Making Government Work

America Claims to be the Land of Opportunity. But Do The Numbers Support that Moniker?

August 21, 2014
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America Claims to be the Land of Opportunity. But Do The Numbers Support that Moniker?
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Richard Reeves is looking to create an Office of Opportunity, a governing body that would track social mobility.

It seems that whenever the federal government releases a new statistical report providing insight into the state of our country, the numbers feel negative. Some indicate the number of people living in poverty while others detail the federal deficit.

However, one man is looking to change this, or at least supplement it, with the addition of so-called “social mobility” statistics.  With this measure, the U.S. would be able to quantify something it has always claimed to be the land of: opportunity.

And that’s exactly what Richard Reeves want to call this government department: the Office of Opportunity. Reeves is a fellow in economic studies and the policy director for the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution.

How would social mobility be measured? Well, the government has a few options available. One idea is to analyze the proportion of children born in lower quintiles of the income ladder who move to the top two. Another option is to look at high school graduation rates of students with a GPA of 2.5 and higher. Or the government could use the number of four-year olds in preschool, the number of 25- to 49-year olds who work or the number of births within marriages.

All of these numbers would provide insight into the social mobility stats of the country. The government could also look to the U.K. and New Zealand for help in crafting it. These two countries already have similar programs established, such as the U.K., which uses 17 indicators to track long-term mobility.

Ultimately, Reeves hopes to create a dashboard of indicators that can be analyzed yearly in an annual report. This data, in turn, would help the government create informed polices.

The Office of Opportunity would function similarly to the Congressional Budget Office. It would be small and independent, making it a reliable and viable office that both Republicans and Democrats can trust. Reeves estimates that it would cost about $10 million a year to operate.

While, the federal government has yet to display serious interest in its creation, some cities and states, like Colorado, are considering the idea. And that may be the best thing — start local and build up.

According to Reeves, all that is left is for the government to decide if it is worth it.

“Adopting an official mobility measure is unlikely to require vast new data collection — though some investments would need to be made,” he writes in his Brookings proposal. “It’s more of a question of deciding mobility is worth measuring and promoting.”

So, what do you think – is it?

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