Disparity Studies

Roy Wilkins Center for Human Relations and Social Justice
Humphrey School of Public Affairs

217 Humphrey School
301 19th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States

The Roy Wilkins Center for Human Relations and Social Justice is regarded as one of the country's leading research centers specializing in objective analyses of racial and ethnic economic inequality.

Its director, Professor Samuel Myers Jr., is a national authority on the evaluation of race-conscious programs and race-neutral alternatives to those programs. His pioneering research on the evaluation of Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) programs and the use of race-neutral methods has appeared in Applied Economics Letters, Encyclopedia of African American Business History, and the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management.

The center has conducted disparity studies on behalf of more than a dozen public sector clients, to help them determine the degree to which inequality affects contracting opportunities for socially and economically disadvantaged groups in their regions.

New Jersey Transit Corp. Study  
The Wilkins Center was awarded a $490,487 contract to conduct a disparity study on behalf of the New Jersey Transit Corp (NJ TRANSIT). The research, which took place from 2014 to 2016, guided NJ TRANSIT's use of race-conscious DBE goals. The objective was to address specifically those socially disadvantaged groups for which there is evidence of discrimination in contracting opportunities.

This NJ TRANSIT study, called a 4th Generation Disparity Study, went beyond comparing the availability and utilization of Small, Minority, Women, and Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (S/M/W/DBE). It examined whether there are statistically significant disparities in contract award amounts, bid success rates, and prequalification rates, and whether there are specific market barriers to full participation in the entire range of procurement and contracting activities of NJ TRANSIT.

The study also detailed the performance of race-neutral programs and examined whether the policies and practices of race-conscious programs resulted in an undue burden on firms that are not DBEs. 

Other Disparities Studies
The Wilkins Center has conducted 14 annual or triennial disadvantaged business enterprise goals reports and five disparity studies over the past several years. In support of these studies, Professor Myers has served as an expert witness in federal litigation: GEOD v. New Jersey Transit (2010) and Geyer v. MnDOT (2014).

The Wilkins Center has also provided technical assistance related to disparity studies to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, Essex County, New Jersey Transit, Rhode Island Public Transportation Authority, the City of Richmond, Midwest Minority Supplier Development Council, the American Indian Chamber of Commerce, and the Washington Suburban Sanitation Commission.

Professor Myers speaks regularly before national organizations on methodological issues related to the proper conduct of a defensible disparity study. Recent presentations include: National Association of Minority Contractors; the National Forum for Black Public Administrators; and the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies of Science.