A new national community investment program that connects private capital with low-income communities across AmericaEIG Launches Interactive Map Highlighting Innovative Opportunity Zone Activity
A new national community investment program that connects private capital with low-income communities across AmericaEIG Launches Interactive Map Highlighting Innovative Opportunity Zone Activity
NOTE: Figures were updated in January 2020 based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey 2014-2018 5-year estimates.
In the summer of 2018, the U.S. Department of the Treasury certified 8,766 individual census tracts across all 50 states, six territories, and the District of Columbia as Opportunity Zones. 294 Opportunity Zones contain Native American lands and nearly a quarter (23.2 percent) are in rural areas. These communities were chosen by governors from the wider universe of qualifying low income census tracts. Governors selected tracts that on the whole demonstrated far more distress across nearly every available social and economic measure than the eligible tracts they bypassed. The result is a map of both need and opportunity across which one of the most exciting economic and community development experiments in at least a generation will play out.
How do Opportunity Zones work? Investors can now choose to roll capital gains over into qualified Opportunity Funds, which in turn channel patient capital into qualifying equity investments in Opportunity Zones for at least a decade in exchange for capital gains tax reductions and possible exemptions. This new source of risk capital will seed new startups, accelerate business expansions, create jobs, increase and improve housing options, and revitalize the built environment in distressed communities across the country.
Here’s what we know about where these communities stand today.
Note that several of the sources cited here do not provide data for U.S. territories. The following analysis therefore presents information on the 7,826 zones across the 50 states and D.C. unless otherwise noted. Similarly, all figures are derived from the latest available American Community Survey 5-year estimates unless otherwise noted.
Population and demographics
31.5 million people call Opportunity Zones home (35 million including Puerto Rico and the territories). The majority of Opportunity Zones residents, 57 percent, are non-white minorities, compared to 39 percent of the country as a whole. Black Americans are particularly over-represented in Opportunity Zones, constituting nearly twice as large a share of the zone population as they do the national population.
Total U.S. population grew by 6.3 percent from 2006-10 to 2014-18. By comparison, the average population growth rate of an Opportunity Zone over that time period was just 0.6 percent, a fifth of the average growth rate of non-Opportunity Zone tracts. All together 3,520 Opportunity Zone census tracts (45 percent of the total) registered population declines between the 2006-10 and 2014-18 time periods, collectively shedding 1.4 million residents.
In total, 7.9 million Americans residing in Opportunity Zones live in poverty. Opportunity Zones have an average poverty rate of 27.7 percent compared with the national poverty rate of 14.1 percent.
Poverty rates rose in 53 percent of zones between the 2006-10 and 2014-18 periods.
Even though Opportunity Zones only cover one-quarter of the country’s low income census tracts, they cover 38 percent of all U.S. census tracts that have been persistently poor (with a poverty rate of at least 20 percent) since at least 1980. They cover 49 percent—essentially half—of the country’s pockets of concentrated persistent poverty, meaning census tracts in which at least 40 percent of the population has lived in poverty since at least 1980.
The median family income (MFI) in the average Opportunity Zone is $47,316, compared to $73,965 nationally; the value in the median tract is $45,547. Fully three-fifths of zones have an MFI below $50,000. Only six percent of zones have an MFI above the national one. There are as many Opportunity Zones in the $40,000 to $42,500 band alone than there are above the national MFI.
Even as median family income increased by 17 percent at the national level between the 2006-2010 and 2014-18 periods, incomes declined for the median family in 27 percent of Opportunity Zones.
Adjusting for inflation, the median family in half of zones saw the buying power of their income decrease between the two periods.
