schuyler, Principal, Responsible Business Leadership and Chief Purpose Officer at PwC and President, PwC Charitable Foundation, Inc. “We live in a society where your zip code can predict your future, and I look forward to the day when this is no longer the case. Businesses must live up to their responsibility to create sustainable change in the communities they serve, and providing resources, knowledge, safe spaces and more are key to proactively addressing these discrepancies.”

While the lowest graded counties are in the South, states in that region are making progress; the state with the biggest leap in overall opportunity from 2016 to 2017 was Georgia; Tennessee had the biggest gains in median income and population above the poverty line; Florida had the most improvement in health coverage; and Louisiana saw the biggest boost in volunteerism.

At both state and county levels, communities where teens and young adults are most likely to neither work or attend school tend to be those where adult educational attainment is relatively low. This suggests that economic opportunity — or the lack thereof — has an intergenerational component, and that the education and employment struggles of young people often mirror those of their parents and neighbors.

Additional 2017 Index findings:

  • High incarceration rates are a close second to youth disconnection as the strongest indicators correlated with state Opportunity Scores.
  • The Health dimension has the strongest dimension correlation with overall Opportunity Scores.
  • The strongest individual correlator with Opportunity Scores is the rate of disconnected youth – young people ages 16 to 24 who are not in school and not working. The proportion of youth who are disconnected from employment or education declined in 37 states to a rate of 12.3 percent, representing 4.9 million young adults.
  • Top five states: 1) Vermont, 2) Minnesota, 3) Iowa, 4) Massachusetts, 5) North Dakota
  • Bottom five states: 51) New Mexico, 50) Louisiana, 49) Mississippi, 48) Nevada, 47) West Virginia
  • Top five graded counties: 1) Williamson County, Tennessee; 2) Hamilton County, Indiana; 3) Delaware County, Ohio; 4) Ozaukee County, Wisconsin; 5) Lincoln County, South Dakota
  • Bottom five graded counties: 1) McKinley County, New Mexico; 2) Apache County, Arizona; 3) Putnam County, Florida; 4) Luna County, New Mexico; 5) Torrance County, New Mexico
  • Rates of deaths from drug/alcohol poisoning or suicide rose in 43 states and the District of Columbia since 2016.
  • The top 27 counties for on-time high school graduation rates are all in Texas.
  • Adult educational attainment, measured by the percentage of adults with an associate degree or higher, has increased in every state.
  • Voter registration declined in 37 states and the District of Columbia.
  • The unemployment rate has improved in 49 states and the District of Columbia.
  • Nearly every state saw an improvement in rates of health insurance coverage.
  • Incarceration rates declined in 33 states since 2016.

“Child Trends is pleased to be the data partner on the 2017 Opportunity Index. Based on our research, we recommended that Opportunity Nation include a dimension on health. For the 2017 Index, our analysis shows that, of the four dimensions, Health has the highest correlation with overall opportunity,” said David Murphey, Research Fellow at Child Trends. “The Opportunity Index is one of a very few projects that examines well-being down to the county level. And, not to our surprise, place matters when it comes to opportunity. Along with the now-familiar story of rising income inequality in our country, there is a story of rising geographic inequality.”

The 2017 Opportunity Index was created with PwC US, who contributed new indicators to the Economy dimension; the Rockefeller Foundation; and, who provided pro bono support to expand some of the economic data points.

Visit to explore the complete dataset and methodology.

About the Opportunity Index:
The Opportunity Index is an annual composite measure at the state and county levels of  20 economic, educational, health and civic factors that expand or restrict upward mobility. The Opportunity Index ranks all 50 states plus Washington, DC with scores of 100 to one, and grades more than 2,000 counties A through F. The Index is designed to help identify bipartisan, cross-sector solutions that expand opportunity for more Americans.

About Opportunity Nation:
Opportunity Nation is a bipartisan, national coalition of more than 350 businesses, nonprofits, educational institutions and community leaders working to expand economic mobility. Opportunity Nation seeks to close the opportunity gap by amplifying the work of its Coalition members, advocating policy and private sector actions, and releasing the annual Opportunity Index.

About Child Trends:
Child Trends, based in Bethesda, Md., is the nation’s leading nonprofit research organization focused exclusively on improving the lives and prospects of children, youth, and their families. For 38 years, decision-makers have relied on our rigorous research, unbiased analyses, and clear communications to improve public policies and interventions that serve children and families. Our work is supported by foundations; federal, state and local government agencies; and nonprofit organizations.

About PwC:
PwC refers to the US member firm or one of its subsidiaries or affiliates, and may sometimes refer to the PwC network. Each member firm is a separate legal entity. Please see for further details. At PwC, our purpose is to build trust in society and solve important problems. PwC is a network of firms in 158 countries with more than 236,000 people who are committed to delivering quality in assurance, advisory and tax services. Find out more and tell us what matters to you by visiting us at Analytics has over 20,000 specialists globally that work closely with domain experts to help organizations tackle tough social and business problems. Please see for further details.


Stacy Heit
Director, Communications and Events, 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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