Opportunity remains segregated in America. Evidence can be the bridge to a more equitable world.

Kimberly DuMont

Systemic inequity is the most urgent challenge we face as a nation. We see it in education, housing, health care, employment, and community safety and policing. We see it in income and wealth disparities, life expectancy, and opportunities for leadership and success in this nation. The fault lines are more exposed than ever due to the pandemic and the nation’s racial justice reckoning, but the inequities are longstanding and deeply ingrained in our society.

AIR is taking action. For 75 years, we’ve built and used evidence to improve lives. Now, we’re making a five-year, $100M+ investment in behavioral and social science research and technical assistance to address the underlying causes of systemic inequities and to increase opportunities for people and society.

In partnership with communities and other organizations, the AIR Equity Initiative supports research and the use of evidence to tackle issues at the very center of our national conversation on racial equity: education; workforce development; public safety and policing; and diversity, equity, and inclusion. In the coming year, we will expand our work to health. Our focus is both local and global, and while our initial work will focus on inequities in the U.S., we will continue to fund and seek work to improve lives around the world.

How opportunity is limited in America

Segregation by race and place drives inequities and limits opportunities for millions of people. This applies to the schools our children attend, employment opportunities, and the safety of communities. Funding practices have limited the engagement of diverse, local experts in the creation of solutions, and that has held back our ability to use evidence as a bridge to a more equitable world.

Consider that in racially and economically segregated places:

  • Millions of K-12 students are isolated from educational resources.
  • Adults have limited access to high-wage work and skill training.
  • Communities are over-surveilled and underserved when it comes to policing and public safety.

Generating and using evidence

AIR’s bold commitment is to develop and use evidence to change these inequities. We believe rigorous research and technical expertise in behavioral and social sciences will enable powerful change and move us toward a better, more equitable world. To that end, the AIR Equity Initiative has already made two awards to address inequities in workforce development.

Irma Perez-Johnson of AIR and Harry Holzer, an AIR External Fellow and professor of public policy at Georgetown University, are partnering with the City Colleges of Chicago and others to embed, evaluate, and improve evidence-based approaches to skills development. They will ensure the programs are matched to local labor market needs and are feasible, enduring, and accessible.

In Boston, we have joined the William T. Grant Foundation and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation to support Northeastern University and the Boston Youth Summer Employment Office. These partners are working to increase coordination and alignment across city agencies, community colleges, and employers with the goal of creating targeted opportunities for underserved youth. They’re looking for ways to strengthen program features that have the potential to reduce inequality (e.g., job type, career readiness curriculum, job laddering, and number of summers) and expand opportunities for youth to engage in post-secondary education and training.

Working across systems

In the United States, current approaches to addressing inequity are often siloed and inconsistently based on evidence. We need responses that will recognize local histories and work across systems, and we need the resources to implement them in many communities.

The AIR Equity Initiative will take a different approach. We will look longer-term, across systems; engage different organizations and communities; and embrace both the generation and use of evidence. And our work will be measurable.

To learn about the progress of our research and the lessons we are learning, keep visiting the AIR Equity Initiative website and follow the hashtag #AIR4Equity on Twitter. You can also sign up to receive our newsletter, AIR News, which will have regular updates on the initiative’s work.