What The Index Reveals


The American Opportunity Index measures how well major employers are doing in fostering economic mobility for workers and how they could do better.

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The American Opportunity Index measures how well major employers are doing in fostering economic mobility for workers and how they could do better.

The Index assesses America’s 250 largest public companies based on real-world outcomes of their employees in roles open to non-college graduates—not merely their statements on corporate policy. It draws upon a new source of insight: big-data analysis of career histories, job postings, and salary sources of more than 3 million workers at those firms.

The Index is unprecedented among corporate rankings in that it focuses on assessing worker outcomes, not company policies and practice. Our analysis is also different from many previous efforts because we focus on workers in roles open to those without college degrees. It also allows us to compare opportunity creation across companies in different industries and with different business models by comparing outcomes for workers in similar jobs across different firms.

We created nine metrics with which to assess the companies and determine the level of opportunity each one affords its workers either within the firm or beyond it, as indicated by the access to work it provides, the upward mobility workers experience, and the pay it offers along the way. We believe that these three dimensions are the key determinants of opportunity creation: Workers need to be able to get on the ladder, earn enough to stay on the ladder, and move up the ladder.

We ranked the top 50 companies overall. We also identified the 50 best firms across five different models of opportunity creation: the best workplaces to advance within, the best workplaces to start from, the best workplaces to stay and thrive at one company, the best workplaces to advance without a college degree, and the best workplaces at growing their own talent.

Our assessment and analysis yields five key conclusions:

  1. Corporate practice has a profound impact on the careers of workers. One of our most striking findings extends beyond the ranking of top performers and points to the enormous practical benefits of taking a job at one firm versus another:
    • A worker at a firm that lags in how fast it advances its employees would need to work a full year longer than a worker at a top-quintile firm before being promoted.
    • After five years, workers at firms with effective practices at up-leveling their employees will advance almost three times further than workers at bottom-quintile companies.
    • Workers in top-quintile firms in terms of wages earn almost 2.5 times more than their peers in the same roles at bottom-quintile firms. Across a range of roles, this can translate to a difference of $1.5 million or more over the course of a career.
    • Employees at companies that are good at launching careers are over 60 percent more likely to land a better job when they leave for another employer than those employed at bottom-quintile firms for promoting out.
    • Companies that prioritize access are more likely to give opportunity to workers who need it most: Firms in the top quintile for entry-level hires are four times more likely to hire people without significant experience than companies in the bottom quintile; firms in the top quintile for removing barriers are 26 percent more likely to hire someone without a college degree.
  2. There is no single model of opportunity. As the five models of opportunity creation indicate, the drivers of mobility and opportunity are uneven and depend on the structure, culture, and business model of a company. Directly competitive firms can perform very differently on the nine measures we created, even when their overall scores are similar. A firm’s sector influences outcomes, but it doesn’t preordain them. In the insurance industry, for example, four firms are in the top 50 overall, but six firms scored in the bottom quintile.
  3. The Index’s data on performance offer a set of concrete goals to which companies can aspire. While outperformance on each metric may not fit a given company’s business model, the performance of top firms on each metric provides a set of actionable benchmarks. Among them: an average time to promotion of no more than 5 years; five-year retention rate of at least 70 percent of a starting cohort; and wages that are at least 40 percent above the median for a given occupation.
  4. Opportunity generation requires firms to embrace at least two of the three core dimensions of opportunity. The five models underscore a key finding of our analysis: In order to generate opportunity for its workers, a firm has to excel in at least two of the three core dimensions of opportunity—access, wage, and mobility.
  5. Most companies are delivering well for workers in at least one way, but all have work to do. Elements of good practice are widespread, with two-thirds of companies, or 161 of the 242 in the Index, ranking among the top 50 on at least one model. The top firms in the overall ranking—AT&T, American Express, Cisco, PG&E, and Microsoft—exhibited strengths in several of the areas mentioned. Good practice is not the exclusive provenance of a few industries: The top 50 list includes companies from 21 out of 27 sectors. Firms that lead the rankings don’t consistently appear in the top quintile of each subcategory.

This work provides a framework for measuring opportunity creation and for tracking worker mobility over time, even for companies that are not yet included in the Index. It also provides a structure for data sharing and benchmarking across peers for a wider circle of firms.

The Index reinforces for all of us that companies matter in the push to improve opportunity. Helping companies understand how what they do matters is central to this undertaking, even more than who the winners are. Where an individual works matters deeply for that person’s well-being and future success. And corporate practice matters both for attracting and retaining strong employees and for the business results created by better talent management. We believe the American Opportunity Index will equip both individual workers and corporate decision makers with actionable information that will yield better outcomes for all.