Opportunity
Inclusion and possibilities

America was built on opportunity—and our nation’s many thriving communities are no different. The degree to which a community embraces diversity and offers opportunities to residents of all ages and backgrounds is important to overall livability. Backed by a strong regional economy and fiscally healthy local governments, welcoming communities provide residents an equal chance to earn a living wage and improve their well-being, from jobs to education.

How does my community compare to neighborhoods across the country?

  • Top Third
  • Middle Third
  • Bottom Third

Equal opportunity Income inequality

index from 0 to 1 Median US neighborhood: 0.46

Gini coefficient (the gap between rich and poor): measured at the county scale from 0 to 1, lower values are better

The gap between rich and poor is growing wider across the United States. Higher levels of inequality within a community mean fewer opportunities for low- and middle-income residents to advance, which can lead to a shorter life and greater health problems in the long run. Using the Gini coefficient, where 0 represents complete equality (every household earns the same income) and 1 represents complete inequality (a single household earns all the income and other households earn nothing), the Index measures how well income is distributed within a county.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2007-2011 American Community Survey

Economic opportunity Jobs per worker

jobs per person Median US neighborhood: 0.75

Number of jobs per person in the workforce: measured at the metro area scale, higher values are better. Jobs are capped at 1.0 job per person.

The more job options a city or county offers, the more selective residents can be in their search for employment. However, when that ratio reverses and citizens outnumber open positions, people are forced to consider jobs that are less fulfilling and possibly farther away. Because job opportunity so directly impacts livability, the Index examines the number of jobs per worker in metropolitan areas and rural counties. Communities that have at least one job per worker have a value of 1; places where there are fewer jobs than workers receive lower values.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2011 Quarterly Workforce Indicators

Education High school graduation rate

of students graduate Median US neighborhood: 81.3%

Adjusted 4-year high school cohort graduation rate: measured at the school district scale, higher values are better

In the face of today’s hyper-competitive career and college landscape, it’s crucial for youth to have access to high-quality education that keeps them supported and motivated from kindergarten through high school. By looking at a community’s high school graduation rates, we can gauge the quality of the local educational system as a whole. The Index looks at how likely a student entering a local public high school is to graduate within 4 years.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, The EDFacts Initiative, School Year 2010-2011 Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rates

Multi-generational communities Age diversity

index from 0 to 1 Median US neighborhood: 0.87

Age-group diversity of local population compared to the national population: measured at the neighborhood scale from 0 to 1, higher values are better

Multi-generational communities are ripe with opportunities for residents to learn from and support each other in meaningful ways, from formal interactions like tutoring or computer classes, to spontaneous encounters on the bus, at the grocery store, or at church. People at different phases of life contribute to the economy and well-being of the community in many different ways, including by working, paying taxes, supporting local businesses, and volunteering. A lack of age diversity may signify a community that is unaffordable or socially isolating. Here, we compare local age diversity to the national age distribution using three age groups: children (ages 0–14), working-age teenagers and adults (ages 15–54), and older adults who are preparing for or already in retirement (ages 55+). Values range from 0 to 1: communities that mirror the national age distribution receive a value of 1, while communities where all people are in one age group receive a value of 0. The typical neighborhood in the United States is less diverse than the nation as a whole, as reflected in the median U.S. neighborhood showing a value of .87.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2007-2011 American Community Survey

Local fiscal health Local government creditworthiness

Local government AAA general obligation bond rating

Public investments such as parks, schools, roads, and transit all make communities livable, but they require substantial investment. Local governments often must borrow money and issue bonds to pay it back—but they need a good credit rating to do so. Standard and Poor’s, an American financial research company, gives communities with the highest proven financial reliability a AAA rating, and the Index gives credit to cities that have earned this rating.

Source: 2015 private data from S&P Global Ratings

Economic opportunity State minimum wage increase

State minimum wage is higher than the federal minimum wage and is adjusted for increases in the cost of living

The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour—a rate that, for many workers, is inadequate to cover basic necessities such as food, housing, and medical care. Many families depend on second or third jobs. It’s important that communities ensure a living wage for all residents, which is why the Index gives credit to states that institute a minimum wage above the federal minimum and regularly adjust it upward to account for increases in the cost of living.

Source: National Conference of State Legislatures, 2016 State Minimum Wages

Equal opportunity State expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act

State policies that expand upon the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to provide additional leave benefits to workers

Caring for parents, spouses, or other relatives is becoming the “new normal,” as Americans live longer. These responsibilities intensify the need for workers to have the option of taking extended time off without sacrificing their job. That’s where FMLA comes in. It allows covered employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave. The Index gives credit to states that have expanded FMLA. Some expansion options include extending the duration of leave, covering lost wages, expanding coverage to smaller businesses and employees with shorter work histories, and extending FMLA to cover care for extended family members. For example, the federal FMLA does not cover grandparents, siblings, in-laws, or domestic partners.

Source: The National Partnership for Women and Families, 2016 Work & Family Policy Database

Commitment to livability State and local plans to create age-friendly communities

Communities that have taken comprehensive steps to prepare for the aging of the U.S. population

By 2030, there will be twice as many Americans over the age of 65 as there were in 2000. To help residents live comfortably in all stages of life, communities must provide opportunities like convenient transportation, walkable neighborhoods, affordable and accessible housing, multi-generational social opportunities, and inclusive business practices—just to name a few. To guide communities toward making these forward-thinking changes, several organizations have also established peer-learning networks and identified processes to help make communities age-friendly. The Index gives credit to states, metropolitan areas, counties, and cities that are part of the AARP or World Health Organization (WHO) networks of Age-Friendly Communities or recipients of Grantmakers in Aging Community AGEnda grants. In the future, the Index may award communities that participate in other age-friendly initiatives.

Sources: AARP 2016 Age-Friendly Communities Member List, WHO Global Network for Age-friendly Cities and Communities, and Grantmakers in Aging 2016 Age-Friendly America database