5 Hallmarks of an Opportunity Desert


What is an opportunity desert? And what are the 5 hallmarks of one?

An opportunity desert is a community that offers little to no opportunity. When you’re looking for a new place to live, the lure of affordability can be tempting. But when that place is an opportunity desert, it can also be a trap.

It’s important to take a close look at what you’re getting for your money.

For example, how healthy is the local economy? What are the main jobs in the community? How open to newcomers are the people who live there? What are local wages like? Is the population growing or shrinking? What is the city doing to improve the community?

Often, the problems that create an opportunity desert are deeply and stubbornly rooted. And because most of the people who live in an opportunity desert don’t want anything to change – even for the better – it’s unlikely anything ever will.

Read on to learn about the 5 hallmarks of an opportunity desert and what steps you can take to make sure you don’t move to one!

An abundance of low-wage jobs.

Most jobs in an opportunity desert pay minimum wage.

Many residents work for large chain stores that thrive in opportunity deserts, like Walmart and Dollar General. Even freelancers face challenges trying to get work locally that pays enough to live in an opportunity desert.

Living in a place with primarily low-wage jobs may not be an issue if you work remotely or are financially independent. But, if you’re hoping to work locally, living in an opportunity desert can drain you financially and spiritually.

Keeping it insular.

An opportunity desert is in a constant state of circling the wagons, to the community’s own detriment.

Newcomers to an opportunity desert are unwelcome and made to feel like “outsiders.” What could help to breathe life into the community and the local economy – new ideas and energy – are viewed more as a threat than a boon.

As a result, opportunity deserts end up chasing away the very innovation and entrepreneurship they need to keep from drying up altogether. Making matters worse is that opportunity deserts are often found in communities where the population is already shrinking and aging.

It’s lonely and isolating to live in a place where you’re treated like a pariah. Unless you’re a recluse who requires little to no social interaction, you’ll want to be very careful to avoid moving to an opportunity desert.

The only way to truly gauge the openness of a place is to spend time talking to the people who live there BEFORE you move.

Grifting is a way of life.

You can measure the quality of a place by the quality of its residents.

Unfortunately, the quality of people who live in an opportunity desert leaves a lot to be desired. If you’re from someplace else, finding locals who are not out to gauge, steal or otherwise take advantage of you can be a challenge.

Some examples of opportunity desert shiftiness and opportunism range from a local contractor providing a verbal-only renovation bid that was twice as much as a non-local contractor, to a local lawn mowing company attempting to drive off with a $200 satellite TV camera.

The problem of local contractors trying to fleece and steal is matched only by wage theft. My husband briefly held a few local low-wage jobs before switching to remote work, and he had issues with wage theft at all but one.

The not-so-subtle message is that you will never get ahead if the locals have any say in the matter. Even for the most self-reliant and resourceful person, the mean-spiritedness that prevails in an opportunity desert can be exhausting.

Mind the pecking order.

It’s not just outsiders. No one in an opportunity desert wants anyone else to get ahead.

You’ll find a distinct pecking order in an opportunity desert that has been in place for generations. For that reason, things are not likely to change anytime soon – if ever.

The know-your-place mentality imparts an opportunity desert with an aura of apathy and hopelessness that makes living in one a real bummer.

Too many chains spoil the broth.

One visible hallmark of an opportunity desert is a glut of fast food and big-box retail chains. You’ll also notice a shortage of local independent businesses.

Chain stores don’t only bring mostly low wage jobs to a community. Big box retailers often build their stores outside a city’s limits to avoid paying taxes. By not investing money back into the community, chains help to ensure an opportunity desert remains that way.

The end result is a community that feels bland and lifeless.

Avoid moving to an opportunity desert.

Tap into the power of data-driven research! Grab the free PlaceFinding Cheat Sheet today and get a handy online research companion tool with 150+ community data points in 20+ categories to guide your search!

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About the Author

I founded Your Place Finder in 2017 to help retirees and almost retirees like you anticipate and overcome the pitfalls and challenges – and reap the rich rewards – of finding the perfect location to move for retirement.

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