Is Federal Infrastructure Spending Advancing Racial and Economic Equity?
October 25, 2023
Infrastructure—including public transit systems, roads, bridges, power grids, homes, and other built structures—is the backbone of the US economy and ensures a high quality of life for Americans. Yet, much of the country’s infrastructure is crumbling. About 7.5 percent of US bridges are structurally deficient and 43 percent of US roads are in poor or mediocre condition. The United States also has a shortage of nearly 4 million homes, driving up rents in major cities nationwide.
The past century has seen large, sweeping investments in American infrastructure—the New Deal policies of the 1930s and Great Society policies of the 1960s—but benefits from these investments weren’t always equitable. People of color and those with low incomes were excluded from some benefits, such as purchasing new homes—and some communities were destroyed to make land available for highway infrastructure.
Today, the federal government is once again funding large-scale investments in infrastructure, this time with the explicit goal of advancing racial and economic equity. Through the many projects supported by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and programs managed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the federal government hopes to address the country’s deteriorating infrastructure while expanding access to clean energy, broadband, transit, affordable homes, and more.
Where the Federal Government Has Distributed Infrastructure Funds
Funding amount per 1,000 residents
But are these funds being disbursed equitably and bolstering the communities that have historically been left behind by infrastructure investments?
To answer this question, we analyzed select federal funding initiatives and built this tool to catalog the initiatives by program, geography, and project type, allowing users to evaluate equity in funding decisions. This dataset includes programs enacted through IIJA or funded by HUD but is not exhaustive. Using the search bar below, explore how and where federal dollars are targeting the infrastructure needs of communities nationwide.
Search for federal infrastructure programs and where they distributed funds
Not sure where to start?
Try searching for a state or county (Alabama or Ramsey County, for example) to see if it receives funding proportional to its needs. Or try searching for an infrastructure category (maybe Ports and Waterways) or a specific program (such as the RAISE program) to see if it distributes funds in a way that advances racial and economic equity.
Some of these projects are competitively funded, meaning federal officials review applications from prospective grantees, mostly at the state and local levels, then choose where to direct money. Others are formula funded, meaning states and localities distribute a pot of money allocated to them through a formula established by Congress or other federal agencies. For more information on how competitive and formula funding mechanisms work, see our User Guide.
For this tool, we analyzed 58 grant programs funded by IIJA and eight housing programs that use annual HUD appropriations. The data presented here are limited to fiscal year 2022. We collected program data from federal departmental announcements and project fact sheets. Demographic and need indicator data are sourced from approximately two dozen publicly available sources, including the 2016–20 American Community Survey 5-Year estimates from the US Census Bureau and data produced by other federal agencies.
This data tool was funded by the Melville Charitable Trust as part of the Partnership for Equitable and Resilient Communities Initiative. 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.