How do we measure inclusion?

“Overall inclusion” reflects the ability of historically excluded populations—in this case, lower-income residents and people of color—to contribute to and benefit from economic prosperity. We measure this by combining economic inclusion and racial inclusion.

Although our measures capture inclusion for residents within a city, they may lead to higher scores for cities that have limited disparities by race or income within their boundaries but have excluded lower-income residents from residing within city boundaries in the first place. Similarly, although our measures of racial inclusion capture inclusion for residents of color versus white non-Hispanic residents, they may mask inequities between different racial and ethnic groups that experience exclusion in different ways. Therefore, we encourage users to use the rankings to track cities over time rather than focusing on absolute rankings.

To learn more about why we selected these indicators and how we measured them, click here.

How do we measure economic health?

Economic health captures the strength of a city’s local economy. We measure this by looking at employment growth, the unemployment rate, the housing vacancy rate, and median family income.

What can cities do to become more inclusive?

Although no single model for success exists, we can learn a lot from cities that have become more inclusive, particularly as they recovered from downturns. How did those cities try to ensure that all residents shared in the economic recovery?

To answer this question, we met with leaders from four cities that improved their racial and economic inclusion as they recovered from economic distress. By combining their insights with previous research about inclusive growth, we identified the following eight building blocks for inclusion growth.

  1. Adopt a shared vision early on, and get buy-in from local stakeholders.
  2. Inspire and sustain bold leadership from committed public officials or other dedicated stakeholders.
  3. Recruit partners from across sectors, including resident groups, the media, and business leaders. Diverse partners can create buy-in, generate and elevate insights, and support solutions.
  4. Build voice and power within traditionally underrepresented or disenfranchised communities. Ensure diverse representation in planning and political processes.
  5. Leverage assets and intrinsic advantages, such as a city’s physical spaces and the potential of its residents.
  6. Think and act regionally. Job and housing markets cross jurisdictional lines, and residents often live, work, and use services outside their city. Regional partnerships can help secure broadly shared prosperity.
  7. Reframe inclusion as integral to growth to encourage progress in both areas. A growing body of evidence suggests that diversity and inclusion are catalysts for economic development.
  8. Adopt policies and programs to support inclusion. Policies and programs that promote inclusion in education, housing, economic development, and fiscal policy can lead to long-term success.

To learn more about our case-study cities, the lessons learned from them, and examples of these building blocks in action, see the report Inclusive Recovery in US Cities.

About the data
Read the report
Download the data

This dashboard was published on April 25, 2018, and updated on September 15, 2020, with new data. The measures here are calculated from data compiled by the US Census Bureau’s 1980 Decennial Census, 1990 Decennial Census, 2000 Decennial Census, 2011–15 American Community Survey, and 2014–18 American Community Survey and accessed through the National Historical Geographic Information System’s online portal (IPUMS NHGIS, University of Minnesota, www.nhgis.org). The racial segregation measure was obtained from Brown University’s American Communities Project for the years 1980, 1990, and 2000.

The racial inclusion index is made up of five measures: racial segregation (white/person of color dissimilarity index), homeownership gap, educational attainment gap, poverty rate gap, and share of people of color. All racial gap measures calculate the disparity between white non-Hispanic residents and residents of color. For this analysis, we define people of color as any person identifying in US Census Bureau records as Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, other race, two or more races, or Hispanic or Latino white. We recognize the issues that arise with placing all these groups under one umbrella—both in defining identity in comparison with whiteness and in papering over differences in how different groups experience state-sanctioned, institutionalized, systemic, and individual forms of racism. This broad racial disparity measure allows us to compare cities with differing demographic patterns while limiting the size of sampling error for groups within cities that have small populations.

The economic inclusion index is made up of four measures: income segregation (rank-order information theory index), rent burden, share of 16- to 19-year-olds who are not in school and have not graduated, and working poor. The overall inclusion index is the composite of the racial and economic inclusion indices. The economic health index is made up of four indicators: percentage change in employed people period over period, median family income, unemployment rate, and housing vacancy rate.

We chose to focus on cities rather than metropolitan areas because local decisions around policies, taxes, and services happen more often at the city level than the regional level. We include only incorporated cities in our analysis and exclude census-designated places because they lack a municipal government that can adopt policies that support economic growth or inclusion.


This feature was funded by The Kresge Foundation. We are grateful to them and to all our funders, who make it possible for Urban to advance its mission. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders. Funders do not determine research findings or the insights and recommendations of our experts. More information on our funding principles is available here. Read our terms of service here.

Daniel Sundén and Christina Baird
Ben Chartoff and Alice Feng
Elizabeth Forney and Meghan Ashford-Grooms
Serena Lei