10 things we learned at Brookings in February

Number 10 sign

February was a short month, but there was no shortage of research and analysis from Brookings scholars. Here’s a sample of 10 things we learned.

1. The economic impact of COVID-19 on core industries and the Hispanic workforce

Las Vegas, NV, April 23, 2020: View of empty, eerie Las Vegas Strip during the coronavirus pandemic lock-down.Aaron Klein and Ember Smith compared the economic impacts of COVID-19 in three cities negatively impacted (Las Vegas, Orlando, and Reno, which specialize in hospitality and leisure) to three that were not as much (technology hubs Seattle and San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., which specializes in government). “COVID-19, which devastated some industries like leisure and hospitality, barely impacted others,” they write, and where it did hit hard, Hispanic or Latino workers were particularly harmed. Read more to learn about their policy recommendations.

2. Nearly half of essential workers are in low-paid occupations


“America’s essential workforce deserves a raise,” argue Molly Kinder and Laura Stateler. In their analysis, they note that essential workers are nearly half of all workers in occupations with a median wage below $15/hour, and also that “Black and brown workers are overrepresented among the nearly 19 million frontline essential workers in occupations with a median wage less than $15 an hour, half of whom are nonwhite.” Raising the federal minimum wage, Kinder and Stateler write, would disproportionately benefit these workers, “who too often are denied decent-paying work.”

3. Three pathways for multilateralism

Flags are placed at the G7 summit in Taormina, Italy, May 26, 2017. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi
With the rise of nationalism and unilateralism around the world, Thomas Wright explores “three pathways that multilateralism might take,” especially with respect to Europe: incrementalism (gradually integrating China and other non-Western powers into the world order); alone in the jungle (Europe as a “third pole” between China and the U.S.); or reinvigorating the free world (Europe and the U.S. cooperating to strengthen democracies against authoritarianism). Read his report to get his assessment of these paths, and also why he argues that “Democracies will have to demonstrate to their citizens that an internationalist and cooperative foreign policy delivers concrete results on issues that matter directly to their day-to-day lives.”

4. Make Congress a better place to work

The U.S. flag flies in front of the Capitol Dome at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., September 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts - RC12EA411BD0
In a paper for the Blueprints for American Renewal and Prosperity project, Molly Reynolds calls for making Congress a better place to work for its hundreds of elected officials and thousands of support staff. Offering a number of reform ideas, Reynolds argues that a “well-resourced, high-capacity Congress where employees from diverse backgrounds and experiences can build long careers and expertise is a necessary condition for successful legislating in the years ahead.”

5. Strengthen international cooperation on artificial intelligence

The World Artificial Intelligence Conference (WAIC) officially opened in Shanghai on Thursday under the theme of "Intelligent Connectivity, Indivisible Community" with hundreds of speakers and industry experts sharing their insights on the latest developments in AI. Intelligent robots are displaying on the ground floor of Shanghai Expo Centre, Shanghai, China, 9 July 2020.No Use China. No Use France.
In another paper from the Blueprints for American Renewal and Prosperity initiative, Joshua Meltzer and Cameron Kerry analyze the global landscape of cooperation on artificial intelligence—with attention to the challenges posed both by China and prescriptive regulation—and propose policies to strengthen international cooperation. “To foster AI policies that support development of beneficial, trustworthy, and robust artificial intelligence,” they argue, “will require international engagement by the United States and cooperation among like-minded democracies that are leaders in artificial intelligence.”

6. How to spur action on the Sustainable Development Goals

Cover of the 2020 17 Rooms annual report

The Sustainable Development Goals adopted by all UN member states in 2015 are a blueprint to make progress in 17 key areas by 2030. While the global COVID-19 pandemic has impeded progress and collaboration on meeting the SDGs, the work must continue. In this report, the Center for Sustainable Development at Brookings in partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation describes 17 Rooms, a “new approach to stimulating cooperative action toward the [SDGs],” and “an efficient way of convening natural allies, ideally promoting enough familiarity to enable collaboration and enough diversity to spark new ideas and pathways to action.”

7. A plan to restore federal government ethics and rule of law

Law, legal, judge concept. Lady justice with USA flag in background

“When it comes to federal government ethics and the rule of law, a great deal was broken in the past four years that must now be repaired.” In a new report, Brookings scholar Norm Eisen, Virginia Canter—from the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington—and other experts review how the Trump administration “watered down” ethics rules in government, and how President Biden’s ethics plan can fix what’s broken to restore federal government ethics and the rule of law.

8. Experts weigh in on President Biden’s first foreign policy address

US President Joe Biden makes a foreign policy speech at the State Department in Washington, DC, USA, 04 February 2021.Biden announced that he is ending US support for the Saudis offensive operations in Yemen.No Use Germany.
After Joe Biden’s first major foreign policy speech as president on February 4, nearly 20 foreign policy experts at Brookings offered their views on what they heard. For example, Célia Belin, hearing President Biden say that “alliance are our greatest asset,” asked, “alliances to do what?” “The United States will find eager partners in Europe,” Belin observed. “Not only has the European Union already provided a list of topics on which to engage, but all major European leaders have expressed a desire to work together.” On China, Ryan Hass noted that “President Biden’s treatment of China in his first foreign policy address signaled that he views China as a central challenge, but not a burning issue that eclipses all other concerns.” Read more to hear what scholars had to say about other topics, including Russia, refugees, India, and arms control.

9. Consider wealth, not income, for student loan debt cancellation

student debtAndre Perry and Carl Romer explore approaching student debt cancellation by wealth, not by income. As tuition costs have risen far more than wages and inflation, they observe, so too have increased amounts of borrowing and student debt. “The problem is especially pertinent for Black households,” they note, “for whom a lack of generational wealth risks making student debt a long-term financial burden.” The wealth disparity between Black and non-Black people means that Black households are not building as much wealth that can help pay off student loans. Perry and Romer argue that “because student debt disproportionately harms the wealth-poor—and the Black wealth-poor in particular—student debt cancellation could be a powerful tool in dismantling institutional discrimination and shrinking racial wealth disparities if implemented correctly.”

10. A time squeeze hurts middle-class Americans

shutterstock_time squeeze

Over the last few decades, the wages of middle-class men have stagnated; women’s increased work is the main reason middle-class workers have had income gains at all (and those still lower than the bottom and top quintiles of earners). In their report, Tiffany Ford, Jennifer Silva, Morgan Welch, and Isabel Sawhill explore the “time squeeze” felt by many middle-class Americans as they navigate often family-unfriendly workplaces to “document the pressure that many parents experience as they try to balance paid work and caring for others.” Their argument: “the centrality of work shapes how middle-class Americans think about and utilize their time. This top-down shaping of middle–class time has negative impacts on well-being and has direct implications for their health, relationships, and overall sense of autonomy and purpose.”