Urban Institute

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The Urban Institute
Formation1968; 55 years ago (1968)
TypePublic policy think tank
Headquarters500 L'Enfant Plz SW
Sarah Rosen Wartell
Revenue (2016)
Expenses (2016)$104,029,153[1]

The Urban Institute is a Washington, D.C.–based think tank that carries out economic and social policy research to "open minds, shape decisions, and offer solutions".[2] 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.[3]

The Urban Institute has been referred to as "nonpartisan",[4][5] "liberal",[6] and "left-leaning".[7] In 2020, the Urban Institute co-hosted the second annual Sadie T.M. Alexander Conference for Economics and Related Fields with The Sadie Collective in Washington, D.C.[8][9]

History and funding[edit]

The Urban 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,[dubious ][citation needed] independent research organization. Their ranks included Kermit Gordon, McGeorge Bundy, Irwin Miller, Arjay Miller, Richard Neustadt, Cyrus Vance, and Robert McNamara.[10] William Gorham, former Assistant Secretary for Health, Education and Welfare, was selected as its first president and served from 1968 to 2000.

Gradually, Urban's research and funding base broadened. In 2013, federal government contracts provided about 54% of Urban's operating funds, private foundations another 30%, and nonprofits, corporations and corporate foundations, state and local governments, international organizations and foreign entities, individuals, and Urban's endowment the rest.[11] Some of Urban's more than 100 private sponsors and funders include the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation.[12] Public funding as of the 2020 fiscal year comes from various branches of the United States government including the Department of Justice, Department of Health and Human Services, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the United States Department of Agriculture.[13]

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 450 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.[14]

The Institute works with the Association of Fundraising Professionals to produce the Fundraising Effectiveness Project. This report provides a summary of data from several different donor software firms and other data providers such as Bloomerang, DonorPerfect, NeonCRM, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, DataLake, DonorTrends, eTapestry, ResultsPlus, and ClearViewCRM. According to the report, donors gave 3% more in 2016 than 2015, but getting $100 cost nonprofits $95.[15]


Sarah Rosen Wartell, a public policy executive and housing markets expert, became the third president of the Urban Institute in February 2012.[16] 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. Since at least 2015, the institute's DEI program has resulted in staff being approximately 60 % female identifying, and 25% minority staff.[1]

Board of trustees[edit]

As of 2018, the board members were: Jamie S. Gorelick (chair), Freeman A. Hrabowski III (vice chair), N. Gregory Mankiw (vice chair), J. Adam Abram, David Autor, Donald A. Baer, Erskine Bowles, Henry Cisneros, Armando Codina, Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., Shaun Donovan, Diana Farrell, Margaret A. Hamburg, Terrence P. Laughlin, Marne L. Levine, Eugene A. Ludwig, Mary J. Miller, Annette L. Nazareth, Deval Patrick, Eduardo Padrón, Charles H. Ramsey, John Wallis Rowe, Arthur I. Segel, J. Ron Terwilliger, Sarah Rosen Wartell and Anthony A. Williams.[17]

Political stance[edit]

The Urban Institute has been referred to as "nonpartisan",[4][5] "liberal",[6] and "left-leaning".[7] A 2005 study of media bias in The Quarterly Journal of Economics ranked UI as the 11th most liberal of the 50 most-cited think tanks and policy groups, placing it between the NAACP and the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals.[18] According to a study by U.S. News & World Report most political campaign donations by Urban Institute employees go to Democratic politicians. Between 2003 and 2010, Urban Institute employees' made $79,529 in political contributions, none of which went to the Republican Party.[19]


As of 2020, the Urban Institute had assets of $212,923,643.[1]

Funding details[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Annual Report 2020" (PDF). Urban Institute. Retrieved 8 March 2022.
  2. ^ "About the Urban Institute". Urban Institute.
  3. ^ "Urban Institute Entry Level Jobs and Internships". CollegeGrad.com.
  4. ^ a b Cohen, Rick (2014-12-12). "The Inner Workings of Think Tanks: Transparify Gives Us a Good Look". Nonprofit Quarterly. Archived from the original on 2016-05-31. Retrieved 2018-08-20. ... the Urban Institute, and others are typically considered nonpartisan or middle of the road.
  5. ^ a b McLean, Jim (2014-11-20). "Kansas hospitals continue campaign for Medicaid expansion". Kansas Health Institute. Archived from the original on 2014-12-16. Retrieved 2018-08-20. ... the nonpartisan Urban Institute ...
  6. ^ a b Rich, Spencer (1988-06-12). "Urban Institute, Leading Liberal Think Tank, Marks 20th Birthday". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2010-07-01. Retrieved 2018-08-20.
  7. ^ a b Hellmann, Jessie (September 16, 2017). "GOP sees fresh opening with Dems' single payer embrace". The Hill. Retrieved April 6, 2022. A 2016 estimate from the left-leaning Urban Institute found a previous plan from Sanders would cost $32 trillion over 10 years.
  8. ^ "UMBC students Anna Gifty Opoku-Agyeman and Olusayo Adeleye co-create 1st U.S. conference for Black women economists". UMBC News. March 6, 2019.
  9. ^ Sahm, Claudia (2020-02-28). "Black economists are missing from the Federal Reserve and the U.S. economics profession". Equitable Growth.
  10. ^ "Remarks at a Meeting With the Board of Trustees of the Urban Institute". The American Presidency Project. 26 April 1968. Retrieved 18 June 2018.
  11. ^ "2013 Financials" (PDF). Urban Institute. 2013. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 February 2015.
  12. ^ "Sources of Support - Fiscal Year 2013 Revenue: Funding Sources" (PDF). Urban Institute. 2013. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 February 2015.
  13. ^ Wartell, Sarah Rosen (2020). "2020 Annual Report" (PDF). Urban Institute. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2022-06-30. Retrieved 2022-06-30.
  14. ^ "Financial Overview". Urban Institute.
  15. ^ "Report: Net On $100 In Giving Is Just $5 - The NonProfit Times". The NonProfit Times. Retrieved 2017-05-04.
  16. ^ "Urban Institute Press Release: Sarah Rosen Wartell, Think Tank Executive and Housing Finance Expert, to be the Urban Institute's Third President".
  17. ^ "Board of Trustees". Urban Institute. Retrieved 19 June 2018.
  18. ^ Groseclose, Tim & Milyo, Jeffrey. (2005). "A Measure of Media Bias." Archived 2014-03-08 at the Wayback Machine The Quarterly Journal of Economics Vol. CXX November Issue 4, pp. 1191–1237.
  19. ^ Kurtzleben, Danielle (3 March 2011). "Think Tank Employees Tend to Support Democrats". U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved 18 June 2018.

External links[edit]