Urban Institute

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The Urban Institute is a Washington DC-based think tank that carries out economic and social policy research, collects data, evaluates social programs, educates the public on key domestic issues, and provides advice and technical assistance to developing governments abroad.[1] The institute receives funding from government contracts, foundations and private donors. The Urban Institute measures policy effects, compares options, shows which stakeholders get the most and least, tests conventional wisdom, reveals trends, and makes costs, benefits, and risks explicit.[2]

History and funding[edit]

The Institute was established in 1968 by the Lyndon B. Johnson administration to study the nation’s urban problems and evaluate the Great Society initiatives embodied in more than 400 laws passed in the prior four years. Johnson hand-selected well-known economists and civic leaders to create the non-partisan, independent research organization. Their ranks included Kermit Gordon, McGeorge Bundy, Irwin Miller, Arjay Miller, Richard Neustadt, Cyrus Vance, and Robert McNamara.[3] William Gorham, former Assistant Secretary for Health, Education and Welfare, was selected as its first president and served from 1968-2000.

Gradually, the Institute's research and funding base broadened. Today, federal government contracts provide about 55% of the Institute’s operating funds, foundations another 34%, and state and local governments and private individuals the rest.[4] Some of the Institute’s more than 100 private sponsors and funders include The Atlantic Philanthropies, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation.

Current initiatives[edit]

At any given time 200 or more projects are underway at the Institute. New work includes studies on retirement and aging in America, who pays income taxes, state implementation of the Affordable Care Act, working families and their children, immigrant children in US schools, the cost-effectiveness of crime prevention, and the personal and national challenges of long-term unemployment. The Institute also studies the family, economic, and societal issues faced by prisoners released from prison. Overseas, UI has had projects in 20 countries, providing technical assistance in decentralization, local governance, and service delivery. Many Urban Institute policy centers are recognized as the leading policy institutes in their fields.


Urban Institute's staff of approximately 350 works in several research centers and program areas: the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy; Metropolitan Housing and Community Policy Center; Health Policy Center; Education Policy Center; Income and Benefits Policy Center; the Center on International Development and Governance; the Justice Policy Center; the Labor, Human Services, and Population Center and the Low Income Working Families project. The Institute also houses the Urban Institute -Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center, the National Center for Charitable Statistics and Urban Institute Press. In 2010, the Institute conducted research related to all 50 states and roughly 25 countries.[5]


Sarah Rosen Wartell, a public policy executive and housing markets expert, became the third president of the Urban Institute in February 2012.[6] She succeeded Robert D. Reischauer, former head of the Congressional Budget Office. Reischauer succeeded William Gorham, founding president, in 2000.

Most Urban Institute researchers are economists, social scientists, or public policy and administration researchers. Others are mathematicians, statisticians, city planners, engineers, or computer scientists. A few have backgrounds in medicine, law, or arts and letters. Unique among the nation's largest research organizations, the Institute is 63% female, and five of the ten research center directors are women. As of mid-2011, 27% of the Institute's staff is minority.[7][broken citation]

Board of Trustees[edit]

In 2011, Board members are: Joel L. Fleishman (Chairman), Robert M. Solow (Vice Chairman), J. Adam Abram, Afsaneh Beschloss, Jamie S. Gorelick, Fernando Guerra, Richard C. Green, Jr., Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, Annette L. Nazareth, Melvin L. Oliver, Joshua B. Rales, Robert D. Reischauer, Jeremy Travis, Anthony A. Williams, and Judy Woodruff.

Political stance[edit]

The Urban Institute has been referred to as "independent"[8][9] and as "liberal".[10] According to a study by U.S. News & World Report, like most think-tank employees, political campaign donations by Urban Institute employees go to Democratic politicians.[11]


External links[edit]