Counting a Diverse Nation — Disaggregating Racial/Ethnic Data to Advance Health Equity

How we measure America's rapidly expanding diversity has critical implications for the health of the nation. Too often, the data used to drive policymaking, allocate resources, and combat health disparities is based on broad racial and ethnic categories that can render the unique needs, strengths, and life experiences of many communities invisible.

That is why PolicyLink is excited to release Counting a Diverse Nation: Disaggregating Data on Race and Ethnicity to Advance a Culture of Health, a multifaceted investigation that explores the leading issues and opportunities of racial/ethnic data disaggregation, and its implications for advancing health equity. The report provides a comprehensive assessment of racial and ethnic data disaggregation practices today, and concrete recommendations for improving research methods and promoting government policies that enhance and enable data disaggregation in the future.

READ THE FULL REPORT AND RELATED MATERIALS

Findings and recommendations in the report encompass two areas:

  • Best practices for collecting and analyzing data about race and ethnicity at more detailed levels, including research innovations and special considerations for studying marginalized populations;
  • Government policies and practices that can enhance and enable data disaggregation, including recent campaigns and policy wins across the nation that are supporting increased representation across racial, ethnic, and cultural identities.

Developed as part of a multiphase project commissioned by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the report reflects two years of collaborative research and input among a diverse set of experts, demographers, practitioners, decision makers, and advocates. Reviews by these researchers of the state of data disaggregation for each major U.S. population group, along with a comparative study of seven other countries, accompany the new report

To learn more about the critical importance of disaggregating racial/ethnic data from researchers, advocates, and other experts who contributed to this report, listen to the archived webinar.

    Take Action: Oppose the Citizenship Question on the 2020 Census

    The question about citizenship proposed for the 2020 Census by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross would create enormous problems and result in a systematic undercount in lower income communities of color that would significantly undercut fair political representation, allocation of federal funds, and our basic understanding of who lives in the United States.

    Electoral districts for all Congressional, state, and local offices would be biased for a decade, and the needs and eligibility of key population groups for federal resources would be underestimated, at a point when major demographic changes are underway across the country. Recent evidence has shown that the plan for the citizenship question was not an earnest effort to help enforce the voting rights but just the opposite: a deliberate strategy to politicize and undermine the accuracy of the Census. The lawsuits brought by human rights and civil right advocates and state governments are an important defense against the citizenship question, but the government also needs to hear from all of us!

    The Commerce Department is taking public comments through August 7, and the Census Counts campaign has created an online portal through which everyone can easily submit their views. Please take a moment today to join PolicyLink and hundreds of other organizations in defense of a fair Census that counts everyone. For further information, see PolicyLink Vice President Victor Rubin’s blog post, which includes many useful resources.

    Building Communities of Opportunity by Reducing Barriers to Housing

    Parks. Transit. Quality schools. Safe streets. When people imagine the core infrastructure of a healthy community, these are the elements that likely come to mind. Rarely is housing part of the picture. Yet, safe, affordable housing—near good schools, parks, transit, and healthy food options—ensures that individuals can access jobs, obtain the education and training necessary to earn a living, and lead a healthy lifestyle. Increasingly, however, low-income people of color across the state are being priced out of their neighborhoods, relegated to substandard housing, and pushed into areas that lack quality community infrastructure. To ensure that all Californians have an opportunity to reach their full potential, the state must take more aggressive steps to ensure that it’s vulnerable populations have adequate housing.

    California’s Housing Affordability Crisis Is Driving Displacement

    California is facing an escalating housing crisis. Driven in part by enormous wealth created by the tech industry, corporate investment in local and regional housing markets, and supply constraints, housing costs have soared. At the same time, real wages have been stagnant or declined. These twin challenges – rising rents and inadequate wages – have left the state’s low-income residents and residents of color struggling to meet their housing costs. More than eight in 10 low-income households cannot afford their rent (i.e., they pay more than 30 percent of their income in rent), and close to 60 percent of Black and Latino renters have unaffordable housing costs, versus just less than half of their White counterparts.  Moreover, skyrocketing costs are spreading throughout the state, particularly in the coastal regions, leaving families with limited housing choices. In the Bay Area, for example, two minimum-wage workers can find affordable rent in just 5 percent of the region’s neighborhoods.

    The lack of affordable housing options, combined with other factors like inadequate protections for tenants, are driving people out of communities. More than six of every 10 households living across 13 counties in Northern California are now at risk of displacement, according to the University of California–Berkeley’s Urban Displacement Project.  In the Bay Area, cities like Oakland are underdoing extreme gentrification. 

