New grant will fund study on preemption's effects on health, economic disparities in Kansas City

LAWRENCE — Knowing that economic and racial disparities are correlated with poor health and lower life expectancy, in 2015 Kansas City area policymakers tried to increase the local minimum wage. Yet, after the Kansas City Council passed its ordinance, the Missouri Legislature countered with a bill restricting local governments from setting a higher local minimum wage than the state.

This one example highlights the legal doctrine known as preemption, the ability of a higher authority of law to override the decisions of a lower one – in this case, the precedence of state laws to override local policy.

Stoplight at Troost Avenue in Kansas City, Missouri
Photo credit: Chris Koliba

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Urban Institute’s Policies for Action program has awarded more than $382,000 to researchers at the University of Kansas and the National Academy of Public Administration for a study of how such preemptive public policies may be contributing to economic insecurity and health inequities in the Kansas City area. The research team will use policy narrative analysis and participatory modeling to study how state preemption affects the economic, housing and health insecurities of communities of color in Kansas City.

Sharp economic disparities exist in the Kansas City area. U.S. Census Bureau data shows that homeownership rates for white residents are 3 to 5 times higher than rates of Black homeowners and that the average annual income of Black workers is 19-27% less than weekly wages for white workers in the region. An Urban Institute report shows that economic hardship is correlated to poor health, and these gaps contribute to stark health disparities in the region. The City Health Dashboard reports the average lifespan for Black residents is between 4.5 and 6.2 years shorter than the average lifespan for white residents.

Chris Koliba, Edwin O. Stene Distinguished Professor of Public Administration, Policy & Governance in the School of Public Affairs & Administration at KU, and Nancy Augustine, director of the Center for Intergovernmental Partnerships at the National Academy of Public Administration, will lead the study.

“We are excited that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation saw fit to award us this grant to develop a better understanding of the ‘narrative ecosystem’ shaping the policy debates regarding state preemption and locally generated responses to health, wage and housing disparities in the K.C. metro region,” Koliba said. “We hope to surface how policymakers, advocates and those most impacted by state preemption narrate why and how these policy actions are impacting wage earners, employers, renters and landlords.”

The research team will engage members of the community, advocacy groups and service providers to learn how they think about policies that disproportionately affect communities of color.

“We hope to share the different ‘narrative ecosystems’ surrounding these policy actions with those most impacted by them by partnering with community-based organizations serving communities of color in the region,” Koliba said. 

In addition, the partnership between Koliba and Augustine as principal investigators for this project reflects a new direction for the National Academy of Public Administration. The academy supports federal, state, local and tribal governments and other organizations through research and resources.

“The relationship between local, state and federal decision-makers is a critically important area of study as communities seek to improve public health and economic outcomes,” said Terry Gerton, president and CEO of the National Academy of Public Administration. “The more we understand about how preemption impacts everyday people, the better equipped governments at all levels will be to work towards solutions that empower everyone. We’re excited to partner with the University of Kansas on this important work.”

The Institute for Policy & Social Research supported the proposal and will manage the project.

Thu, 05/23/2024


Carolyn Caine

Media Contacts

Carolyn Caine

Institute for Policy & Social Research