The 2019 Opportunity Index

Opportunity refers to the sets of circumstances that make it possible for an individual to achieve their full potential. A holistic view of Opportunity cannot be limited to economic circumstances and must also include the educational, health-related, and community conditions and resources that impact one’s ability to thrive. Creating circumstances for all individuals and families to thrive in their communities requires a complex set of strategies that vary according to each community’s history, culture, needs, assets, and demographic makeup.

Historically, Opportunity in the United States has not been equally distributed. Disparities across the various dimensions of Opportunity stem from both overt and covert racism embedded in systems that shape Opportunity from their inception. As racial justice issues have become more prominent in recent months, it is particularly important to call out ongoing systemic racism that continues to prevent people of color from accessing Opportunity that is readily available to white people. For example, while racial discrimination in lending has been illegal since 1968, investigations have found that Black and Latinx individuals are still more likely to be denied mortgage loans and are more often directed to loan products that may be less viable in the long term.1 These practices perpetuate disparity in Opportunity through generations because they limit the ability of people of color to purchase homes (or finance other large expenditures). As of 2016, on average, non-Hispanic white families had a net worth of $143,600 while Black families had a net worth of $12,920.2 This is just one example of how discriminatory practices create disparate access to Opportunity. Discriminatory practices exist across all dimensions of Opportunity and contribute continuously to disparities. Populations of color face higher maternal3 and infant4 mortality, differential disciplinary action by race in educations settings begins as early as kindergarten,5 and neighborhoods comprised predominantly of people of color are less likely to have access to healthy food options than white neighborhoods.6 In this report, we explore racial and ethnic disparities in Index indicators at a national level.

As we now experience massive disruptions to our economy and way of life due to COVID-19, these inequities will likely be exacerbated without concerted efforts to support particularly distressed communities. With the nation looking to reopen and establish a new way of living with COVID-19, people will continue to raise families and start careers with a new set of obstacles, dangers, and disappointments looming. The resilience of economic, education, and health systems in one’s community can greatly influence both individual-level opportunities and the support that one receives along the way.

Community members, policymakers, philanthropic leaders, and other change agents need tools to understand the strengths and challenges related to building Opportunity in the communities where they live and serve. Since 2011, the Opportunity Index has provided insight into this critical question, offering a comprehensive and detailed examination of conditions that affect Opportunity at the county, state, and national levels across the United States. The Opportunity Index is a composite measure made up of indicators in four distinct dimensions of Opportunity: Economy, Education, Health, and Community. This report shares the latest Index scores for all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, ranking them from 1 to 51, with 1 indicating the state with the greatest Opportunity. The report also presents overall levels of Opportunity for nearly 2,000 counties (representing 95 percent of the U.S. population). To highlight the uneven distribution of Opportunity in our nation, we also share, for those indicators with available data, breakdowns of the data by gender and race/ethnicity.

The Index was first launched in 2011; Child Trends led a structural change in 2017 that affected a number of the Index’s indicators and dimensions. Because of this change, composite Opportunity and Dimension Scores from 2011 to 2015 should not be compared with those from 2016 and forward.