US government data often provides a look at how large swaths of Americans are faring. However, this big-picture approach has often been criticized for leaving out certain groups of people, like Native Americans and members of the LGBTQ+ community, and rendering them practically invisible when it comes to broader policymaking and funding of public services.
Now the Biden administration is working on a plan to ensure fewer people are slipping through the cracks.
On Friday, the Equitable Data Working Group, a collection of data and policy experts from more than a dozen federal agencies, released a blueprint outlining how to make federal data more representative of America’s increasing diversity.
By making data more inclusive, the hope is that policy decisions that rely upon federal data will ultimately better serve communities in need, Alondra Nelson, co-chair of the Equitable Data Working Group, said in an interview with CNN Business.
Government data is also often considered the gold standard when it comes to determining the distribution of federal, state and local funding for services like veterans benefits, disaster relief and stimulus payments. It can also be used to better analyze how tax credits and other benefits are impacting Americans and to ensure this funding is going to the people who need it the most.
“We can’t really know how we’re doing and how well we’re serving the American public, if we don’t have the ability to drill down into the data,” she said.
Created as part of the executive order on racial equity that President Joe Biden signed on his first day in office, the working group has been charged with studying how the government collects data, finding out who’s being left out, and providing strategies to ensure the diversity of America is better represented in federal statistics.
Among the top recommendations: Parse and break down the broader data by demographic areas, such as race and ethnic subgroups, income, geography, sexual orientation and gender identity; increase funding for more federal and independent research and analysis of data that better encompasses minority and marginalized populations; and make the information more accessible, transparent and easy to understand by the general public.
The recommendations also include several budget increase requests to further research and analysis in areas such as health care access, long Covid, and mental health status in historically underserved communities; adding sexual orientation and gender identity questions to the Census Bureau’s largest household survey; and increasing the staffing and capabilities to expand data collection so it includes Middle Eastern and North African heritage and subgroups of Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders.
During the past year, the group has met with dozens of nonprofits and research organizations to gather their input on how federal data could be more equitable. Some of these groups included the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, the Black Women’s Roundtable, the Latina Institute, the National Congress of American Indians, the Pew Research Center, the Urban Institute, and the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.
Several of these groups have been increasingly vocal about how their communities, populations and demographic subgroups are not represented in federal data.
Independent research conducted by universities, nonprofits and others only goes so far, they’ve said, because it doesn’t carry the same weight as government stats that lead to funding of direct services.
“If we don’t get counted, we don’t count,” Cathy Renna, communications director at the National LGBTQ Task Force, told CNN Business last year.
Nelson on Friday said that the administration is listening and taking action to make these changes.
“We want to say to the American public, ‘We hear you,’” she said. “‘We understand you don’t feel seen.’”