10 things we learned at Brookings in May

Number 10, in neon

As the second full month of our own telework period comes to an end, we take a look at research and analysis from Brookings experts over the past month. Although much of this research remains focused on the coronavirus pandemic, our scholars continue to look at other important public policy issues.

1. The undervalued but essential health workers

Cover imageMolly Kinder notes that millions of low-wage essential workers are risking their lives alongside doctors and nurses during the coronavirus pandemic, “but with far less prestige and recognition, very low pay, and less access to the protective equipment that could save their lives.” Kinder interviewed many such workers, and says that while these workers are proud of their work, they feel undervalued and not respected. “It is long past time that these workers are treated as truly essential,” Kinder writes and offers policy recommendations to ensure their safety, compensate them fairly, support them when they are ill, and give them the respect they deserve.

2. Middle-Class Mobility in higher education

Students walk past Wilson Library on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina, U.S., September 20, 2018. Picture taken on September 20, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake - RC131D7A3900
The extent to which children are better off than their parents economically has been declining, while intergenerational inequality has been increasing. In their report on how institutions of higher learning contribute to students’ future economic outcomes, Sarah Reber and Chenoah Sinclair note that “not all colleges offer the same opportunities for upward mobility, and whether and where young adults attend college depends heavily on their parents’ income.” Reber and Sinclair argue that “A combination of changes in policies to reduce segregation and inequality of funding across higher education is urgently needed to realize the promise of higher education as an engine for middle-class mobility.” Visit the report page to use the interactive tool to look at individual colleges.

3. COVID-19 and US-China relations

Trump and Xi Osaka 2019

Thomas Christensen “calls for a ceasefire between Beijing and Washington on criticism of the two countries’ initial responses to the SARS-CoV-2 virus,” because “the finger pointing and politically driven accusations between the worlds’ two leading powers … might have catastrophic results.” Christensen reviews six areas of cooperation for both China and the United States “in both bilateral and multilateral settings that would serve their national interests and the interests of humanity, even if they do not necessarily fit the domestic political logics of leaders in Washington and Beijing.”

4. Americans want global engagement on fighting COVID-19

A general view of the U.S. Capitol Building as seen with masked pedestrians speaking in the foreground, in Washington, D.C., on May 13, 2020 amid the Coronavirus pandemic. Today as the American death toll neared 85,000, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve warned that the potential economic cost of the COVID-19 pandemic had no modern precedent, and without strong Congressional action it could cause a wave of bankruptcies leading to permanent economic damage.(Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA)No Use UK. No Use Germany.George Ingram notes that “the American people understand the need for more robust international engagement and that foreign assistance is a key instrument in attacking the pandemic.” Ingram argues that “as Congress responds to the pandemic, they should pay attention to the understanding of the American people that this crisis needs to be fought both at home and abroad.”

5. Removing regulatory barriers to telehealth

Nurse Health Practitioner Rachelle Quimpo (C) introduces patient Shreya Sasaki to Dr. Heidi Meyer, MD Family Medicine, who appears on a video screen remotely at a newly opened Kaiser Permanente health clinic inside a Target retail department store in San Diego, California November 17, 2014. Four clinics are scheduled to open in Southern California to provide pediatric and adolescent care, well-woman care, family planning, and management of chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure for Kaiser members and non-members. REUTERS/Mike Blake (UNITED STATES - Tags: HEALTH BUSINESS SOCIETY)Nicol Turner Lee, Jack Karsten, and Jordan Roberts note that “while the search for a global vaccination to cure the disease is in process, the stress on medical providers and hospitals prompted a historic move toward the authorization and adoption of telehealth services.” These researchers argue for removing regulatory barriers to spur further adoption of telehealth practices. “Today,” they note, “telehealth has proven itself a viable supplement to an already strained healthcare system.”

6. Can Big city downtown growth outlast the coronavirus?

photoAdie Tomer and Lara Fishbane explain that that after decades of shrinking, the 53 largest U.S. metro areas (over 1 million population) experienced downtown growth that was faster than their home counties. “The surge in downtown populations is an overwhelmingly positive sign for the cities and metro areas where it’s taking place,” they write, due to the increased desirability of connection to jobs, people, and attractions. But will this growth continue in the face of the coronavirus pandemic? Tomer and Fishbane conclude that based on their research and “the pro-urban attitudes we see sprouting across the country, there’s good reason to expect cranes will keep transforming downtown skylines and surrounding neighborhoods for years to come.”

7. COVID-19 is more fatal for men

Supporters of Sunbelievable tanning salon owner Bobby Catone hold flags and signs after he opened his business against local health recommendations and a shut down order during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in the Staten Island borough of New York, U.S., May 28, 2020. REUTERS/Brendan McDermidRichard Reeves and Tiffany Ford observe that “men face a higher risk of death [from COVID-19] than women, across the U.S. and indeed across the globe.” Around 5,000 more men than women have died from the virus in the U.S. as of mid-May, they note. A variety of reasons may explain this gender gap, including underlying health and hormonal differences, and these deserve more study. “The gendered impacts of COVID-19 go well beyond immediate health effects, of course,” Reeves and Ford conclude, “and include trends in the labor market, in rates of domestic violence, in the division of caring responsibilities, and so on.”

8. The Trump administration’s Indo-Pacific policy

Former senior advisor Michael McKinley sits behind U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo duirng a meeting with foreign ministers of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam during the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Bangkok, Thailand August 1, 2019. Picture taken August 1, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/PoolLindsey Ford explores continuities between the Trump administration’s Indo-Pacific concept and the Asia policy of previous administrations. While noting that it “endorses the conventional building blocks of U.S. engagement in the Indo-Pacific region,” Ford argues that President Trump’s “America First” approach undermines the plan’s implementation. “The principal weakness of the administration’s approach thus far,” she writes, “is that by attempting to marry strategic competition with the nationalism of the president’s America First vision, it has muddied the waters of U.S. strategy.”

9. Twenty-first century skills in Africa

Optimizing Assessment for All project in Gambia

Education systems worldwide are focusing on 21st-century skills (21CS) as crucial learning goals. In their report, Helyn Kim and Esther Care describe a project in three countries—Democratic Republic of Congo, The Gambia, and Zambia—on the design, development, and use of 21CS assessments. “With relatively little assessment of 21CS in education,” they write,  the project “has taken the stance that assessment in the classroom will provide the support needed for teaching in the classroom.”

10. Advertising in higher education

The program names that are offered at DeVry University are displayed on a sign in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., September 20, 2017. Picture taken September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua LottStephanie Riegg Cellini and Latika Chaudhary write that “colleges seem to advertise nearly everywhere—on TV, on the internet, and even on subway trains.” Spending on advertising increased dramatically over the early 2000s, peaking around $1.2 billion in 2013 before declining in more recent years. Two-fifths of this spending was by degree-granting for-profit institutions that serve just 6% of students, adding to existing concerns about transparency and lack of oversight of for-profit institutions. Cellini and Chaudhary conclude that “policymakers [should] do more to enforce existing laws prohibiting misrepresentation in college advertising and consider taking additional measures to enhance transparency and accountability in the for-profit sector.”