The Boston College School of Social Work has issued two reports on how social dimensions of people's lives affect their access to opportunities. The findings are driven by data derived from the school's research partnership with the Obama-era White House.
BCSSW was the sole academic partner for the The Opportunity Project, an open data effort to improve economic mobility for all Americans that was convened by the Obama Administration in March 2016. The Opportunity Project was designed to put data and tools in the hands of civic leaders, community organizations, and families to help them navigate information about critical resources such as access to jobs, housing, transportation, schools, and other neighborhood amenities.
The BCSSW reports, Race and Income Equity in Childcare and Race, Poverty and Equity in Neighborhood Transportation, are the products of a months-long data analysis conducted by BCSSW's RISE3 (Research and Innovations in Social, Economic, and Environmental Equity) initiative, working with the Obama Administration’s Office of Science and Technology Partnerships.
The childcare report investigates the costs and life choices that come with the decision to place a child in daycare, including the factors of distance, cost, and hours of operation, and specifically delving into how income and race/ethnicity have “common and unique associations with childcare.” For example, the researchers found that low-income families of color are more likely to require childcare services in nonstandard hours, and that they must invest more time into traveling to and from childcare.
The transportation report assesses how essential features such as time, cost, and distance are distributed among groups in the U.S., with particular attention to how transportation provides advantages to some and constrains others, especially across race/ethnicity, income and combinations thereof. The authors found that “decisions about the type, time spent on, and money used for transportation affect flexibility and quality of life, factors involved in what is sometimes referred to as ‘self-determination.’”
Led by BCSSW faculty members Tiziana Dearing, Summer Hawkins, and David Takeuchi, the reports were released during a campus event that featured speakers from the Obama administration team, as well as from leading organizations across Boston.
“Access to data is very much an issue of civil rights,” said Takeuchi. “It will be important for those of us engaged in finding solutions to the world’s social ills to recognize this reality, and to advocate for the more equitable, and inclusive, use of data as we partner with communities and like-minded organizations to do our work.”
Aden Van Knoppen, former senior advisor to the U.S. Chief Technology Officer for OSTP, spoke about the importance of BCSSW’s role in mining data towards advocating for the greater good. She also underscored the importance for social service providers to collaborate with academia, with tech, and with communities themselves moving forward, in order to build the most effective interventions possible.
“There is such a thing as data poverty and it’s widespread,” she explained. “Having access to the information you need to thrive at your fingertips is highly unequal, and access to quality data and the skills to create things with it that meet your needs, or the needs of others, is a form of privilege and of power.”
The Opportunity Project sought to begin to break down the barriers of data poverty, facilitating the use of large-scale data sets that RISE3 engaged in a systematic set of analyses, including the American Time Use Survey, the Consumer Expenditure Survey, and the American Housing Survey.
Steve Poftak, executive director of the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston at Harvard University, and Wayne Ysaguirre, CEO of Nurtury, participated in the day’s events, leading a panel response to the report findings. A panel of young voices from UTEC also provided their lived experiences of transportation and childcare.
—Nate Herpich, BCSSW | Patti Delaney, University Communications