Looking Back on 2020: 13 Highlights from the Center for Advancing Opportunity’s “State of Opportunity in America” Report

As 2020 comes to a close, join us in looking back at some of the key findings from our “2020 State of Opportunity in America” Report.

Conducted just before the pandemic reached America, the survey revealed that residents of fragile communities, compared to the rest of America, are lacking access to health care, educational opportunities, economic mobility, and criminal justice. All these issues are intricately interwoven, and lack of access to them creates barriers that keep people from reaching their full potential and living fulfilling lives.

The events of 2020 — including the coronavirus pandemic and widespread protests against police misconduct sparked by the killing of George Floyd — have only underscored the importance of studying issues facing Americans living in areas of concentrated poverty.

Here are 13 noteworthy statistics:


1. Prior to COVID-19, only 58% of fragile community residents are satisfied with their access to healthcare, compared with 74% of Americans overall.

2. Fragile community residents’ perception of their own health was largely dependent on their socioeconomic status. 43% of households earning less than $24,000 per year viewed their health as “fair or poor,” versus just 14% of those with incomes of $90,000 or more.

3. Health tracked with education, lower education having higher co-morbidities. From residents of fragile communities with less than a high school diploma, 48% reported they had high blood pressure, 32% had high cholesterol, 24% had diabetes, and 28% had depression. In comparison, from those with four-year college degrees, only 24% reported they had high blood pressure, 16% had high cholesterol, 8% had diabetes, and 14% had depression.

4. Further, higher rates of depression make fragile community residents more vulnerable to the psychological fallout related to the economic impact of the pandemic. Stress, social isolation and job loss related to the coronavirus outbreak and its repercussions could lead to 75,000 additional “deaths of despair” from drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and suicide in the U.S


Most fragile community residents are dissatisfied with the access to educational opportunities in their area.

5. Only 40% are satisfied or extremely satisfied with the quality of their area’s K-12 schools.

6. Fewer — 28% — are satisfied or extremely satisfied with the availability of early childhood education programs, which prior studies have shown are particularly beneficial to children in low-income families.

7. It’s widely known that higher education leads to better jobs and better lifestyle choices. Yet, only 28% of fragile community residents overall believe they have access to affordable quality education.

Economic Mobility

Fragile community residents are more likely to face harsh economic consequences related to the pandemic and its repercussions. They are more likely than other Americans to work in the service sector or the gig economy, and thus more vulnerable to job or income loss from stay-at-home orders and other protective measures. Those who kept working were less likely to be allowed to work from home, forcing a painful choice between their livelihoods and their risk of being exposed to the virus.

8. The national unemployment rate jumped dramatically from historically low levels in February 2020 to more than 14% by April. That figure rises to more than one in five (21%) among Americans with less than a high school diploma — and while the unemployment rate among bachelor’s-degree holders has also risen, it remains far lower (8.5%) than for those with less formal education.

9. While almost half of Americans overall (47%) said they were “living comfortably” on their current income in 2019, only 20% of fragile community residents felt the same, 35% saying they were finding it “difficult” or “very difficult” to live on their current income.

10. When presented with a list of 14 potential barriers to opportunity and asked to choose those that most affect their community, fragile community members most often selected “a lack of enough jobs that offer career advancement” (39%) and “or alcohol addiction,” (35%).

Criminal Justice

11. Almost half of White residents, compared with one-fourth of Black residents, are “very confident” police will treat them with respect.

12. 60% of Black residents in fragile communities said they knew “some” people or “a lot” of people who were treated unfairly by the police. That’s significantly more than 31% of white residents and 39% of Hispanic residents in fragile communities.

13. In areas where crime is increasing, fragile community residents were also more likely to say they would like police to spend more time in their area. This leads to a seemingly paradoxical finding: even though Black residents of fragile communities viewed the criminal justice system less favorably than White residents nationwide in 2019, they were somewhat more likely than White residents to say they would like the police to spend more time in their area — 52% vs. 46%, respectively. Hispanic residents were more likely than Blacks and Whites to respond this way (59%).