Brief How Social Science Research Can Inform a National Reparations Research Agenda
LesLeigh D. Ford, Rekha Balu
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In this brief, we discuss how social science research can contribute to and inform a national reparations agenda. We document the progress that has been made on reparations-related research and identify opportunities for social scientists to build on existing research and make new contributions.

Why this matters

Across several key outcomes, including health, wealth, education, and life expectancy, ostensibly race-neutral social policies have failed to close persistent racial gaps for Black Americans. Reparations is one strategy for closing those gaps and promoting wealth building among Black Americans. (The Urban Institute has contributed to the evidence bases of other strategies for promoting economic security and building wealth; these other strategies include direct income supports, such as cash transfers and baby bonds, that could support financial well-being and advance wealth equity.)

Although the evidence base around reparations continues to grow, more evidence is needed on how reparations could address the social, economic, and psychological injustices and harms Black Americans have experienced and how researchers can evaluate program models and policies designed to address these long-standing harms.

In this brief, we consider whether the lack of reparations research is holding back policy development, lay out where research is still needed, and identify researchers’ roles in informing policy.

This research is first step toward developing a reparations research agenda at Urban. We are eager to work with key researchers, community leaders, and advocates to better understand their needs and contribute to the field.

Key Takeaways

Our priority at Urban is identifying opportunities to build and strengthen the evidence base on policies and practices—and our research shows there is great potential for reparations toward closing the wealth gap. This research can inform future reparations policy discussions/analysis, especially as governments continue to explore reparations.

In research on reparations, two models for conceptualizing reparations are common. In this brief, we look at both models and identify how researchers can contribute to them. The compensatory model involves repairing harm and providing financial resources to people who have lost opportunities to build wealth. The transformative model is a more humanizing approach that looks not just at economic harms but also social, psychological, and emotional harms that transcend economic concerns.

We need a new kind of research approach—not just one that is more interdisciplinary and oriented toward more than just the possible costs and financing of different reparations models, but one that explores the potential impacts and outcomes associated with reparations approaches. Lastly, although we focus in this brief on a federal agenda for a national reparations program, we also consider a role for the private sector in reparations.

Research Areas Economic mobility and inequality Race and equity Wealth and financial well-being
Tags Black/African American communities Economic well-being Racial wealth gap Structural racism in research, data, and technology
Policy Centers Office of Race and Equity Research
Research Methods Research methods and data analytics
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