Until recently, data analytics and data visualization tools have commonly been used by cities and government agencies to address societal challenges such as congestion, crime, and municipal services. But increasingly, government officials are applying these tools to help fight poverty and other forms of social inequality.

For instance, at the 14th Convening of the Project on Municipal Innovation–Advisory Group, which recently took place at the Harvard Kennedy School in Cambridge, MA, one of the speakers, Alan Berube, Senior Fellow & Deputy Director at Brookings Institution, gave a presentation exploring opportunities for using data analytics to fight inequality in Baltimore, MD. Berube pointed out how Baltimore suffers from extensive poverty–roughly 30% of the city’s households have incomes in the bottom percent nationally, adjusted for cost of living.

Meanwhile, Berube also noted how poverty doesn’t spread evenly, illustrating how many of Baltimore’s poorest households are concentrated in the city’s west and east sides. Berube went on to describe how concentrated poverty limits educational opportunities, fuels disinvestment in neighborhoods, and causes physical and mental challenges for residents. For example, Berube pointed out the impact of future economic outcomes for poor children in Baltimore and how, on average, it has the net effect of reducing their incomes by $4,500 at age 26. By comparison, a child who grew up in Kings County, WA, an affluent community near Seattle, could expect their earnings to rise by about $3,000 at that age.

Research that Berube shared regarding impoverished youth in other cities such as New Orleans, Los Angeles, and Atlanta revealed the following insights:

  • Counties that tend to have higher rates of upward mobility tend to have lower levels of income inequality.
  • These same counties also tend to have better performing schools, lower rates of violent crime, and a larger share of two-parent households.

Data visualization and analytics have also been applied to gain a better understanding of and addressing gender inequality. For example, a recent McKinsey Global Institute analysis of gender income disparity and opportunity across 95 countries revealed that if every country matched the progress toward gender parity of its fastest-improving neighbor, global gross domestic product (GDP) could rise by $12 trillion by 2025.

Data visualization and advanced analytics tools can enable government officials to identify trends and correlations contributing to social inequalities that can easily be buried in government data and otherwise difficult to spot. The use of these tools can allow government leaders to unlock insights from public data and address societal challenges more effectively.

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