low-income families. Some studies have included field experiments of alternative welfare policies; other studies have taken advantage of natural experiments provided by major changes in national welfare policy and variations in implementation by states.
We have stressed in several chapters the need for rich longitudinal data sets that follow individuals over time and hence permit studies of cumulative disadvantage, as well as studies that delineate paths by which disadvantage—and possible discrimination—occurs. Statistical agencies fund some of the major panel surveys, such as the National Longitudinal Surveys of Labor Market Behavior of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but many panel surveys are funded by public and private research agencies. These surveys represent significant components of the data infrastructure for social science research. Public and private research agencies interested in facilitating studies of racial discrimination, particularly over long periods of time, can usefully consider ways to augment ongoing and new panel surveys to provide relevant data.
Our report has documented the strengths and weaknesses that various methodologies and data sources can bring to the table for measuring racial discrimination. The difficulties of analysis in this area make it daunting for program and research funding agencies to develop focused, cost-effective agendas for research and data collection. We have suggested some strategies for developing future research plans. We urge that research on racial discrimination, whether focused on program agency priorities for analysis of a particular domain or more basic research on cumulative disadvantage, bring multiple perspectives to bear and use multiple methods and data sources. Although current and even past racial discrimination may be only part of the explanation for persistent racial gaps in important domains of social and economic life, it is important for public policy and public understanding to carry out research on the role of discrimination among all of the factors that shape American society today.