What’s the Difference Between Equality and Equity?

 In Equity

The American Planning Association defines equity as “just and fair inclusion into a society in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential. Unlocking the promise of the nation by unleashing the promise in us all.”

The inclusive, holistic nature of this definition provides the foundation for considering and applying equity and justice in all facets of planning and policy. Planning for equity and justice is intended to challenge those practices that result in policies, programs, regulations, and behaviors that disproportionately impact and impede the progress of certain segments of the population more than others. Done with intention, equity and justice form a thread that must be woven through the fabric of all plans, regulations, developments, and policy options in civic life.

Although both promote fairness, equality achieves this through treating everyone the same regardless of need, while equity achieves this through treating people differently dependent on need. However, this different treatment may be the key to reaching equality. Equity plays a key role in achieving equality. If equality is the goal, equity is the means to get there.

Disparities or inequities in health, income, education, opportunity, mobility, and choice are apparent in every community irrespective of size or location. As a result, entire groups of people, due to their income, race, age, gender, sexual orientation, immigration status, religion, and/or disability experience limited access to opportunity and advancement.

Inequity, which is measurable, is marked by two key attributes that often work together:

Disproportionality When the outcomes of a project or plan create or amplify disparities in only part of a community, the disproportionate impacts can lead to further social and economic impairment of some groups while others receive the full benefit of the effort.

Institutionalized Inequity is often embedded in methodologies that justify systemic policies, ignore negative outcomes and disproportionate impacts, and do not extend adequate support to the affected areas and their residents, not even giving them a voice.

The history of modern discriminatory practices—from zoning regulations and banking practices to policies that “ghettoize” people with disabilities, elders, people of color, the poor and underserved, LGBTQ individuals, and immigrants—are widespread in every state and city in the union. Technically illegal per federal law, coded language in policies and practices which perpetuate exclusionary behavior create a legacy—a “slippery slope”—that ensures difficulties and often insurmountable hurdles for people to secure a foothold in the economic mainstream.

In recent years, the gap between the rich and poor, between Whites and Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, and other minority populations, between Christians and people of other faiths, between young and old, between city dwellers and rural residents, between the educated “elite” and the less educated working poor—that gap has become an abyss, shifting the very baselines of what our nation’s founding tenets proclaim.

It is a cleavage exposed and heightened most shockingly by such events as the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020, and by the devastating impacts of climate change calamities and the COVID-19 pandemic. To say that inequity and injustice are rife and unsustainable is to greatly understate the matter. These inequities threaten our very foundations as human beings in a civilized democratic society.

Today, many cities and counties, some states, and thousands of agencies, organizations, and private enterprises are renewing and deepening their resolve to address the systemic, institutionalized discrimination and biases that are the roots feeding the inequities and injustice throughout our society. The Joslyn Institute is conducting a study of several cities’ and counties’ programs to work toward equity and equality and will publish the results this year.

Recent Posts