PROJECTInterrupting Structural Racism’s Impact on Health and Well-Being

To truly disrupt structural racism, research must go beyond documenting racial disparities to explore how and why these disparities exist. This requires a deeper analysis of the mechanisms of structural racism and how it operates across policies, systems, structures, and institutions to continually benefit some groups and disadvantage others. 

To explore how structural racism drives outcomes across policy areas, Urban Institute experts launched the project “Interrupting Structural Racism’s Impact on Health and Well-Being,” which included five studies of varied scope and approach that each looked at the sources of racial inequity to understand how racial disparities persist and how systemic changes could produce more equitable outcomes. These studies were an initial attempt to identify models for studying structural racism.

The studies spanned the fields of transportation, behavioral health, child welfare, tax policy, and retirement policy. Urban’s Office of Race and Equity Research managed the research portfolio and provided the research teams with literature, conceptual and technical review, resource materials, coaching, and extensive feedback throughout the research process. 

In spring 2023, the team will publish a report reflecting on the lessons learned in conceptualizing, measuring, and understanding the mechanisms through which structural racism operates and the new methods and approaches necessary to counter structural racism across policy areas.


Disrupting Structural Racism: Increasing Transportation Equity in South Dallas
This project sought to identify structural solutions to transportation inequities in South Dallas and other regions, drawing on interviews and a community-engaged feasibility analysis. The research team interviewed Dallas area stakeholders and leveraged existing research to analyze historical drivers and interlocking systems that contributed to racial and other disparities in service availability, infrastructure, and resources. They also conducted case studies of four other parts of the country with similar challenges.

Recommendations for Programs and Funders Who Serve People Who Use Substances: Disrupting Structural Racism’s Impact on Health and Well-Being
This project sought to highlight how communities of color counter structural racism and oppression by creating culturally effective community-based programming that promotes equitable outcomes for people who use drugs. The study found that substance use service models led by people of color are relatively small, underfunded, and often unrecognized by public and private health care payers, despite their potential to dismantle structural racism related to substance use in communities of color. The research team conducted an environmental scan of studies, identified assets and services in communities that address the needs of people who use substances, and conducted interviews with practitioners involved in community-based programs and organizations.

Prevention Services Availability and Black-White Placement Disparity: Contextualizing Structural Racism in Child Welfare
This project sought to better understand the impact of system structures on child welfare by identifying whether county differences in prevention services allocation may influence racial disparities in foster care placement rates in several counties across Illinois. The study team conducted an environmental scan, a site observation, and interviews with service administrators to explore these questions.

Racial Disparities in the Income Tax Treatment of Marriage
This project aimed to determine whether, and to what extent, the federal individual income tax results in racial disparities (via marriage penalties and bonuses) between Black married couples and white married couples. The research team converted household data from the Survey of Consumer Finances into tax units and modeled this information to calculate tax liabilities.

How Structural Racism and Limits on Economic Opportunity Restrict Social Security Benefits for Black Retirees
This project sought to quantify how reducing or eliminating racial disparities in key life outcomes influences Social Security payouts. Using the Urban Institute’s dynamic microsimulation model, DYNASIM4, the team simulated Social Security benefits for Black and white workers nearing retirement based on historically observed racial differences in educational attainment, wages, employment, mortality, disability and health problems, and marital history.

Research Areas Economic mobility and inequality Race and equity Health and health care Taxes and budgets
Tags Racial inequities in health Child welfare Health equity Racial barriers to accessing the safety net Racial inequities in economic mobility Racial wealth gap Structural racism Substance use Taxes and social policy Transportation
Policy Centers Office of Race and Equity Research