Magazine article USA TODAY

Mixed Messages from Post-Recession U.S

Magazine article USA TODAY

Mixed Messages from Post-Recession U.S

Article excerpt

Access to opportunity has increased nearly nine percent nationally since 2011, reflecting an improved post-recession employment picture, higher high school graduation rates, and a drop in violent crime, among other factors, according to the fifth annual U.S. Opportunity Index. Despite these gains, increasing poverty and income inequality, combined with stagnant wages, continue to impede progress for middle- and lower-income communities.

Over the past five years, all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and three-quarters of counties have improved on the Opportunity Index, an annual composite measure of 16 economic, educational, and civic indicators that expand or constrict access to economic mobility. The Index ranks each state and grades more than 2,600 counties A-F each year.

It also reflects the nation's uneven economic recovery. Millions of Americans are being left behind, including 5,500,000 young adults--13.8% of youth ages 16-24--who are disconnected from school and work. There are higher rates of poverty (plus 10.5%) and Income Inequality (plus 3.4%) and lower median family incomes (minus 4.2%) in 2015 than there were five years ago.

The data over five years demonstrates that access to upward mobility varies greatly by geography, and that some states and counties have wider opportunity gaps than others. A child growing up in Somerset County, N.J., for instance, has a far better chance of going to college, getting a family-sustaining job, and living in a safe neighborhood than does a similar child born in Marion County, Fla. …

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