Why Collecting Data Is So Important for Advancing Equity
On January 20th, President Biden signed an Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity. The EO creates an initiative to advance equity and equal opportunity across government agencies and programs. As part of this initiative, the Equitable Data Working Group will work with federal agencies to collect data “by race, ethnicity, gender, disability, income, veteran status, or other key demographic variables.” This data collection will help promote equity by shining a light on the disparities that exist in many areas, including healthcare, employment, and tax. Here’s how:
- The pandemic has exposed and exacerbated stark health inequities in the healthcare system and society at large. In cities around the country, Black, Latinx, and Native American people have infection rates and mortality rates that are much higher than their share of the population. For example, in several hard-hit cities, Black people constituted 34% of the deaths from COVID-19 despite representing only 12% of the U.S. population.
- Right now, efforts to identify and reduce these disparities—and mobilize resources where they are most needed—are hampered by inadequate data collection and data reporting. Black health care leaders have called for the immediate collection and reporting of race and ethnicity data in COVID-19 cases, and over 100 members of Congress have urged for better tracking of LGBTQ data.
- For this crisis and beyond, we need consistent, reliable data, and resulting analysis will provide healthcare providers and policymakers with better tools to address stark health disparities. In addition to Biden’s EO, the Equitable Data Collection and Disclosure on COVID-19 Act and the Health Equity and Accountability Act would implement needed improvements to health care data collection and reporting.
- The Equal Pay Act was passed nearly 60 years ago, but gender and racial wage gaps persist. The gaps are especially stark for women of color: Latinas, Native American, and Black women make 55, 60, and 63 cents, respectively, compared to every dollar made by white men. These lost earnings not only leave women of color without a financial cushion to navigate short term crises, like the current economic crisis, but they also make it harder for women to build wealth.
- Many factors may contribute to gender and racial wage gaps, including pay discrimination, hiring and compensation setting practices, and occupational segregation. Collecting compensation and jobs data by gender, LGBTQ status, and race—particularly for Asian American and Pacific Islander communities—would allow a better understanding of how these factors affect different communities.
- The collection of company-level compensation data by gender, race, and ethnicity is inadequate. The Trump administration blocked, and in 2020 ended, a critical Obama-era initiative that would have allowed the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to confidentially collect pay data by race, gender, and job category from large employers, and share it with the Department of Labor. The Biden-Harris administration should extend the Advancing Racial Equity EO to apply to the EEOC and Department of Labor, and Congress should enact further measures, like the Paycheck Fairness Act, to address this data deficit.
- The tax system perpetuates and, in some cases, exacerbates existing inequities in society. For example, lopsided tax cuts reward those who have accumulated wealth–disproportionately white men–while failing to support those who have historically struggled to access wealth, namely women and people of color.
- Developing tax policy that instead advances racial and gender equity requires an understanding of how the tax code affects different populations and communities. However, the Department of the Treasury and the IRS currently does not provide tax data by race, gender, disability, or other characteristics.
- By directing the Department of Treasury to be part of the Equitable Data Working Group, Biden’s EO begins the process of improving tax data collection and reporting. Access to more data will provide policymakers with better tools—and the public with more information—to design a tax code that is more equitable, accountable, and inclusive.
We cannot make our healthcare, employment, or tax systems more equitable until we understand how people facing systemic discrimination—women, people of color, people with disabilities—are impacted by those systems. This EO is an important first step to accessing this data and achieving equity.