Index highlights systematic racial inequities in every U.S. community

Index highlights systematic racial inequities in every U.S. community

Systematic racial inequities impact every community in the United States and cannot be addressed by economic growth alone, a new index designed by the National Equity Atlas, a partnership of PolicyLink and the USC Equity Research Institute, finds.

Designed to provide a single comparative racial equity metric for U.S. cities, states, and regions, the Racial Equity Index is based on nine indicators in three categories: economic vitality (median wages, unemployment rate, and poverty rate); readiness (educational attainment, share of disconnected youth, share of students in high-poverty schools); and connectedness (air pollution exposure, average commute time, and share of high-rent-burdened households). The index assigns each city, state, and region two scores — an inclusion score that indicates the extent of racial gaps in outcomes for those indicators, and a prosperity score that indicates how well the overall population is doing on the indicators — and tracks relative changes over time.

According to the index, there are significant and preventable inequities in every geography, including prosperous communities that score high on the index overall, while very few geographies have high levels of both prosperity and inclusion. For instance, in the San Jose region — which topped the rankings with a strong overall performance in wages, poverty, educational attainment, and school poverty and relatively low racial disparities in air pollution, commute time, educational attainment, and unemployment — there remain significant disparities in the percentage of African-American and Latinx individuals with BA degrees compared with white Americans, and in the amount Black and Latinx college graduates earn per hour compared with their white and Asian-American peers. The data also show the weak correlation between job growth and racial equity: of the twenty-five metro areas with the highest post-Great Recession job growth, only seven were among the twenty-five top-scoring regions in terms of prosperity for Black residents, and only three for Latinx residents. 

Given the concentration of people of color in cities that score low, the index underscores the importance of place-based and people-focused solutions in advancing racial equity. Most of the cities and regions with the best outcomes for communities of color also have above-average outcomes for white residents, and vice versa — confirmation that efforts to advance racial equity are not a "zero-sum game" but benefit all populations.

"At a time when Black, Latinx, Native American, and Pacific Islander communities are the hardest hit by another recession, it is imperative that leaders at all levels recognize that targeted, race-conscious strategies are necessary to bring about an inclusive recovery," wrote Sarah Treuhaft, vice president of research at PolicyLink, in a blog post. "Doing so will create tremendous benefits that cascade up and out to the advantage of an entire community. Equity is the path to prosperity: By developing solutions that are informed by and effectively reach the people most impacted by structural racism and economic inequality, we can build an equitable, prosperous future economy."

Sarah Treuhaft. "The Racial Equity Index: a new data tool to drive local efforts to dismantle structural racism." National Equity Atlas blog post 07/23/2020. Abbie Langston. "Introducing the Racial Equity Index." National Equity Atlas blog post 07/23/2020.