Life expectancy in the average Opportunity Zone is 75.1 years, more than three years shorter than the 78.3 nationwide or the 78.6 outside of Opportunity Zones.1
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publishes census tract level health data for 500 US cities. This dataset covers 3,500 Opportunity Zones, a little less than half of all Opportunity Zones. Even though the dataset is not comprehensive and only features urban areas, it does nonetheless provide a snapshot of the health challenges facing residents in a large number of Opportunity Zones. Individuals living in these Opportunity Zones are less likely to take advantage of preventative health services, such as flu shots, mammograms and dental care and more likely to suffer from medical conditions that include asthma, diabetes and heart disease versus those living in non-Opportunity Zone tracts. The average obesity rate in these Opportunity Zones is 7.4 percentage points higher (35%) than non-Opportunity Zone tracts and a third of residents of these Opportunity Zones did not participate in any leisure-time physical activity, compared to 24% of residents of non-Opportunity Zone tracts.2
The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides data on “food deserts”, which are defined as low income census tracts without a full service grocery store within a 1 mile radius in urban areas or within a 10 mile radius in rural areas. While Opportunity Zones represent around 11 percent of all census tracts, they account for 24 percent of the nation’s food deserts. In total, 2,225 Opportunity Zones, or 28 percent of all zones, qualify as food deserts.3
Educational attainment in Opportunity Zones is lower than the nation as a whole, with 18 percent of adults 25 and older having obtained at least a four-year college degree, compared to 31 percent of adults nationally. Tellingly, more adults in Opportunity Zones lack a high school diploma than have a four-year college degree.
The housing vacancy rate in the average Opportunity Zone is 13 percent, compared to 8 percent nationally. In 47 percent of zones, housing vacancy rates rose between the 2006-10 and 2014-18 periods.
Fifty-five percent of renting households in Opportunity Zones are rent-burdened, several percentage points higher than the rest of the United States. Households are defined as rent-burdened if they spend 30 percent or more of their household income on rent.
Opportunity Zones’ housing stock is much older than that of non-Opportunity Zone areas; in the average zone, the median residence was built 50 years ago—more than 10 years before the median residence nationwide.
The average median home value in an Opportunity Zone is $159,577, compared to $204,900 nationwide. The median home is worth less than $100,000 in 43 percent of zones, and median home values declined in 46 percent of all Opportunity Zones between the 2006-10 and 2014-18 periods.
Homeownership rates are lower in Opportunity Zones than outside: 46 percent of the Opportunity Zone population owns a home, compared to 64 percent nationwide. 1.7 million Opportunity Zone homeowners are minority black or Hispanic.
Data from Harvard University’s Opportunity Insights, the research organization associated with Raj Chetty’s pathbreaking studies into equality of opportunity in the United States, shows that today’s Opportunity Zones are overwhelmingly places that have struggled to deliver economic opportunity to their residents for at least a generation.
Young adults from poor backgrounds who grew up in Opportunity Zones were significantly more likely to be incarcerated in 2010, the benchmark year. Fully 3.2 percent of the children of low-income families in the average Opportunity Zone were in prison, compared to 2.0 percent outside of Opportunity Zones and 2.7 percent in the average low-income community that was not designated an Opportunity Zone.4
Economic mobility for children from poor backgrounds is measurably worse in Opportunity Zones than outside. Only 7.3 percent of children born to poor parents in the average Opportunity Zone were able to climb into the top fifth of the income distribution upon adulthood, lower than the 13.2 percent average for poor children outside of Opportunity Zones.
Gentrification and the rapid transformation of historically poor urban neighborhoods into mixed or higher-income enclaves can be a traumatic process for long-term residents who may be displaced by rising rents, rising property taxes, or cultural change. At the same time, re-investment combined with the right policy tools benefits long-term residents and their children in meaningful and long-lasting ways. However, all assessments of the scale of gentrification across the United States find that the phenomenon is extremely rare, and that fact holds across the country’s Opportunity Zones. EIG’s analysis of community socioeconomic change found that the ratio of Opportunity Zones losing population to those showing signs of gentrification is approximately 12 to 1. Across the vast majority of Opportunity Zones, just like most low-income communities in the United States, stagnation and decline prevail.
