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Remarks by Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves at the Advancing Equity and Wellbeing through Data

Thank you, Elizabeth, for that introduction. And thank you, Austin, and Tony, as well as the teams at New America and the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, for your partnership throughout this effort. Your thought leadership on new economic paradigms that advance individual and family well-being is critical to our shared goals.

I also want to thank you for the research and advocacy you do to support broad-based economic growth. It aligns with our work at the Commerce Department, where we’re laser-focused on improving America’s competitiveness so that all our workers and companies can succeed in the global economy.

The pandemic and resulting challenges have exacerbated inequality and increased the cost of living. This growing inequality informs the decisions we’re making daily at the Commerce Department, and research provided by organizations like New America and the Washington Center for Equitable Growth is crucial for our decision-making.

According to the Federal Reserve’s 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances, the typical White family has eight times the wealth of the typical Black family.

The gap in business ownership between Black and Latino households, relative to White households, accounted for 25 percent of the overall racial wealth gap between these groups.

Closing the opportunity gap between minority-owned and non-minority-owned businesses could add nearly $6 trillion to the economy. That’s money and human capital that could increase our competitiveness for decades to come.

Since day one, the Biden-Harris Administration has recognized that the principles of diversity, inclusion, and accessibility are essential to fulfilling our goals of creating a more equitable economy.

Thanks to President Biden’s leadership, Congress has passed momentous new bills that are making once-in-a-generation investments to rebuild our infrastructure, support our workforce, supercharge innovation, combat the climate crisis, and shore up our supply chains.

Using nearly $50 billion from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Commerce Department is working to bring affordable, high-speed internet to every American. That includes nearly $3 billion in funding to promote digital inclusion and equity for communities that have been historically unserved or underserved.

The same law permanently authorized the Commerce Department’s Minority Business Development Agency, or MBDA—the only federal agency created specifically to foster the establishment and growth of minority-owned businesses in America.

We’re also making new investments in American innovation. Thanks to the CHIPS and Science Act, the Commerce Department will invest $50 billion from the law to supercharge our domestic semiconductor industry.

Through our investments in broadband and chips, we’re going to create hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs and invest in our workforce to unlock the full potential of our country and people–including women, communities of color, as well as our rural and tribal communities.  It’s not just a matter of fairness – it’s essential to the success of our programs.

But we’re not making these investments in a vacuum. We’re relying on evidence, evaluation, and data to ensure that we’re bringing the best possible return on our investments.

Earlier this year, the Department of Commerce released its first-ever Learning Agenda as a companion to our department’s five-year Strategic Plan. Required by law, the Learning Agenda is meant to bring the best possible information and analysis to our decision-making.

Our bureaus are also using research and evidence to inform their work.

For example, the Economic Development Administration and the Census have established a partnership to collect data on EDA’s Good Jobs Challenge – one of our American Rescue Plan programs. This collaboration will leverage Census’s data and expertise to help measure and evaluate the success of each Good Jobs Challenge grantee, with a focus on outcomes for participants and workers going through training programs.

Likewise, MBDA collects, analyzes, and uses data relating to the needs of minority business enterprises to inform its program design and implementation and to share its findings with the public.  For example, MBDA recently published a report related to the odds of small minority businesses winning federal contracts. 

At the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the Council for Inclusive Innovation is helping to develop a comprehensive national strategy to increase participation in our innovation ecosystem, particularly for women and other underrepresented groups in innovation.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis provides an entire suite of household income inequality metrics, including distributions of disposable personal income, which help us measure household economic well-being. BEA’s next release – coming in December – will include improved methodology and a new set of metrics for an internationally-comparable measure, Adjusted Disposable Income, as specified by the OECD.

This work also wouldn’t be possible without the help and support of researchers like you.

We worked with New America and the Washington Center to undertake the Well-Being Indicators Sprint. Through this initiative, we’re identifying new indicators of well-being, creating digital tools to track well-being indicators, and elevating well-being as a cross-cutting policy priority. 

As part of this effort, the Census Bureau’s Opportunity Project worked with the Washington Center, New America, and community partners across the country to develop community-informed national-level indicators of well-being. These indicators go beyond traditional economic indicators and better capture households’ and communities’ overall sense of economic stability, opportunity, health, dignity, and safety.

Our hope is that these new indicators will better capture dimensions of well-being beyond traditional economic indicators, informing a more equitable and holistic approach to federal and local policymaking.

Our goal is to help build a set of digital tools that incorporate new well-being indicators, which can be accessed and utilized by policymakers and practitioners. Finally, we are going to elevate the concept of well-being as a cross-cutting policy priority, both within the current Administration and for future administrations.

I am eager to learn from the work that so many of you are carrying out to advance data for equity, and how these efforts can relate and collaborate. Thank you to the experts who have joined us today to share your insights and recommendations on how the Administration can bring data tools examining well-being and equity to scale. 

I’m also proud to announce that there is a new Community of Practice at the Commerce Department to support the use of federal data for the improvement of outcomes for underserved communities – the Equity Measures Sub-Group of the DOC Equity Action Council.

This Community of Practice supports equitable data champions across our 12 bureaus who are working on issues like closing the digital divide, fostering the growth of good jobs, and strengthening community resilience to climate change. 

This is a year-long endeavor that will culminate in the creation of a shared knowledge base for scaling the use of data that informs decision-making for the greater well-being of our communities.

If we’re going to make meaningful progress in addressing inequality in our economic system, we need your help. Engage with our department, participate in our events, respond to requests for information, and reach out if you have the expertise to share.

Together, we can create an equitable economy for all Americans. 

So, thank you again to New America for bringing us together today.

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