The Urban Institute (UI) was founded in 1968 by a panel of government officials and civic leaders. Then-President Lyndon Johnson called the group together to monitor the vast array of Great Society programs his administration had created. UI's first President was William Gorham, who had served from 1965-1968 as Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. In 2000, he was succeeded as UI President by Robert Reischauer.
The Urban Institute describes itself as a "nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research and educational organization established to examine the social, economic, and governance problems facing the nation [the United States]." It publishes studies, reports, and books on topics it deems worthy of public consideration. UI's research focuses on the areas of Crime and Justice; Economy and Taxes; Education; Healthcare; Housing; Welfare; and Work and Income. In addition, it operates an "Assessing the New Federalism Project," a multi-year survey on the effect of the transfer of social welfare programs from the federal government to the states. Financed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and a consortium of philanthropies, the findings of this project confirmed the Casey Foundation's belief that adequate incomes and child care arrangements can best be ensured by increased government spending and an expansion of federal welfare programs.
In 1980, UI called for socialized health care in the United States, and in 1982 began a running critique of the Reagan Administration under its Changing Domestic Priorities Project; the critique ran to 26 volumes, with research paid for by the Ford Foundation.
In 1990, UI put together a similar critique of the administration of President George H.W. Bush. In the wake of the Los Angeles riots in 1992, UI became a leading policy-center apologist for urban black violence, focusing on societal and economic, rather than moral and criminal, factors in its analysis of the riots.
In 2001, UI and the Brookings Institution began collaboration on a Tax Policy Center (TPC) to discredit President George W. Bush's tax cut plans, which UI claimed disproportionately and unjustly favored "the wealthy."
Lamenting the societal obstacles that allegedly prevent African Americans from prospering, a May 2006 UI report "exposes the dire education and employment straits of young black men," stating that "[o]nly half of black men age 16 to 24 who are out of school are employed at any given time." The report explains this phenomenon as follows: "The good blue-collar jobs that men with high school diplomas or less could expect to get a generation ago -- in manufacturing and other sectors -- have either disappeared or pay much less than before. The education and skills required for higher-paying jobs have clearly risen…. Meanwhile, the prospect of getting stuck in low-wage service jobs, which are available, holds little appeal."
Making a case for taxpayer-funded system of socialized medicine, another May 2006 UI report concludes that "public insurance appears to offer the best financial protection from high out-of-pocket expenses and financial burden for low-income families."
In a June 2006 report on immigration and government tax revenues, UI concludes that: "Immigrants in Washington, D.C. pay their fair share of the region's tax bill. The most educated foreign-born earners actually pay more in taxes than natives; the lower skilled contribute too." This report makes no distinction between legal immigrants and illegal aliens, the latter of whom it refers to as "unauthorized immigrants."
Among UI's donors are the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; the Ford Foundation; the Rockefeller Foundation; the Aetna Foundation; the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation; the Nathan Cummings Foundation; the Ahmanson Foundation; the Energy Foundation; the W.K. Kellogg Foundation; the American Express Foundation; the Fannie Mae Foundation; the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; the JEHT Foundation; the J.M. Kaplan Fund; the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; the Open Society Institute; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; the Public Welfare Foundation; the Surdna Foundation; the Bank of America Foundation; the Carnegie Corporation of New York; the Joyce Foundation; the Minneapolis Foundation; the Woods Fund of Chicago; and the Verizon Foundation.
From 1996 to 2003, UI received over $60 million in foundation money. In addition, the federal government awarded UI nearly $55 million during the last few years of the Clinton administration. UI now employs a staff of 378 and has an annual budget of $70 million.