A comprehensive nationwide assessment conducted by the Urban Institute flagged 284 census tracts, or 3.6 percent of Opportunity Zones, as having experienced high levels of socioeconomic change from 2000 to 2016.5 That figure matches closely with the findings of EIG’s own study examining population, income, poverty, and demographic trends, which found that 3.7 percent of Opportunity Zones showed signs of gentrification at the time they were nominated.6 Leadership in these communities must be deliberate about preserving access and opportunity in their zones. Cities should be proactive about mitigating any potential displacing effects of community reinvestment by ensuring their policy toolkits are refreshed and well-stocked.
Jobs and businesses
Opportunity Zones are more likely to host commercial and business activity than non-Opportunity Zones, which is to be expected given that governors typically prioritized commercial areas or mixed-use districts for this investment incentive than purely residential neighborhoods. Together they contain a total of 24 million jobs and 1.6 million businesses.7 According to business intelligence provider SMB Intelligence, zones are home to 6,300 prime growth businesses poised for investment and expansion in the near term. Between 2015 and May 2019, businesses based in Opportunity Zones won over 3,200 Small Business Innovation Research and Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) grants, which are awards federal agencies extend to especially innovative and high-potential small technology businesses.8
Despite these nodes of economic activity, 31 percent of prime age adults residing in Opportunity Zones are not working, compared to 22 percent across the United States. There remains considerable untapped potential in local workforces.
Assets and anchor institutions
There are at least 284 entrepreneurship incubators or accelerators in Opportunity Zones (and counting; several Opportunity Funds are investing in more such facilities).9
Opportunity Zones are home to at least 379 2- and 4-year colleges and universities, with numerous other institutions directly adjacent. Of the 379 zone colleges and universities, 56 are HBCUs, or Historically Black Colleges and Universities. A further 14 are tribal colleges. According to The New Localism, of the 8,766 total Opportunity Zones, one-third either contain a hospital or are within a half mile of a hospital. A total of 479 airports of varying sizes are located in Opportunity Zones, with many more directly adjacent to them as well.10
Opportunity Zones, which represent only 10.7 percent of all U.S. census tracts, contain nearly one-third (32 percent) of the country’s brownfield sites, which are properties that have been contaminated by prior (often industrial) use and typically stand vacant for years or decades.11 All together the country’s 8,766 Opportunity Zones contain over 14,700 known brownfield sites.
Clean energy is already taking root in Opportunity Zones. There are 475 solar energy installations producing more than 1MW of activity in Opportunity Zones, as well as 127 wind farms and 15 battery plants of at least the same capacity.12
1 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Small-Area Life Expectancy Estimates. Figures for 2010-2015
2 U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention “500 Cities Project” data.
3 U.S Department of Agriculture’s Food Access Research Atlas
4 EIG analysis of Opportunity Insights’ Opportunity Atlas, “Household Income and Incarceration for Children from Low-Income Households by Census Tract, Race, and Gender” data.
5 Urban Institute, “Opportunity Zones: Maximizing Return on Public Investment” (2018).
6 Economic Innovation Group, “The State of Socioeconomic Need and Community Change in Opportunity Zones” (2018)
7 ESRI Business Estimates for 2018.
8 EIG analysis of Small Business Administration data.
9 EIG analysis of state incubator association directories
10 According to a tabulation provided by Southern Sky Aviation.
11 EIG analysis of Environmental Protection Agency “Cleanups in My Community” data. Estimates are conservative and reflect only contaminated sites the EPA tracks. Figures include Puerto Rico.
12 EIG analysis of U.S. Energy Information Administration Monthly Electric Generator Inventory data. Figures includes solar installations in Puerto Rico.
Creating a stronger, fairer New Jersey begins with expanding opportunity equally across all communities; the Opportunity Zone Program will be a vital resource in stimulating long-term economic growth and investment in cities and towns that need it most, and more importantly, in generating economic opportunities for our residents.
Governor of New Jersey
We focused on local, regional, and state priorities, as well as Virginia’s diverse geography and economic opportunities, to strategically select a balance of zones that align with other state and local economic development and revitalization efforts. My administration is committed to maximizing this important federal tool to strengthen our local and state economic development efforts and ensure Virginia is at the forefront of attracting new Opportunity fund investments.
