The National Equity Atlas: Data and Research to Fuel the Equity Movement (September 2021)

By Abbie Langston

Data is knowledge, and knowledge is power. Putting the power of reliable, accurate, and deeply disaggregated data into the hands of grassroots community organizers and advocates is an essential element of Winning on Equity. Nearly a decade ago, PolicyLink and the USC Equity Research Institute came together to do just that, through the creation of the National Equity Atlas. The Atlas is America’s most detailed report card on racial and economic equity: a first-of-its-kind data and policy tool that equips local changemakers with relevant and rigorous data insights to design high-impact equity solutions.

Since its launch in 2014 the Atlas has helped community leaders and policymakers across the country imagine new possibilities for a thriving economy. When local organizers need specific data points to make a leading-edge case for racial equity they can turn to our comprehensive dataset: the Atlas contains publicly available data on demographic change, racial and economic inclusion, and the economic benefits of racial equity for the US as a whole, all 50 states, the 150 largest metro regions, and the 100 largest cities in the nation.

But the aim of the National Equity Atlas has always been larger than data collection and analyses. We see data as coordinates on the roadmap to racial equity — and building an inclusive economy and democracy. Our detailed datasets clearly reflect the barriers faced by the 100 million people living in or near poverty, illustrate how (and how much) equity matters, and point the way toward targeted strategies to dismantle structural racism and systemic inequities.

Given the problems and solutions illuminated by this data, we are no longer asking questions like: “Why should we center racial equity in our economy?” There’s no need to guess about the “why” or “what” of social change and economic inclusion when the data is clear: racial equity is the key to shared prosperity.

Equity data helps shift power to those closest to the harm.

We can’t solve social problems we’re not equipped to understand or measure. Grassroots community organizers on the front lines of the equity movement are often strapped for time, energy, and resources. To support local leaders doing the heavy lifting on the ground, we aim to match their rich qualitative data with equally impressive quantitative data that helps advocates make the case for high-impact, large-scale solutions to reach their racial equity goals.

Precision can help advocates focus on specific challenges and specific populations that are too often minimized or overlooked in policy decisions. Atlas indicators are disaggregated by race/ethnicity, ancestry, gender, nativity, geography, and other factors — specificity that supports a broad array of efforts to advance racial equity.

Data alone isn’t the solution to the challenges facing our communities, but it is an indispensable tool. Accurate, reliable, and deeply disaggregated data provides an entry point that helps us ask purposeful questions and design targeted strategies to advance racial equity.

For the past two years, the Atlas team has partnered with organizations across the country to lift up critical indicators for workforce equity, which we define as a labor market in which racial income gaps are eliminated, all jobs are good jobs, and everyone who wants to work has access to family-supporting employment. We work with local leaders to understand the data for their communities, identify priority issues and populations, and develop tailored solutions to increase economic security and promote thriving local economies.

When we bring data to the table, equity conversations change.

Data helps organizers secure a seat at the table with policymakers who base their decisions on both qualitative and quantitative measures. For example, we recently partnered with advocates in California’s Contra Costa County to help make the case for urgent policy solutions for vulnerable renters and residents amidst the pandemic. Armed with local data detailing Covid-driven rent and utility debt, organizers successfully lobbied the County Board of Supervisors to extend a local eviction moratorium.

This is just one example of the power of data storytelling. Earlier this summer we launched a Rent Debt Dashboard on the Atlas, in partnership with the Right to the City Alliance, to tell the story of housing insecurity among Covid-impacted renters and illustrate the need for rental assistance and eviction protections. Today, about 6.4 million households, mainly low-income people of color, owe more than $21 billion in back rent. As advocates across the country take this pressing issue to their elected officials, the Atlas team will continue to provide timely data to support equitable policies and an inclusive recovery.

Unlocking the potential of equity data is helping community leaders unleash the promise of America’s ideals. We can only perfect our democracy when everyone is liberated from the twin oppressions of systemic racism and economic exploitation. As the Atlas continues to evolve and expand, I look forward to sharing the innovative ways movement leaders are leveraging its insights. Every local win is a victory on the road to equity for all.

Abbie Langston is a Senior Associate at PolicyLink, where she leads the development of the National Equity Atlas. She holds a PhD from the Graduate Program in Literature at Duke University, where she specialized in American studies and critical race and ethnic studies.