NEW YORK– Analysis of government economic data by The Opportunity Agenda, a New York-based public interest group, finds that national measures of opportunity are in decline and that unequal barriers to opportunity facing women and people of color do not rise or fall with the overall economy. Released on the occasion of President Obama’s first State of the Union speech, a report analyzing updated equality indicators from The State of Opportunity in America concludes that economic recovery efforts must address racial and gender gaps in opportunity, as well as overall national indicators in employment, wages, poverty, and education.

“The findings refute the conventional wisdom that stark racial and
gender disparities will naturally diminish or disappear if the overall
economy improves,” said Alan Jenkins, Executive Director of The
Opportunity Agenda. Continued Jenkins, “Promoting greater and more
equal opportunity must become an important and explicit consideration
in future public investments and programs. Opportunity doesn’t just
happen, it requires bold leadership, innovative ideas, and public
attention.”

Key indicators contained in The State of Opportunity in America show
starkly different levels of opportunity in some communities, and
trends that diverge from those of the broader economic crisis:

 —  While the overall unemployment rate increased 2.6%, from 7.4% in
     December 2008 to 10% in 2009, the increase in unemployment was
     significantly higher for African Americans and Latinos.  African
     American unemployment increased 4.1%, from 12.1% to 16.2%,    
   Latino unemployment increased 3.5%, from 9.4% to 12.9%
 
—  At the end of 2008, women, with a poverty rate of 14.4%, were 20% more
     likely than men, with a poverty rate of 12%, to live in poverty.  Yet,
     this staggering gap is actually a slight improvement from 2007, when
     women were 24% more likely than men to live in poverty.

 —  Racial and ethnic gaps in educational attainment, a key tool in
     surviving an economic downturn, persisted in 2008.  African American
     young people were 55% as likely as white young people to have obtained
     a bachelor’s degree, and Latino young people were 33.3% as likely as
     white young people to have obtained a bachelor’s degree, rates that
     were statistically similar to 2007.


The report analyzing the updated indicators calls for the use of an
Opportunity Impact Statement process to evaluate public expenditures,
making the case that all levels of government can and should use this
new policy tool as a requirement for publicly funded or authorized
projects, especially those tied to economic recovery. The report
explains that an Opportunity Impact Statement would prioritize
equitable job creation, small business development, fair lending, and
other practices that expand opportunity for all communities. The
report’s other recommendations include more strategic enforcement of
equal opportunity laws, and initiatives that simultaneously create
greater and more equal opportunity, such as childcare tax credits and
subsidies, community health clinics in underserved communities, and
need-based scholarships instead of loans to improve college access and
job preparedness.