Opinion: Officials Should Use Opportunity Atlas to Give Children the Chance to Rise Out of Poverty

The city of Albion as depicted by the Opportunity Atlas. Areas in red highlight lower levels of average household income. Lighter areas indicate higher levels of household income. Officials must figure out how to give individuals equal opportunity of upward mobility. (Screenshot taken from Opportunity Atlas.)

America was built on the ideology of the “American Dream,” the idea that Americans have the opportunity to achieve success based on hard work, no matter their background. New research, however, suggests that it may be harder for children from certain areas of the country to reach their potential.

The Opportunity Atlas is an interactive map of the United States that was released in October 2018 by researchers from Harvard University, Brown University and the U.S. Census Bureau. The atlas uses past tax and census data to show the mobility of 20 million Americans from childhood through their mid-30’s.

The research is being used to discover which neighborhoods give children the greatest chance to rise out of poverty. Various statistical data including income levels, incarceration rates and teen pregnancy can be displayed as filters on the map.

Areas marked in red indicate that people will, on average, earn less money than their parents do. Blue areas indicate that the children will earn more. Only half of individuals born today will go on to earn more than their parents, according to the researchers.

This is a startling statistic considering 12.3 percent of Americans lived under the poverty line in 2017 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Children are being denied the chance of upward mobility based solely on where they live.

Once logging on to the atlas, it is immediately noticeable how much red is spread across the map. It begins to showcase how big of a problem poverty is in today’s society.

An examination of Albion highlights some stark, negative differences between neighborhoods.

Children from the neighborhoods located northwest of Superior Street are predicted to earn an average salary of $24,000 as adults. This number vastly contrasts from neighborhoods located southeast of the city. In these areas, children are predicted to earn upwards of $40,000 as adults.

Even within city lines, children have such different chances at achieving financial prosperity.

According to the researchers, some factors that contribute to distinctions across a town are quality of education, after-school programs and access to healthcare facilities. Some families are just able to provide their children with more opportunities that promote growth and success.

Dramatic differences seen in small towns like Albion should be of tremendous concern to citizens and policymakers. Researchers who generated the Opportunity Atlas created Opportunity Insights, a website dedicated to assisting in the creation of policies to empower families to rise out of poverty and achieve financial success.

Opportunity Insights analyzes new data stemming from the Opportunity Atlas to produce a central platform to help policymakers make more informed decisions.

Albion must take both the Opportunity Atlas as well as Opportunity Insights into consideration when implementing policies. Individuals living in one area should not have a smaller probability at financial success in comparison to fellow citizens living only a few city blocks away.

Parts of Albion that are not able to provide individuals with ample opportunities must be realized and targeted by local officials. These areas need to be given support so that they can provide children with the chance to work their way up.

Some solutions include implementing more after-school programs, upgrading parks and granting easier access to healthcare facilities. Each of these solutions makes it easier for families who may need to work late or do not have the space for their children to play or grow.

The opening of the new Oaklawn Express Care and Family Clinic in Albion is a major step in the right direction. It now gives the community easy, quick access to a physician on sight. Previously, citizens may have had to drive elsewhere for a doctor. This was not always practical for a lot of families.

Community-based events such as Albion’s Big Read also give citizens a chance to have their voices and concerns heard. The Big Read provides a connection between the college campus and community in an effort to come together to empower today’s youth while discussing many issues that surround our world today. Having open dialogue on important issues can bring about social change in the town as well.

The Opportunity Atlas as well as Opportunity Insights should be valuable tools for our country moving forward. Policymakers must look at their districts and determine what types of opportunities must be implemented to give every child the chance to rise out of poverty and make the most out of their life.

As things are progressing at the moment, the so-called “American Dream” is only alive for those who happen to be born in the right neighborhood. People are unable to achieve their goals because the places that they live are not granting them the opportunities and knowledge to become successful. The system must be altered by those in charge in order to give dreams back to every American.


About Maclean Robertson 19 Articles
Maclean Robertson is a senior Communications Studies major from Zeeland, MI. Most of his time is spent staring at a line on the bottom of a pool. When he is not swimming, he enjoys traveling and watching endless hours of sports.

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