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Inequality is back on the national agenda. Over the past decade, the growing gap between the haves and have-nots in health, economic opportunity, educational outcomes, and other areas has taken on greater urgency among advocates, researchers, and policymakers. While groups like Occupy Wall Street and political candidates across the ideological spectrum have made national economic inequality a central theme in their platforms, cities have also become important hubs of action for addressing inequality on a metropolitan scale.

To better understand how layers of inequality compound one another, a group of UNC faculty, researchers, and students have created the Carolina Inequality Lab, a working group that will bring together and support inter-disciplinary thinking on how different mechanisms affect inequality at the metropolitan scale. Created through CCC’s Hub for Opportunity, Prosperity, and Entrepreneurship (HOPE), the group will provide space for social scientists and scholars from law, planning, public health, education, social work, government, economics, and other disciplines to share ideas and collaborate on cutting-edge research.

In early April, the Lab held an inaugural working session to brainstorm ideas for building working relationships across departments, present new ideas and solutions, and showcase the role that Carolina can play in these important discussions. We were excited to have 15 faculty and research staff from across the University, including Dean Rudi Colloredo-Mansfeld, participate. Researchers emphasized the need to share skillsets and resources across disciplines, make research more collaborative, and create both in-person and digital forums for the people, data, and publications involved in metropolitan inequality research. They also expressed a desire to learn more about the research needs of policymakers and discussed ways of making the Lab into a collaborative space for academics and practitioners.

The Inequality Lab website will be a vital platform to make this research accessible to the greater public. For example, the site currently hosts and interactive visualization of distressed census tracts in North Carolina between 1970 and 2015. The data, compiled by Department of City and Regional Planning faculty T. William Lester and Nikhil Kaza with the support of DCRP graduate Taylor McAdam, merges income, unemployment, and poverty data to show how local economic distress has changed over time. Tools like this can help readers engage and explore findings more visually and make connections between research and their own communities.

Because inequality pervades almost every aspect of a community, it’s a challenge that deserves a multi-dimensional approach. The Carolina Inequality Lab has the opportunity to help foster the collaboration needed to find more refined solutions to one of the most pressing problems faced by today’s communities. We will continue to expand the depth and breadth of the Lab in the coming months. During Fall 2019 we plan to host two more convenings of researchers from across the university, and identify priority programs that will help us achieve the Inequality Lab’s vision.


This post was written by Frank Muraca. Frank is a Master’s student of City and Regional Planning and a Graduate Fellow at the Center for Community Capital. He is working with Dr. Lester to develop the Carolina Inequality Lab. For more information about the Lab, or to be added to the Lab’s budding listserve, email

Topics(s): Economic Mobility, Financial Inclusion
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