    Displacement comes with costs – longer commutes, poorer educational outcomes for children, high stress levels for families, and the loss of access to important community infrastructure. In fact, when low-income households leave their homes, they often move to lower-income, under-resourced neighborhoods. A recent study of households displaced from communities in San Mateo found that those families moved to areas with fewer health-care facilities, less jobs, and poorer air quality, substantially reducing their quality of life.

    The State Must Do More to Protect Vulnerable Populations

    After years of failing to address the housing crisis, in 2017 California took action to increase the supply of affordable housing. The state established a permanent source of funding for affordable housing through a new real estate transaction fee expected to generate $250 million annually and placed a $4 billion housing bond on the November 2018 ballot. 

    While a good first step, these efforts, alone, are not sufficient to address the housing crisis. It may take years for projects funded by the real estate transaction fee and affordable housing bond to be built. And even if such projects could be brought on line immediately, more funding is required to meet the state’s affordable housing need.  Meanwhile, rents continue to rise and growing numbers of residents are being displaced from their communities. 

    The need for additional action is especially urgent given recent changes to federal housing policy. In January, the Trump Administration effectively suspended the implementation of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule, and enacted corporate tax cuts that are expected to reduce funding for affordable housing and, in turn, decrease the number of new affordable units built in California by 48,000 over the next decade.  Perhaps most callously, Representative Dennis Ross recently unveiled legislation that would raise rental costs for low-wage workers receiving federal rental assistance, by $500 per month for some. 

    What more should California do to ensure that all Californians have access to quality housing?

    • Strengthen tenant protections. There are a range of reforms the state could enact to enhance protections for tenants, including repealing the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which would allow local jurisdictions to establish stronger rent control policies, and strengthening eviction protections for renters. Fortunately, several tenant protection policies will likely be voted on by the electorate and California Legislature this year, such as the Affordable Housing Act of 2018 (repeals Costa-Hawkins), AB 2343 (provides tenants with more notice before eviction proceedings can be initiated and additional time to respond to eviction complaints), AB 2925 (statewide just cause eviction), and AB 2364 (Ellis Act reforms). Policymakers and voters should support these important measures.
       
    • Prevent discrimination against especially vulnerable populations. Some populations face unique barriers to accessing safe, affordable housing.  For example, individuals with criminal records and Housing Choice Voucher holders are routinely discriminated against by housing providers.  Immigrant families, sometimes faced with the threat of deportation of family members, are also subject to mistreatment by landlords. The state should address barriers faced by these populations, by passing legislation that prevents a landlord from discriminating against voucher holders, restricting landlords’ use of criminal records in the evaluation of housing applications, and providing additional protections for immigrant families.
       
    • Support the rehabilitation of California’s aging housing stock. Due to the lack of affordable housing options, low-income Californians are often forced into substandard, aging, unhealthy housing. Unhealthy conditions found in hazardous housing can lead to cancer, lead poisoning, and mold-related conditions likes asthma, resulting in missed school days and poor school performance for children, as well as missed work days for parents.  The state should work to improve the condition of existing housing for low-income Californians by providing more resources for rehabilitation, strengthening local jurisdictions’ capacity to enforce their housing codes, and passing innovative policies like proactive inspections.
       
    • Facilitate the construction and preservation of affordable housing. California needs 1.5 million additional units to satisfy the demand for affordable housing. To meet the need, the state should work to preserve existing affordable housing, support community land trusts and other tools that facilitate community control of housing, and significantly increase the state’s investment in the creation of new affordable units. Several policy proposals pending this year would provide additional funding for affordable housing, including the Veterans and Affordable Housing Bond Act of 2018, which would provide $3 billion in funding for affordable housing, and SB 912 (Beall), which would provide another $1 billion for affordable housing.  In addition, legislators have requested a state budget allocation of $2.5 billion to support affordable housing and homelessness programs.

    Resources

    Leveraging California’s Transportation Investments to Achieve Triple Bottom Line Return

    At all levels of government the transportation infrastructure sector comprises one of the largest arenas of public spending.  In California, state transportation dollars are estimated to grow more than $20 billion in 2018-19, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office 2018-19 Budget Report.  This is in part due to the recent passage of SB 1 (Beall), the Road Repair and Accountability Act, which increases our transportation funding by $54 billion over the next decade for “fix it first” highway and road projects, bike and pedestrian infrastructure, public transit, and other uses. With many new transportation projects underway in California, and more on the horizon, now is the time to leverage these massive investments to achieve triple bottom line returns and maximize positive mobility, safety, and economic outcomes throughout the state.

