For too long, too many Americans have struggled to reach even the first rung of the opportunity ladder. The Republican and Democratic National Conventions are a reminder that our country remains a deeply partisan environment. Clashes on both sides of the aisle are obstructing collaboration and consensus building that could restore access to the American Dream.
Regardless of which party our next president represents, economic opportunity is one of the most crucial issues of this election. It’s an Achilles heel that threatens America’s most basic philosophy—the idea that no matter where you come from or what you look like, hard work and perseverance will give you a fair shot at improving your life. The next president must prioritize closing the opportunity gap in the U.S. and ensuring that someone’s zip code is not the deciding factor of how far he or she can go in life.
Our annual Opportunity Index, which scores local communities and offers recommendations, has consistently shown that access to opportunity varies significantly by state and county.
Overall opportunity in America has increased by 9% from 2011, when we first released the index, and October 2015, the most recent index. More Americans have jobs, are graduating from high school and gaining post secondary education. At the same time there are higher rates of poverty, income inequality and lower median family incomes.
One of the most powerful indicators of a community’s level of opportunity is youth disconnection. According to our research, 5.5 million young people ages 16-24 are neither in school or working. When more young people are in school or working, the region’s Opportunity Score rises. Conversely, in places where levels of youth disconnection are high, Opportunity Scores drop.
As Americans, we all pay a steep price for youth disconnection—a staggering $93 billion yearly in the form of increased spending on social services, wasted talent, and lost earnings and tax revenue. Over the lifetimes of disconnected youth, that figure rises to a $1.6 trillion. Investing in our young people will pay dividends.
There are 12 ways that the next president can expand opportunity for the country.
- Establish a White House Office of Opportunity
- Update Career and Technical Education
- Incentivize Employers to Hire and Train Youth
- Encourage Cross-Sector Collaboration
- Provide Comprehensive Program Design and Wrap-Around Support Services
- Advance Juvenile and Criminal Justice Reform
- Expand Access to High-Quality Childhood Education Programs for Low- and Moderate-Income Families
- Improve Affordability, Quality and Financial Aid Access in Postsecondary Education
- Support College Savings Plans for Low-Income Children
- Expand and Make Permanent the Earned Income Tax Credit
- Accelerate Access to High-Speed Internet
- Strengthen Civic Engagement in Communities
Restoring access to the American Dream cannot be done by one candidate or one party. It requires cross-sector collaboration and initiatives from both sides of the aisle. America is the nation we build together—let’s make it a nation of opportunity.