Data: It’s Sexier than You Think

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Data has a story to tell.  In Seattle, that story is about equity – about communities struggling to get an education, to be healthy, to get jobs.  The story goes something like this.  Only about half of Samoan, Native American, Latino and African American students graduate from Seattle Public Schools.  Obesity is at least twice as high among high school students of color as compared to white high school students.  1 in 3 African Americans live below the poverty line, as do 1 in 4 Latinos.  And that’s just the abridged version.

Data collection is the first step to achieving equity in our communities.  Data shows the City where to target its resources, and it’s a tool to build good policies.  That’s why it’s vital for the City to invest in data collection and analysis.

Data disaggregation plays a key role in this investment.  Seattle is home to one of the most diverse zip codes in the country, but not every community is visible to its government.  For example, the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community’s needs are masked by the “model minority myth” – the idea that AAPIs are self-sufficient, well-educated, and upwardly mobile.  In reality, such generalizations hide the real differences that exist in socioeconomic status, educational attainment, health, and other areas.

Aggregated data from the American Community Survey shows that only 13% of Asian American adults in Washington lack a high school diploma, but disaggregated data shows that over 30% of Cambodian and Vietnamese adults lack a high school diploma.  And aggregated data shows that 9% of Asian American families in Washington live in poverty, though disaggregated data shows that more than 15% of Cambodian, Vietnamese, and Samoan families live in poverty.  Similar patterns can be seen in health, employment, and homeownership data.

The issue is most evident in immigrant and refugee communities.  For instance, the Arab, Middle Eastern, and Eastern European groups are lumped into the “Caucasian” category.  East Africans are bundled into the “African American” category.

Without data that’s broken out to show these communities of need, how will we help kids finish high school and lift families out of poverty in Seattle?

These groupings hide the real needs of these communities.  In a time when they City is striving to be outcome-oriented and results-driven, it’s more important than ever that we target our resources to communities who need it the most.

Last week, I convened an informal data task force made up of 10 of the brightest data managers from departments around the City. The group brainstormed ideas to improve the City’s data collection and disaggregation practices, and I plan to use my limited time on Council to lay the foundation for these improvements.