    Transportation plays a powerful role in shaping access to opportunity and creating healthy, socially vibrant communities. The type and location of projects that our state and regional transportation agencies choose to fund directly determine whether communities are able to access critical amenities and resources and breathe clean air, which impacts the health and productivity of all residents.

    With the passage of SB 1, California has taken an important step to provide much needed resources for public transit and active transportation, and target planning dollars to our communities of highest need.  California should build on this momentum by further aligning state transportation programs with equitable investment goals and prioritizing the mobility and safety needs of low-income people of color living in neighborhoods that lack adequate transit service and basic pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. State investments should also be mandating strong public participation requirements to ensure that resources are supporting projects that provide meaningful, effective transportation solutions to community identified priorities, and to ensure that displacement, increased traffic pollution, and other harmful impacts, are avoided.  This is especially important as SB 1 contains a harmful provision that exempts diesel trucks from stronger air quality regulations, allowing them to continue polluting in communities already overburdened by poor air quality.

    New investments in transportation infrastructure also provide an opportunity to bring important economic benefits  to disinvested communities in the form of workforce development, well-paying jobs and contracting opportunities. As low-income communities and people of color continue to struggle with persistent poverty and high levels of unemployment, the state can and should do more to target transportation jobs and careers to individuals facing multiple barriers to employment. SB 1 includes an annual investment of $5 million for pre-apprenticeship programs that focus on the recruitment of people of color and disadvantaged youth, which will support their preparation and pathway into apprenticeships and other credential attainment programs.  While this is a critical on-ramp to good paying jobs in the construction industry, the real economic impact of these workforce investments won’t be fully realized unless we ensure that these same communities are connected to the employment opportunities that are created from building, operating, and maintaining our transportation system. This is critical for strengthening our families and neighborhoods, and boosting regional economies through the increased purchasing power of women and men who secure and maintain employment.  It also comes at a time when we need California to assert leadership and commitment toward equitable employment outcomes and protect against the current federal administration’s decision to eliminate the Department of Transportation Local Hire Pilot program in 2017.

    To increase job access in the transportation sector for those that need it the most, the state should prioritize projects that employ effective strategies for recruiting, training, and hiring local, low-income, underemployed, and underrepresented youth and adults such as community workforce agreements, project labor agreements with targeted hire commitments, and partnerships with community based training programs. An additional component that a targeted hire policy should address is the widespread racial discrimination and implicit biases in hiring that exists throughout our institutions. Based on the demographic breakdown of many jurisdictions, specific populations, including the African American community, are often underrepresented in industries such as construction, even when workers have successfully completed their training programs. Therefore, these policies must include criteria and/or a status for underrepresented workers to ensure that the workers who are recruited and hired reflect the workforces of our regions.  Lastly, in order to foster strong accountability and ongoing monitoring of these policies, they should require a minimum of 30 percent of the work hours to be performed by individuals with barriers to employment, and robust project reporting data on worker demographic information and job quality.

    California has an opportunity to lead the nation in advancing a more equitable public infrastructure system that ensures everyone has the resources and supports they need to contribute and thrive.  By taking advantage of our state’s enormous transportation arena to achieve multiple benefits in all communities, we can secure a future of shared prosperity.

    Resources:

    California’s Infrastructure Needs a Makeover for a Climate Resilient Future

    The science is clear. Our climate is changing. In California, we are already feeling the impacts of climate change in the form of more regular and longer lasting droughts, flooding, wildfires, higher temperatures, and impacts on our fisheries, forests, wildlife, and other natural resources. As global temperatures continue to rise, all Californians will feel the impacts. However, communities of color and low-income communities, those who have born the negative consequences of our fossil fuel economy, will be hit first and worst by climate change.

    This fact has serious implications for our state’s future.  While the United States is projected to become majority people of color by 2042, California hit that mark decades ago. To secure an equitable and prosperous future for California, implementing strategies that allow our communities to thrive—even in the face of a changing climate—is critical.

