Community Indicators for Your Community

Real, lasting community change is built around knowing where you are, where you want to be, and whether your efforts are making a difference. Indicators are a necessary ingredient for sustainable change. And the process of selecting community indicators -- who chooses, how they choose, what they choose -- is as important as the data you select.

This is an archive of thoughts I had about indicators and the community indicators movement. Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Indicators of Racial Disparity

In 1998, The Council of Economic Advisers for the President's Initiative on Race released a report: Changing America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being by Race and Hispanic Origin. The Presidential Foreword stated:

We face a variety of racial challenges in our country, many of them deeply rooted in our history. If we are to harness the great opportunities within these challenges, we must better understand the contours and nature of racial issues.

By providing much needed information about racial disparities, this statistical chartbook provides the basis for an informed discussion about the problems faced by people of different races and backgrounds in America. There is much good news here, with improvements over the past 20 years for all Americans in education, in economic status, and in health. But in far too many areas, there are still troubling disparities between people of color and other Americans. ...

A decade from now, I hope that people will look back and see that this Initiative made a difference by supplying much needed information, encouraging conversation, and inspiring concrete actions to provide equal opportunity for all Americans. I hope that when we revisit the facts and trends presented in this book, we will see much progress in closing racial gaps.

The Initiative was launched June 1997, and a decade later we can examine the indicators to see changes.

One systematic treatment of indicators of racial disparity (at least the disparities between African Americans and whites in America) is The State of Black America, by the National Urban League. Beginning in 2004, The State of Black America includes an "Equality Index," which consists of five weighted indices measuring inequalities in economic progress, health, education, social justice, and civic engagement. The 2004 report begins by making the point that:

Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution of the United States counted an African American as 3/5 of a person for purposes of taxation and state representation in Congress, an Index value of 0.60. How much progress has been made in the United States in the past 216 years? The 13th Amendment, ratified in 1865, corrected this injustice, but according to the Equality Index, Black America still only stands at 0.76.

In 2005, the Los Angeles Urban League and the United Way of Greater Los Angeles applied the same metrics to their community, developing The State of Black Los Angeles (PDF) report. They reported an Equality Index of 0.98 for Asian residents, 0.69 for Black residents, 0.71 for Latino residents, and 1.00 for White residents (who served as the benchmark.)

Another effort to measure racial disparities on a local level is the Jacksonville Community Council Inc.'s Race Relations Progress Report. First published in 2005 as a response to a 2002 study, Beyond the Talk: Improving Race Relations, the 2006 update examines progress (or lack of same) towards eliminating race-based disparities in the quality of life across six areas: employment and income, education, health, neighborhoods and housing, justice and the legal system, and the political process and civic engagement. The 2006 report also references a 1946 report (PDF) on racial disparities in Jacksonville, Florida, which provides a fascinating perspective on progress as well as a sobering reminder of the problems that remain.

While many communities have been paying attention to racial disparities in individual fields (indicator reports health disparities or educational achievement gaps are fairly prevalent), a growing number of communities are beginning to document the broader scope of quality-of-life disparities faced by people of color. A fairly new report I recently was given is The State of the State for Washington Latinos: 2006, which takes a detailed look at issues ranging from education and employment to health care, juvenile delinquency, housing and homeownership, and voting rights and political mobilization.

Take a look.


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