A Massachusetts group named Opportunity Nation says it has come up with a way to measure which states provide greatest access to the American Dream.
The Opportunity Index takes 16 economic indicators—among them traditional measures like the unemployment rate and nontraditional ones like the percentage of adults who volunteer—and mashes them together to create an opportunity score for each state.
“As a country, what we need to do is focus on opportunity,” Executive Director of Opportunity Nation Mark Edwards said at the Forbes Reinventing America Summit on Friday. “This is not about the quality of outcome—it’s about the quality of opportunity.”
Some employers are using the data to make decisions about where they want to invest, and state lawmakers in places like Iowa and Washington have begun using the index as a benchmark for their states.
Midwestern and rural states in the North tended to do best on the index, while southern states generally landed toward the bottom.
“One of the things we measure is social capital in communities — are people volunteering, are they part of civic organizations?” Edwards said. “All of those Midwestern states don’t have the lowest unemployment rates necessarily, but what they do have are deep investments in education and strong social capital measures, so they tend to do really well on the Opportunity Index.”
Many states dropped in the rankings because of stagnant unemployment for young people.
“We believe that this issue of youth unemployment has been missing from the broader opportunity conversation,” Edwards said. “It’s great that we’re pulling ourselves out of the recession, but the particular cohort of 16 to 24 year olds is not recovering. Their unemployment rates are vastly higher than every other demographic, and these are our future workers.”
Here is the ranking of states with the best and worst access to the American Dream:
3. North Dakota
4. New Hampshire
8. New Jersey
9. South Dakota
20. New York
22. District of Columbia
29. Rhode Island
37. North Carolina
42. South Carolina
45. West Virginia
49. New Mexico
Source: Forbes Business