At Opportunity Nation we were thrilled to hear President Obama's plan in his State of the Union address to rebuild ladders of opportunity in communities that have been left behind, strengthen pathways for young adults, and promote postsecondary educational success.
Both parties recognize that opportunity and social mobility have defined America. It is a core value of our nation that where you start in life should not determine how high you climb. But that ideal is at risk of disappearing. Today, the zip codes where people are born too often determine their destiny, and young people in other highly industrialized countries now have a better chance of moving up the economic ladder than children in America.
It is why Opportunity Nation developed the Opportunity Index, the first tool to measure opportunity at the community level. The Opportunity Index measures all 50 states and over 2,900 counties via 16 indicators, ranging from the unemployment rate, the number of primary care physicians, and high school graduation rates. Most notably, the biggest determinant of a state's Opportunity Score is the number of 16-24 year olds not connected to school or work.
In the State of the Union, President Obama powerfully addressed what the Opportunity Index already tells us - providing young adults with multiple pathways to education and a career is critical to our nation's future. Addressing the skills gap in American education, the President presented policy proposals to train more Americans for the higher-wage jobs of the future by rewarding schools that develop partnerships with colleges and employers, including an emphasis on STEM. The President pointed out a shining example of success by including a mention of Opportunity Nation's partner IBM and their P-TECH program, which provides high school training with secondary and post-secondary credentials, enabling students to get good paying technology jobs right out of high school. These credentials will be critical, given that by 2018, 63% of American jobs will require at least an associate's degree.
The President also noted that this push for higher-quality education must start with preschool. We agree, and a key element of the Opportunity Index is the percentage of children enrolled in preschool. Nationally, less than half of children age three and four attend preschool. President Obama called for every child to gain access to preschool by increasing funding for programs that are working now but can't afford to accept more students. Programs like these - programs that work, programs that save several dollars for every dollar spent -are smart investments in opportunity. We believe that they are worth making.
What we don't believe is that either party has a monopoly on good ideas about opportunity. Senator Marco Rubio's response reminded us of the power of the American Dream, and the emphasis we need to place on rebuilding the ladder of opportunity for all Americans. We agreed with several of his ideas on education reform, including, "[a] 21st century workforce should not be forced to accept 20th century education solutions. Today's students aren't only 18 year olds. They're returning veterans. They're single parents who decide to get the education they need to earn a decent wage. And they're workers who have lost jobs that are never coming back and need to be retrained." Senator Rubio echoed the same themes when he addressed over 1,200 individuals committed to restoring opportunity at the 2012 Opportunity Nation Summit. Indeed, education reform presents an area where the two parties might be able to work together to solve these issues.
Opportunity Nation hopes that partisan bickering can be set aside in 2013 in order to address the critical broken rungs on the ladder of opportunity. Both parties agree that change needs to happen; it is time to raise Opportunity Scores in all 50 states as private sector and nonprofit leaders are already doing. Over the next several months, with the backing of our bipartisan coalition of more than 250 non-profits, businesses, faith-based organizations and community organizations, we look forward to working with the President and Congress to expand opportunity for all young adults and raise Opportunity Index scores by increasing pathways to success for all youth; providing better opportunities for college and career advancement through reauthorization of the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act; and pairing college planning support with asset development for low-income youth.
At the 2012 Opportunity Nation Summit, Senator Rubio called for all of us to work together: "Working with all of you and with my colleagues in the United States Senate [we can] ensure the next year becomes the opportunity agenda." Opportunity Nation is ready to work with Congress and President Obama to make 2013 the year of opportunity for all Americans.
This post is the first in a series co-produced by The Huffington Post and Opportunity Nation highlighting solutions to the country's growing opportunity gap. The coverage utilizes the latter's Opportunity Index, the nation's first -- and only -- tool that measures the impact a geographic place has on each individual's economic mobility. It identifies a comprehensive set of indicators that, when taken together, measure the amount of opportunities available in communities. To keep up with the coverage, click here.