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President-Elect Joe Biden has a daunting task ahead of him: reviving an economy that’s depressed while governing a country that’s politically divided. But one of his core advisers, Raj Chetty, believes that there’s a way to push past the politics: data.
Mr. Chetty, head of the Harvard-based research group Opportunity Insights, has amassed a powerhouse of data drawing on everything from anonymized I.R.S. tax filings to credit card spending. Armed with that information, he’s able to understand whether meritocracy — or inequality — determines the economic fate of Americans. He’s also able to translate millions of data points into clear visualizations and concrete policy proposals.
In this episode of Sway, Mr. Chetty draws on data to answer questions like what age a person’s future has been largely determined (around 23), which ZIP codes provide the most economic opportunity (including some in rural Iowa), and what stands between a third-grader who will grow up to become an inventor and one who will not.
Mr. Chetty’s own trajectory was shaped by a move his parents made when he was 9 years old — from India to the U.S. — to pursue the American dream. His datasets reveal that this American dream is fading for future generations. But Mr. Chetty is determined to revive it. And given his influence on the future president, the economist may finally have his chance.
This episode of “Sway” was produced by Nayeema Raza, Heba Elorbany, Matt Kwong and Vishakha Darbha and edited by Paula Szuchman; fact-checking by Kate Sinclair; music and sound design by Isaac Jones. Special thanks to Renan Borelli, Liriel Higa and Kathy Tu.