playground with graffiti

What Is An “Opportunity Gap?”

An opportunity gap occurs when the way a society is structured systematically ends up giving advantages to some and disadvantages to others; a pervasive phenomenon that keeps millions of Americans from reaching their potential while at the same time limiting our workforce/ reducing American productivity.

What does the opportunity gap look like in the United States?

For many, the struggle to overcome the opportunity gap begins even before they are born, starting with their mother’s limited access to appropriate prenatal care.  As children grow the gaps increase so that by the time children with the following four risk factors reach kindergarten, they would need to make twice as much progress as their risk factor-free peers to catch up with them*:

  1. living in a home where English is not the primary language spoken
  2. living in a single-parent household
  3. a mother with less than a high school education
  4. living with an income below the federal poverty line

*Source: Huffington Post

For many, this is the start of a continuous catch-up process that holds increased risk for not graduating high school on time or not finishing high school at all, ultimately affecting their ability to obtain a livable wage/ a family-supporting career. 

Along the way, race, lower economic status and/or the combination of the two become strong determinants in the likelihood for someone to be suspended from school or imprisoned, as even when there is little difference in the likelihood of committing a crime, individuals of color are more likely to be arrested.

According to the 2015 CNBC report, End the opportunity gap in America, “a black baby boy born 25 years ago…has only a roughly 1 in 2 chance of being employed today, as roughly half are missing from employment because of early death, incarceration, low labor force participation, and high unemployment.”

How Does ‘Closing the Opportunity Gap’ Help Us All?

In their book by this title (Closing the Opportunity Gap. Oxford University Press, 2013.), editors Prudence L. Carter and Kevin L. Welner declare that “every American will not go to college, but every American should be given a fair chance to be prepared for college.”

Whether one views this as a moralistic obligation, an economic imperative, or a little bit of both, it is clear that closing the disparity in access to quality schools and the resources needed for all children to be successful, is good for our neighborhoods, good for our communities, and good for our nation.

As the 2015 Annual Report from the President’s Council of Economic Advisers notes, “A  fundamental metric for judging an economy’s performance is its success in providing abundant job opportunities that pay good wages and provide an opportunity to get ahead…. (T)he United States labor market still has more work to do to achieve the full health that comes with not just low levels of unemployment, but also a labor market that encourages labor force participation, supports quality jobs, and facilitates productive matching of workers and positions—all of which are essential to creating well-paying jobs and supporting robust family incomes.” (chapter 3, p.103).

Together, we must do everything possible to ensure that every child in the United States has the opportunity to learn and with that, the opportunity to succeed.

To learn more:

The State of America’s Children”2017 Report, produced by the Children’s Defense Fund

The achievement gap in education: Racial segregation vs. segregation by poverty. What would Dr. King say?, written byDick Startz,

Exploring Bias and Discrimination in Hiring Practices, produced by

Opportunity Gap — Talking Points, SCHOTT Foundation for Public Education

WBUR On Point — Part 1: Achievement Gap, Or Opportunity Gap? What’s Stopping Student Success?, September 9, 2019

Stanford Center for Educational and Policy Analysis/ Education Opportunity Monitoring Project, Racial and Ethnic Achievement Gaps