Opportunity Insights Launches Real-Time Economic Tracker
May 7, 2020
Opportunity Insights


Today, Opportunity Insights (OI) with support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Brown University is launching a real-time economic tracker to assist policymakers in understanding the dimensions of the current economic downturn and provide evidence toward targeted and effective recovery efforts. The OI Economic Tracker brings together the power of data held by the private sector with the rigor of independent academic analysis.

“Our Economic Tracker will provide policymakers, non-profits, and the public with the tools they need to tackle an economic crisis,” says economist Raj Chetty, Director of Opportunity Insights. “Rather than waiting weeks to see where the economy is falling and playing catch-up, the new data assembled in this tool offer the capacity to spot economic problems as they emerge and to consider a more targeted policy response.”  

In the United States, the most current economic data is often held in the private sector. Payroll processors, financial service firms, and e-commerce outlets monitor financial trends that provide evidence on the state of the economy. However, information from these sources does not generally reach the public domain. When routine commercial data is brought together and combined with public-sector information, it produces economic research and analysis that provides timely insights that can inform the public and guide policy. 

“Policymakers can use this tool to understand not only the state of the economy in real-time but also whether their policies are having the desired effects,” states John Friedman. “This tool ensures that developing data-driven policies no longer means having to wait weeks or months for the data to become available — this is evidence-driven policy, updated for the era of big data.”

The OI Economic Tracker is a unified platform that aggregates data from multiple sources to present a daily picture of economic activity. The interactive dashboard focuses on key economic indicators — including small business activity, employment,  and consumer spending — alongside key contextual factors on education, public health, and policy milestones.  Moreover, this data is provided at granular geographic levels and by industry and income level. 

“Many private companies and organizations have the ability to provide statistics that offer valuable information about the state of the economy” states Nathaniel Hendren. “The Opportunity Insights Economic Tracker provides a single platform for these companies and organizations to inform the public and aid the recovery efforts.”

The OI Economic Tracker is designed to meet the immediate needs of federal, state, and local policymakers and other community leaders. Until now, elected officials have relied on survey-based data and government statistics with a lag time of up to several weeks. Although very valuable, these traditional metrics have shortcomings in assessing immediate economic shocks, like that resulting from COVID-19, when live information at a granular level is critical for shaping appropriate responses. 

“The ordinary data that private businesses use in their everyday operations can provide an extraordinary insight into real-time economic activity,” says co-author,  Michael Stepner, an economist at University Toronto and NBER. “Economic Tracker is an unprecedented collaboration, opening the insights that businesses are using daily to the public and gathering them in one place so that everyone can assess the state of the recovery.”

Data Privacy

Opportunity Insights is committed to the rigorous protection of individual and business privacy and fidelity to academic integrity through independent, non-partisan research, and policy analysis. 

The data reflected in the Opportunity Insights Economic Tracker are aggregated, de-identified, and do not reveal information about specific individuals, transactions, or businesses. Opportunity Insights is a leader in developing privacy protection tools and methods, and all data releases follow rigorous protocols to protect individual privacy. 

Each external organization that has contributed data to the Economic Tracker has done so with the explicit understanding that Opportunity Insights will use the contributed data in the Economic Tracker without precondition, subject to the data privacy standards set by data providers and any associated regulatory protections. 

The Opportunity Insights Economic Tracker is a freely available public good. Opportunity Insights will never sell or monetize data and will not share the underlying data from the Economic Tracker with any third party (including any Opportunity Insights funder).

Access the Economic Tracker

The Opportunity Insights Economic Tracker is available at tracktherecovery.org. Additional resources and analysis can be found at opportunityinsight.org/tracker-resources.

The research team plans to continually improve the tracker’s utility by adding additional data series. Subsequent versions of the OI Economic Tracker will be publicly announced.