Governor of Virginia
Opportunity Zones are an exciting new tool for building economic development in underserved communities. These grants will help guide us as we implement the program to maximize the benefits of job creation and neighborhood improvement in the most vulnerable areas of our city.
Mayor of Atlanta, Georgia
My administration believes that Opportunity Zones can only work to revitalize our neighborhoods when local knowledge, creativity and ingenuity are harnessed to invest in the quality of life of our residents. That is why we are setting a goal to train 500 Birmingham residents on Opportunity Zones by summer 2020 so that residents can identify and shape projects throughout our city.
Mayor of Birmingham, Alabama
We are honored to be recognized as a national leader in Opportunity Zones. With 126 designated zones that span the state, Colorado’s Opportunity Zones are attracting capital to our state, helping to grow our economy and supporting our rural communities. I’m proud of all the hard work so many have done to ensure Colorado leads the way in deploying this compelling federal tax incentive.
Governor of Colorado
These Opportunity Zone designations will help build on our ongoing community development efforts and encourage additional private investment where it can have the most impact – in economically-distressed communities.
By investing $12 million in Rebuild Illinois funds in Opportunity Zone projects, we can take advantage of this federal tax incentive to stretch our capital dollars further while creating jobs and opportunities in communities that have suffered from a lack of investment for decades.
Governor of Illinois
Opportunity Zones have the potential to generate the kind of economic activity that can transform lower-income areas across our state. Our economic developers, local governments and investment professionals are well-positioned to put this program to work for Louisiana.
Governor of Louisiana
We plan to do everything in our power to utilize new and existing state and federal programs, grants and funding sources, and to have all of our state agencies work collaboratively with our county and municipal governments and the private sector to supercharge our opportunity zone revitalization. Our plan is to make Maryland’s 149 opportunity zones the most competitive ones in America.
Governor of Maryland
The opportunity zone program helps leverage private investment in Massachusetts cities and towns and can be a catalyst for job creation and economic activity.
Governor of Massachusetts
If we want to call Michigan a successful state, we’ve got to expand opportunities for business owners in our opportunity zones. I’m confident that the cabinet I put together will partner with Michigan business owners and ensure they have the resources they need to create more good-paying jobs. This executive directive will take a much-needed step toward building vibrant communities here in Michigan.
Governor of Michigan
The Opportunity Zones program provides Minnesota a great opportunity to work with local community leaders and our federal partners to build upon that important work and improve people’s lives.
Former Governor of Minnesota
One of the goals of my administration is to spread investment to all corners of New Mexico and we want to use every tool we can to accomplish that. That’s why we are going ‘all in’ for Opportunity Zones and giving an extra boost to help these communities.
Governor of New Mexico
These Opportunity Zones and the funds that support them will provide access to capital in low-income communities that otherwise may not attract it. It’s another tool to help cities reach their full potential and create healthy, vibrant communities that can attract and retain a 21st-century workforce.
Governor of North Dakota
Communities nationwide are competing for private investment in their Opportunity Zones, and we want to give Ohio communities the edge. This will make it more attractive for investors to direct their investments here.
Governor of Ohio
Our goal is economic prosperity for all Utahns. Opportunity Zones will go a long way in helping to support growth in economically-distressed areas throughout the state.
Governor of Utah
We are focused on leveraging the Opportunity Zones incentive to create new jobs, amenities, and economic opportunities for DC neighborhoods that need them most. With the OZ Marketplace and Community Corps, we are providing existing residents and small businesses owners with the expertise and platforms they need to navigate potential Opportunity Zone transactions.
Mayor of Washington, D.C.
From the City of Pawtucket’s perspective, without those types of opportunity zones and the [tax-increment financing] district legislation, we would be sitting here as we have for the last twenty something years in Pawtucket without these types of developments.
Mayor of Pawtucket, Rhode Island