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Data tools boost U.S. campaigners push for racial equity

by Carey L. Biron | @clbtea | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 6 May 2021 10:00 GMT

FILE PHOTO: Men play basketball at the Pink Playground outside the Louis H. Pink Houses in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, U.S., April 22, 2021. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

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The new Racial Equity Data Lab helps advocates and policymakers create ‘report card’ on racial inequities in housing and wages

By Carey L. Biron

WASHINGTON, May 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Americans lobbying in support of racial equity can use a data tool launched on Thursday to illustrate inequalities faced by their communities around housing, wages and more.

Racial Equity Data Lab draws upon the National Equity Atlas, which provides racially disaggregated data on poverty, air pollution, unemployment, home and business ownership and other economic indicators at the state, city and national level.

"Community-based organizations that work in the most impacted communities often lack access to data describing the conditions they're working in," said Sarah Treuhaft of PolicyLink, a research group involved in the project.

Racial inequities have topped national discussions in the United States over the past year, with Black Americans losing their jobs, businesses and lives at a greater rate than whites during the coronavirus pandemic.

The average white family has roughly six times the wealth of the average Black family - about the same ratio as before the civil rights movement of the 1960s, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said earlier this year.

On his first day in office, President Joe Biden issued an executive order to create a Working Group on Equitable Data to improve the data available to the federal government "to measure equity and capture the diversity of the American people".

Datasets that are not disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, disability, income or veteran status "impede efforts to measure and advance equity", the order said.

Tenants and housing rights activists protest for a halting of rent payments and mortgage debt, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., October 1, 2020. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

PolicyLink and the University of Southern California's Equity Research Institute created the National Equity Atlas in 2014, which they describe as the "most detailed report card on racial and economic equity" in the United States.

"The need and demand is tremendous," Treuhaft told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, noting that the goal is to address a power imbalance that is rarely recognized, by helping poorer advocates access data tailored to their communities.

In March, the National Equity Atlas produced a fact sheet with the tenant-led Housing NOW! California lobby group to support their efforts to protect people facing eviction because they were behind on their rent during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It showed that the number of Californian households with rent arrears was falling, from 1.1 million families in December to 800,000 in January, and that 80% had lost employment income during the pandemic and 77% were people of color.

Such data helped prompt county officials in Contra Costa County, in the San Francisco Bay Area, to extend a local eviction moratorium, Treuhaft said.

Nationwide, 5.7 million renter households - 14% of U.S. renters - owe nearly $20 billion in rent, most of them people of color who have lost jobs and income during the pandemic, according to the National Equity Atlas.

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Evictions to racial equity: Calls for 'immediate' Biden action on housing

FACTBOX: How big is the racial inequality gap in the U.S. and Britain?

(Reporting by Carey L. Biron @clbtea, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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