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Report Details Unequal Access to American Dream

From guest blogger Alyssa Morones

For children across the nation, the ability to live out the "American Dream" may be more dependent on their individual zip codes than their national identity, according to the latest Opportunity Index report.

The Index was created by Opportunity Nation, a bipartisan national campaign made up of businesses, educational institutions, nonprofits, civic organizations, and individuals with the mission of improving economic mobility and closing the American opportunity gap.

Using data collected during the most recent census and other surveys, the Opportunity Index looks at a variety of economic, education, and community factors to measure the condition of opportunity and economic mobility in the United States. These indicators included internet access, college graduation rates, income inequality, and public safety, among others.

It analyzes the data at the federal, state, and local levels, ultimately finding that an individual's zip code can be an important determining factor in his or her successful pursuit of the "American Dream," based on how each of the indicators measured out at the local level.

The index also highlighted the interconnected nature of factors affecting economic mobility in the nation, as they applied to every zip code. The rates of wages, poverty, affordable housing, early-childhood education, and high school graduation, among other factors, all impact a child's future economic mobility and achievement, according to the index.

"Jobs alone will not create opportunity," said Mark Edwards, the executive director of Opportunity Nation, during a forum in Washington on Tuesday to report and discuss the implications of the Opportunity Index and the factors affecting upward mobility for Americans.

For example, even though the national unemployment rate decreased by 20 percent since the first opportunity index was measured three years ago, the index also indicated that the nation became poorer, with 49 states reporting an increase in poverty and 45 experiencing a drop in the median household income in 2013.

Youth data was of particular significance to measures of opportunity.

According to the Opportunity Index Report, 5.8 million young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 are neither in school nor working. While, over all, the opportunity index has risen 2.6 percent in the past three years, this number has held fairly steady.

Education, of course, can play a role in alleviating this job gap, according to Mr. Edwards.

"Education has to be more connected to work," he said. "There needs to be a strong partnership between the two."

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