    As our earlier blog noted, smart, targeted investments in infrastructure can build community resilience by expanding economic opportunity, improving community health, and connecting people to critical services.  Unfortunately, California’s infrastructure is crumbling, and we need significant investments over the next decade to repair, upgrade, and expand our infrastructure. Last year, state lawmakers committed to getting started by making new investments in transportation, climate infrastructure, and housing. This year, the legislature and voters are considering a range of proposals that would create another set of investments in water, parks, and housing. While this represents a fraction of what is necessary, they present real opportunities to innovate and think about how we build infrastructure that can physically withstand climate change, and, lift up disinvested communities so that they are able to thrive even as our climate changes. So, how do we make sure we take advantage of this opportunity? In addition to the principles we outlined earlier this week, here are four ideas that we think are important:

     1. Include Impacted Communities in Infrastructure Decision Making from Planning to Completion

    Frontline communities have been left out of the conversations and decision-making around the planning and designing of their own communities, leaving their destinies to the often discriminatory and profit-driven practices of corporations and government representatives who have little knowledge of their unique challenges and needs. As a result, these communities and their members are left fighting for their right to live healthy and free from pollution with access to opportunity. To begin reconciling this, California should ensure that low-income people, communities of color, and other populations that are vulnerable to climate change are provided with meaningful opportunities to shape infrastructure decisions that will impact their lives. Furthermore, California should provide direction and resources to local and regional agencies on integrating climate justice in planning efforts, policy development and implementation, and distribution of resources with an emphasis on intentionally engaging and including frontline communities throughout the process. Ensuring early, continuous, and meaningful participation in the development of policy and funding decisions will lead to more thoughtful, effective, long-term solutions.  
     

    1. Promote Interagency Coordination to Build Climate Resilience

    In Built to Last: Challenges and Opportunities for Climate-Smart Infrastructure in California, our partners at the Union of Concerned Scientists note that the overarching challenge to California effectively supporting a climate resilient future is that we do not currently have a state level body dedicated to addressing this problem and providing coordination, data, and technical support to other state agencies as well as to local and regional agencies. To address this, they recommend that California should establish a well-resourced center that provides agency staff with actionable climate related information and guidance that is updated regularly. The center would serve in a coordinating role, would respond to requests for technical assistance, provide support to state agencies working to incorporate climate resilience in their programs and decisions. Finally, the center could serve as a resource to local agencies and technical assistance providers working with communities to develop resilience strategies. Establishing a centralized hub of information and capacity would strengthen a network of climate resilience advocates, nonprofits, government agencies, and policymakers to ensure a coordinated effort towards climate resilient communities across the state.  
     

    1. Conduct Vulnerability Assessments

    We know that low-income communities and communities of color will be hurt first and worst by climate change. However, California does not currently have a clear picture of how different communities will be impacted by climate change, where infrastructure investments can increase community resilience, or where existing infrastructure may be prone to failure. To prepare for the future, California should take the recommendations of the Climate Justice Working Group and conduct regional cross sector vulnerability assessments that:

      • Identify and prioritize climate change related threats to the region’s frontline communities.
      • Assess how existing critical infrastructure and public services will handle changing conditions, and how the state can develop new and strengthen existing infrastructure and services to enhance climate resilience.
      • Provide direction and resources, such as funding and capacity building, to local and regional agencies on integrating climate justice in planning efforts, policy development and implementation, and distribution of resources.
      • Ensure these local and regional agencies are also engaging frontline communities in their research, planning, implementation, and decision-making.
         
    1. Build Infrastructure to Withstand the Impacts of Climate Change

    It seems obvious, but building infrastructure that can actually withstand the effects of climate change is important to making sure money is well spent and making sure the infrastructure functions when disasters hit. Government agencies, utilities, investors, and other infrastructure decisionmakers typically do not include climate related cost and benefit information when evaluating infrastructure investments and infrastructure codes and standards frequently do not consider what the science tells us about our changing climate. This omission results in projects that are ill-equipped for longer-term climate stressors, and is a missed opportunity to avoid damages and maximize cost and risk saving. State and local governments and agencies should update their assessments and standards to better integrate climate risk considerations, as well as the benefits and opportunities of climate-smart projects. These changes should incorporate the latest climate data and technology and should be done with an eye towards protecting our most vulnerable residents. This will ensure sound decision-making and will result in projects that will continue to serve us for many decades to come. 

    From the current President’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement, to attacks on the EPA, and the intensifying effects of climate related natural disasters, there is barrage of challenges to building climate resilient communities and infrastructure.  However, California is already positioned as a global leader on climate change and has a major opportunity to capitalize on the advancements we have made to date. But we must demand climate smart planning and decision-making from our state and local policymakers. Climate smart improvements to our state's infrastructure are long overdue and will provide the literal foundations for our communities to not only survive, but thrive, in the face of a changing climate.

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