Sunday, April 11, 2021
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Report calls for more equitable data to improve economic mobility

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If they are to succeed, efforts to increase economic mobility and narrow the racial wealth gap in the United States require better collection, disaggregation, and sharing of data, a report from the Markle Foundation finds.

Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and based on interviews and working group sessions with experts, the report, Unlocking Responsible Access to Data to Increase Equity and Economic Mobility (30 pages, PDF), found that much of the economic data generated by federal agencies is difficult to access, not timely or geographically focused, and insufficiently disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, and other key variables to make it useful for measuring and addressing income and wealth disparities. As a result, policy makers struggle to understand which populations in which locations are most in need of support; what kinds of support, programs, or policies will be most effective in increasing mobility; and whether policies that have been implemented policies are having the intended impact. The report also argues that lack of community engagement in government decisions about which data to collect and disseminate, how to advance data privacy and access, and which research questions to prioritize has led to growing public distrust of such efforts, in turn limiting opportunities to leverage data to improve outcomes.

To address such issues, the report identifies five areas where reducing barriers and increasing capacity could advance privacy-protected data sharing, help address economic disparities and inequality, and enhance knowledge about economic mobility: improving the quality and accessibility of federal data; improving data equity and disaggregating data to better understand and address racial disparities and other inequities; improving the accessibility and use of state-level data to gain better insights into the benefits provided and enable state and local policymakers to better understand and meet needs across geographies and populations; increasing engagement with the public and community stakeholders with respect to data collection, use, and reuse; and creating new economic measures and datasets.

“Data collected across all levels of governments, nonprofit organizations, and private sector companies can help answer foundational policy and research questions on what drives economic mobility,” the report’s authors write. “There are promising efforts underway to improve government data infrastructure and processes at both the federal and state levels, but critical data often remains siloed, and legitimate concerns about privacy and civil liberties can make data difficult to share.”

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