Over the past 40 years, economic inequality in the United States has returned to levels last seen in the 1920s. Today, the United States is in the top quarter of the world’s most unequal countries. Economic mobility—a child’s likelihood of occupying a different position on the income ladder than his or her parents did—has fallen well behind Canada, Great Britain, and other advanced economies. And inequality has worsened over the course of the current economic recovery.
Economists have documented these changes extensively, but we need to know more about the effects, if any, of rising economic inequality on America’s overall economic growth and stability. New research suggests that growing inequality in the United States may have broad social and economic effects by reducing stable demand for goods and services, dampening entrepreneurialism, undermining the inclusiveness and responsiveness of political and economic institutions, limiting access to education, and stunting individual development. Yet our understanding of how these mechanisms interact with the broader economy is limited.
If, as new research suggests, worsening inequality erodes our economy’s ability to function efficiently and at full potential, then we are faced with a second question: What are the best ways to promote more equitable growth? While we know that certain public policy areas, such as education, are important for encouraging both greater equity and stronger growth, an opportunity exists to improve our understanding of how a broader set of government policies might do so.
The Washington Center for Equitable Growth is a new research and grantmaking organization founded to accelerate cutting-edge analysis into whether and how structural changes in the U.S. economy, particularly related to economic inequality, affect growth. Core to our mission is helping to build a stronger bridge between academics and policymakers so that new research is relevant, accessible, and informative to the policymaking process.
To these ends, in the fall of 2013 we launched a competitive, peer-reviewed grantmaking program to help establish new lines of inquiry and analysis, bring together diverse types of evidence, and encourage collaboration across academic fields. Our first grants totaling $610,000 were announced in July 2014. During our second round of grantmaking, we awarded 24 additional grants totaling $784,000, with an additional $49,800 in co-funding from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.
We encourage researchers applying for funding to consider public policy in their research questions and we are especially interested in proposals that support data collection and/or study the effects of inequality on individual behavior. We welcome letters of inquiry from scholars at various stages in their careers. Learn more about our grant program here.