So in the land of opportunity, where is the opportunity?
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According to Opportunity Nation, a non-profit based in Cambridge, Mass. that is focused on improving economic mobility and making opportunity more accessible, the states with the best economic and educational prospects are in some unlikely areas scattered across the country.
Ranking all 50 states (and Washington, D.C.), the organization found that Vermont, Minnesota, North Dakota and New Hampshire lead, with the highest “opportunity scores” in its Opportunity Index report.
“As we all know, opportunity really varies depending where you are,” said Russell Krumnow, the managing director of Opportunity Nation. “So we looked at indicators like a state’s unemployment rate and high school graduation rates to figure out [scores].”
Krumnow emphasized that it’s not just any one indicator that determines a state’s opportunity prospects.
Instead, many factors, including income inequality, the percentage of people living below the poverty line, crime rates, access to high-speed Internet and the percentage of households spending 30% or less of their income on housing, are all weighed in the rankings.
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The study illustrates some interesting numbers. For instance, North Dakota ranked third in overall opportunity, and despite experiencing a slump in job growth with its unemployment rate increasing this year, it’s still the state with the lowest overall unemployment rate in the U.S. at 3.5%.
According to the study, the nation’s median household income slipped in 2012 to $51,017 from $51,100 in 2011.
Mississippi, which is the second-worst ranked state on the report, has a median income averaging $35,790; while Maryland had the highest median income at $67,863.
Maryland is ranked twelfth in the overall index, but Krumnow said it’s not surprising since income is not always the strongest indicator of opportunity.
There are some patterns though, he explained.
“States with young people between the ages of 16 -24 who are not in school and who are not working tend to have lower [opportunity] scores,” said Krumnow.
According to the index, the states with the lowest overall scores are Alabama, Louisiana, New Mexico, Mississippi and Nevada -- all of which have high populations of young people out of school and unemployed.