Producing new insights about the overlapping dimensions of inequality, mobility, and inclusion

Our Approach

The promise of America is that everyone has a chance to succeed no matter where they start. But limited economic mobility and persistent inequalities call that promise into question. By many measures, income and wealth gains are increasingly concentrated at the high end of the economic ladder, while people at the bottom are no more likely to rise up the ladder now than they were several decades ago. And although inequalities and constrained mobility impede opportunities for all Americans – and threaten our nation's shared prosperity and democratic values – they are particularly pronounced for communities of color, immigrants, and women. 

Scholars across the Urban Institute are producing new insights about the overlapping dimensions of inequality, mobility, and inclusion. Our research starts with getting the facts right. We look beyond income and wealth to explore inequalities in health, housing, education, employment, and criminal justice that profoundly affect people’s lives and their prospects for moving up the economic ladder.

A full understanding of these issues also requires attention to persistent racial and ethnic disparities in opportunities and outcomes, along with digging below national averages to understand key variations across places. And Urban’s research identifies solutions, both by evaluating specific interventions and by modeling the long-term effects of potential new investments.   

Our Work

The Urban Institute examines inequality and mobility through four interconnected lenses:

  • Inequalities: The challenge of inequality is really a challenge of inequalities, with income and wealth gaps contributing to other disparities—and vice versa. The breadth of substantive expertise at Urban enables us to analyze inequalities across opportunities and outcomes that shape people’s well-being and life chances.
  • Mobility: Economic mobility can mean both moving up the economic ladder and doing better than your parents did. Urban researchers document trends in mobility over time and across race, ethnicity, and age. We also evaluate the effectiveness of policies and interventions aimed at promoting economic mobility and can model the combined effects of more ambitious investments.
  • Place and Opportunity: A growing body of research finds that where we live—and where our children grow up—plays an important role in shaping opportunities for upward mobility.  But in recent decades, inequality between top and bottom neighborhoods intensified in the great majority of metropolitan areas. Urban’s data resources and our state and local expertise allow us to explore place-conscious policies for creating more inclusive and opportunity-rich communities.
  • Inclusive Growth: Progress toward more inclusive prosperity requires multiple, sustained strategies to improve access to education and training, and ensure that the benefits from economic growth are widely shared. Urban experts bring evidence to bear on both the scale and scope of these challenges and the efficacy of policy and programmatic interventions.

Our Impact

Urban experts regularly testify before Congress, brief congressional staff, and present findings and recommendations to cabinet-level agencies on ways to create opportunity and promote mobility. Our work has informed local, state, and federal policies.

For example, when Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) introduced the Wealth Gap Resolution (H. Res. 159), she cited Urban’s research as evidence that the substantial wealth gap is a problem for our nation's economic security. Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has cited Urban Institute work examining how social insurance programs can inadvertently limit mobility. And state and local policymakers seeking to promote more equitable and inclusive economies and communities have cited findings from Urban analyses, such as the effect of increasing DC’s minimum wage.