How will we know? The case for opportunity indicators

While the U.S. is a world leader in opportunity rhetoric, it is something of a laggard for opportunity metrics. Indicators are necessary to guide policy, drive data collection strategies, and measure progress. We need clear concepts and credible indicators of opportunity to have an idea of whether we have “restored” it or if we are even headed in the right direction.

Right now, indicators are the poor relation of the policy-making process, lacking either the immediacy of strong rhetoric or the tangibility of policies and programs. Indicators are the missing link in our attempts to promote equal opportunity, which is unavoidably an American vision of fairness.

This chapter argues for a definition of opportunity based on intergenerational relative mobility and describes current levels of mobility, as well as the relationships between mobility patterns and family structure, education, and race. It also provides a brief history of the social indicators movement in the U.S. and outlines some of the theoretical terrain of indicator development. The chapter goes on to describe two current examples of indicator frameworks—from the United Kingdom and Colorado. Finally, it proposes four specific reforms to elevate the role of indicators in the promotion of opportunity:

  1. setting a long-term Goal for Intergenerational Mobility;
  2. a “dashboard” of Annual Opportunity Indicators;
  3. an American Opportunity Survey; and
  4. a Federal Office of Opportunity.

Download “How Will We Know? The Case for Opportunity Indicators