The city of Boston to research, act on data regarding economic inequality

The city of Boston is taking steps to do its own research regarding troubling inequality within its borders:

And that’s why it’s so interesting that the city is planning to gather and maintain longitudinal data deep into the future that may help explain what’s going on and what policy levers can change the situation. The new cross-agency project, housed in the Mayor’s Office, is called the Economic Mobility Lab, and it has gotten initial funding from the Rockefeller Foundation…

You can see the germ of this idea in the Resilient Strategy that the city released a couple of months ago. Deep in the report, it says that “The City will build upon ongoing efforts by utilizing new and existing data sources to advance resilience and racial equity across the city.” The existing data simply won’t tell the story, and so the city will need to find those new sources and incorporate them—and study the results. For years.

Jason Ewas, the executive director of the Economic Mobility Lab, tells me, “We’re going to put a stake in the ground and say that we’re going to study in general how people are moving up and down, or staying the same, and see if we can see why.” This is an explicit vision of tracking and improving economic mobility.

It’s not that the city will stop experimenting with programs or improving what it’s doing in the meantime. “We’re going to do [that] while researching,” Ewas tells me.

To me, the most interesting part of this is that the city is doing the research itself. Boston has numerous research institutions that could do such research but the city wants to take this on themselves. Will they find things that academic researchers would not uncover (either because of their perspectives or because of the data and actors they would have access to)? Or, will the city be unable to separate out their research arm from their political concerns?

Of course, perhaps these questions do not matter if Boston is able to successfully combat economic inequality. Many cities face these issues as they both try to keep up with the higher end of the globalized economy and serve residents who are far removed from the global elite.

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