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As recent policies and advocacy movements seek to correct centuries of inequities, the barriers faced by justice-impacted individuals are still often overlooked. Despite the fact that education and a stable career with a living wage decrease the odds of recidivism, Latinx and Black Californians are less likely to earn a living wage (46% and 51%) than White individuals (73%), according to California Competes findings, while also being more likely to be impacted by the criminal justice system. Inequities such as this highlight the necessity of leveraging usable, accurate data to inform policy decisions. Having data in hand allows advocacy efforts and funding to be targeted, yielding  the greatest impact. With that in mind, the Michelson 20MM Foundation awarded a Spark Grant to California Competes as they continue to leverage the power of data visualization.

California Competes demonstrates both an understanding of the importance of turning big data into usable information and the tangible success that is possible in doing so. The California Postsecondary to Prosperity Dashboard, launched in 2020, combines disaggregated data from 12 datasets into one, powerful data visualization tool. Information points include the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Communities Survey, CA Department of Education’s graduation and completion rates, U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, California Employment Development Department’s Occupational Employment Statistics, and more. Together, they provide a picture of high school graduation rates; college enrollment, transfer, and completion rates; employment and occupational projections; median debt levels among graduates; living wages by geographic region; and demographic information to name a few. By using data to showcase disparities across California, the Dashboard enables stakeholders and advocates to see the complexities of systemic inequities by region.

Over the coming year, via support from a Michelson Spark Grant, California Competes will continue to incorporate data related to incarceration in their already powerful dashboard. Furthermore, the Dashboard is a perfect medium (rather than static data) since policymakers have become comfortable with the visualization tool via its widespread implementation during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Dashboard, which is open and accessible to everyone, will provide actionable insights for allies to better aid justice-impacted individuals and their communities. 

“For more than a decade, the Michelson 20MM Foundation has been committed to serving marginalized communities by improving equity in higher education,” Kenia Miranda Verdugo, Smart Justice program manager stated. “California Competes’ Dashboard will be a valuable tool in ensuring systems impacted individuals have access to education, living wages, and public resources.”

With equity-focused policies gaining traction on the state and national level, it is critical to turn data related to incarceration into impactful solutions that can support this population. Following Pell Grant restoration for justice-impacted individuals and California Governor Newsom’s budgetary proposal to increase funding for California’s higher education system based on equity goals, the time to underscore and understand the complex inequities faced by currently and formerly incarcerated students is now. 

We look forward to supporting California Competes in raising awareness of the disparities faced by justice-impacted individuals as the Dashboard uncovers broken pathways.

Michelson 20MM is a private, nonprofit foundation seeking to accelerate progress towards a more just world through grantmaking, operating programs, and impact investing. Co-chaired and funded by Alya and Gary Michelson, Michelson 20MM is part of the Michelson Philanthropies network of foundations.

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