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#2020APPAM Blog: Policy Analysis and Racial Justice


by Cora Bennett, University of Tennessee, Knoxville Economics PhD 

The Super-Session on Policy Analysis and Racial Justice focused primarily on what kinds of policy approaches need to be taken in the future and how can we improve our current policymaking methods to better address racial inequities. I think this session was one of the best ones I attended today, and many of my peers agreed with me in the chat! There were two main points that I took from the session.

First, race neutral policymaking is not sufficient for shrinking racial inequities, specifically the racial wealth gap. All attendees received a well-stated history lesson from panelist Valerie Wilson. She detailed several exclusionary policies that hindered minorities’ economic growth and how those policies still affect the lives of minorities today. However, not all exclusionary policies hinder minorities’ well-being and some can target marginalized racial groups who have been historically disadvantaged by public policy. William Darity talked about the distinction between anti-poverty programs and anti-inequality programs. It is fine for the former to be race neutral, as any universal anti-poverty program will help people of all races. However, if we as policymakers ever want to successfully address the inequities between racial groups we need to use targeted policies, such as reparations programs for Black American descendants of US slavery.

The second big takeaway I learned from this session was about how policy researchers can improve their methods to better address racial inequities. First and foremost, it is important to have diverse researchers and researchers with personal and institutional knowledge of the topic actually interpreting results. Without the historical and societal context, the results can be misinterpreted. We can improve the tools and techniques to assess policies that solve the wealth inequality issue by critically evaluating the assumptions and models that have historically been a part of understanding these inequalities.

This session on addressing policymaking to combat racial inequities left me and I’m sure the other attendees with a lot to think about and address in our own research!

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