51 of 51, Once Again — But There’s More to the Story

The Opportunity Index is “a unique tool that provides a snapshot of the economic, educational and civic opportunities that are available to Americans at the state and county level.” Issued by Opportunity Nation, “a bipartisan, national coalition of more than 350 businesses, nonprofits, educational institutions and community leaders,” the latest version of the index placed New Mexico at rock bottom — 51st among the states and the District of Columbia. As the graphic above shows, the Land of Enchantment ranked well below the national averages for the subcategories of community, education, and economy.

But Opportunity Nation uses some rather curious criteria to determine its scores. Preschool (the percentage of three- and four-year-old children in “early education”) is one indicator, but there’s little reason to believe that it has a strong link to opportunity. Utah is an economic powerhouse, with solid job creation and a thriving middle class. Crime there is low, and family health is strong. But the state has no “public” preschool program, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research.

Postsecondary completion (the percentage of adults 25 and over with at least an associate degree) is another metric, but plenty of blue-collar jobs pay impressive wages in every corner of the country. In New Mexico, non-degreed work in the mining industry and oil-and-gas sector can be richly rewarding.

“Access to healthy food” is another dodgy indicator. What does the number of grocery stores and produce vendors per 10,000 residents have to do with making a buck and getting ahead?

What’s missing from the Opportunity Index is as important as what’s included. As one online commenter noted, “how easy it is to start and run a business in a given area and how easy it is to obtain capital for it” are “two fundamental items” that are nowhere to be found in Opportunity Nation’s methodology.

The Land of Enchantment has the highest jobless rate in the contiguous states, and its GDP is actually shrinking. The news is bad, and lately, it’s been getting worse. But when yet another rank-the-states analysis is issued, it’s important to explore who’s doing the judging, and how they reached their conclusions.

Think more grocery stores and a massive new subsidy for preschool will boost New Mexico’s “social and economic mobility”? Errors of Enchantment doesn’t, either.