For decades, the American Dream has been something not just sought out by Americans, but imagined by countless people around the world. It represents the chance to seize opportunity and a better life by elevating oneself through the fruits of their own labor. Every generation of Americans has sought to live the life outlined in the Constitution, "to secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity."
In less poetic terms, we want to make more money than the generations who came before us. This gives us a better life, along with upward social mobility. But a recent study from researchers at Harvard and Brown Universities, along with the U.S. Census Bureau, questioned if the neighborhood in which we were raised has any effect on our ability to achieve that dream.
The answer is that it does. And now you can see what your chances are for yourself.
More than that, if a military member is considering moving to a new area or is perhaps leaving the military and doesn't know where to go, the Opportunity Atlas might be a great place to start looking.
Using decades of data collected by the Census Bureau, researchers measured the outcomes of children's lives based on the neighborhoods in which they were raised. These neighborhoods have a substantial effect on the lives of children in very significant ways. Even growing up just a mile or two away from where you did, according to the data, could be enough to have changed your average annual earnings by thousands of dollars.
The data was then used to create a tool that brings together information from the Census Bureau with the data from yearly income taxes. The result is the the Opportunity Atlas, and it's available to anyone who might be looking to give their children a better life than their own.
The tool does not reveal any individual information, as it's confidential.
The Opportunity Map for Charlotte, North Carolina.
"You see that for kids turning 30 today, who were born in the mid-1980s, only 50 percent of them go on to earn more than their parents did," Harvard University economist Raj Chetty told NPR. "It's a coin flip as to whether you are now going to achieve the American Dream."
The Opportunity Atlas is an interactive map, available to all, that can be used to determine the prospects of raising their children in a different neighborhood. The graphic overlay can show both affluence and poverty, and where people have . more opportunity to achieve that American Dream.
The Opportunity Atlas asks the viewer to choose what Census area they want to look at, which can be determined by city, state, or zip code. Then it asks what information we want to see, be it parental earnings, household incomes, job density, and more. Finally, it asks to determine a demographic overlay, breaking the map down by opportunity by race and gender.
Before we make any judgement calls, this is not about showing which neighborhoods are just rich and which are poor. While many of the high-opportunity neighborhoods are also the most costly, there are what the study calls "bargains" to be found. A bargain is an area of high mobility that isn't necessarily related to the cost of living or average salaries.
An example map of the Cleveland metro area.
It's not just a useful tool to see where we've been or where our deficiencies are. It's a way to look at where we should be headed, where the best places to raise children are, and where the best places to start a new life might be.
Getting out of the military is a harrowing adventure for most separating troops, but it doesn't have to be. Data analysis can give you an edge on locating the biggest job opportunities are, where people are working, and where that work pays off the most.
You can compare your current duty station with your home of record or your spouse's home of record with the click of a mouse – and help your children earn the American Dream you served to help them achieve.