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Mar 15, 2019; Port St. Lucie, FL, USA; Washington Nationals catcher Yan Gomes (10) rounds the bases after connecting for a three run homer during a spring training game against the New York Mets at First Data Field. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports - 12352962
Brookings Now

10 things we learned at Brookings in August

Brookings experts were busy in August with research and commentary on a wide range of policy issues. Here’s a sample.

1. Only about a third of Americans aRE very worried about foreign interference in US elections

Voters cast their ballots in the Eastmont Community Center during midterms elections in East Los Angeles, California, U.S. November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Kyle Grillot - RC1792D4D200
Voters cast their ballots in the Eastmont Community Center during midterms elections in East Los Angeles, California, November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Kyle Grillot

In a Brookings Institution poll of Americans about election security, 34% said that foreign interference in US elections is “very much” a threat, while 23% responded “somewhat,” about a fourth said “not very much,” and the rest were unsure. Darrell West, vice president and director of Governance Studies at Brookings, who oversaw the poll, writes that “Concern about foreign interference is moving a number of people to say they are more likely to vote in 2020.”

2. China and Russia are leaders in developing and exporting tech tools for authoritarian rule

Security cameras are installed at the entrance to the Id Kah Mosque during a government organised trip in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 4, 2019. Picture taken January 4, 2019. TO MATCH INSIGHT CHINA-XINJIANG/ REUTERS/Ben Blanchard - RC1B96A66D80
Security cameras at the entrance to the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard

Alina Polyakova and Chris Meserole examine the Chinese and Russian models of “digital authoritarianism”—the development and export of digital IT to surveil, repress, and manipulate foreign and domestic populations. Their recommendations for what the U.S. and other democracies should do to address this phenomenon include tightening export controls on key technologies, sanction regimes and firms that traffic in digital authoritarianism, and “increase public awareness around information manipulation, including funding educational programs to build digital critical thinking skills among youth.”

3. A majority of Brazilians opposes deforestation of the Amazon

An aerial view shows smoke rising over a deforested plot of the Amazon jungle in Porto Velho, Rondonia State, Brazil, in this August 24, 2019 picture taken with a drone. Picture taken August 24, 2019. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RC180A432CE0
Smoke rising over a deforested plot of the Amazon jungle in Porto Velho, Rondonia State, Brazil, August 24, 2019. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

In a recent episode of “The Current” podcast, Otaviano Canuto comments on the recent increase in fires in the Amazon region, home to 23 million people—45% of whom are below the poverty line. He says while there is “no widespread popular basis to what’s happening in the region,” attention must be paid to ongoing efforts to sustainably use the Amazon’s natural resources, including good forest management, sustainable mining, and use of hydroelectric power.

4. Private sector union membership has been declining, with significant consequences

FILE PHOTO: UAW President Gary Jones (L) shakes hands with Ford Motor Co Chairman Bill Ford at the start of contract talks between the union and the automaker in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., July 15, 2019. REUTERS/Nick Carey/File Photo - RC16195E6A40
UAW President Gary Jones (L) shakes hands with Ford Motor Co. Chairman Bill Ford at the start of contract talks between the union and the automaker in Detroit, Michigan, July 15, 2019. REUTERS/Nick Carey

In a new report from The Hamilton Project at Brookings, researchers observe that most of the decline in union membership has been concentrated in the private sector—today only 6.4% of private sector workers belong to a union. “The decline in union membership is economically important,” the authors write, as “unions lift wages, reduce inequality, and shape how work is organized, among other effects.”

5. Access to parks provides many benefits, but is unequal across the US

Gateway Corner Park, Pittsburgh, PA
Gateway Corner Park, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Joseph Kane and Adie Tomer write that “Park access should be a driver of more livable and equitable communities across the country, supporting common spaces for recreation, interaction, and trust.” However, the share of residents in many large metro areas—especially in the southeast—living near a park is less than a third. Kane and Tomer add that “parks can only reach their peak potential if every household can access such green space, and that access shouldn’t be tied to a private vehicle or an unreasonable walking distance.”

6. Women are the primary earner in 40 percent of middle-class families

Lauren Hoffmann, 29, a college program manager, interacts with a colleague at work in San Antonio, Texas, U.S., February 15, 2019. Hoffmann's baby boy Micah is just a few weeks old and already she is back at work. She only had five and a half weeks of accrued paid time off from her job. "You're worried about this tiny little new life, you love it so fiercely," she said. "Having more time to feel like you're getting good at this ... I think that could only be a good thing." REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare SEARCH "O'HARE PARENTAL" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. - RC1B59146620
Lauren Hoffmann, 29, a college program manager, at work in San Antonio, Texas, February 15, 2019. REUTERS/Callaghan O’Hare

Richard Reeves and Ashley Schobert examine how women’s wages have changed in recent decades. In 1975, for example, women were the main breadwinner in 26% of middle class families, but are at 40% now. But, women—and their families—pay a price if they become mothers. Reeves and Schobert argue that limited (or non-existent) paid leave, childcare, and flexible work policies in the U.S. means that “The economy is missing out on the full value of the skills of millions of mothers.”

7. The trans-Atlantic relationship is bad, with failures on both sides

U.S. President Donald Trump greets Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 13, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria - RC1AB086D0B0
U.S. President Donald Trump greets Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, D.C., May 13, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

In a new essay, Constanze Stelzenmüller examines the state of U.S.-Europe relations in the context of great power relations and competition. She finds that while the Trump administration has made its “distaste” for the European Union “plain,” the challenges faced by European countries—including the eurozone crisis, Russia’s aggression, migration pressures, and populism’s rise—were not caused by Trump. Although a major crisis has yet to erupt, the “calm … is deceptive and unlikely to last.”

8. In Africa, taxing mobile phone transactions may harm financial inclusion

A customer uses the AliExpress app on a mobile phone, after Safaricom secured a deal to use its M-Pesa mobile payment service for online shopping on one of Alibaba's platforms, at their offices in Nairobi, Kenya March 12, 2019. REUTERS/George Nganga - RC17EC4C3010
A customer uses the AliExpress app on a mobile phone in Nairobi, Kenya March 12, 2019. REUTERS/George Nganga

In Kenya and other sub-Saharan Africa countries, the widespread use of mobile phones for transactions and financial services has increased financial inclusion. However, as Njuguna Ndung’u explains, increasing taxes on these transactions and mobile airtime “may not expand the tax base significantly but, rather, may reverse the gains on retail electronic payments and financial inclusion.”

9. Metro areas must engage globally to succeed

Wichita Kansas
Wichita, Kansas.

Experts from the Metropolitan Policy Program’s Global Cities Initiative observe that despite tariffs and trade wars, “metro areas must remain committed to sustained global engagement” to advance growth and prosperity. “The evidence is clear, they write, “that greater exports and foreign investment are beneficial to firms, workers, and metro economies. Every region can—and must—be global in its orientation to take advantage of these trends, rather than be taken advantage of.”

10. A majority of Americans favors gun regulations

Fully automatic machine guns are displayed for sale at the Guntoberfest gun show in Oaks, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts - RC17126603C0
Automatic rifles for sale at the Guntoberfest gun show in Oaks, Pennsylvania, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

William Galston and Clara Hendrickson present eight facts about public sentiment on gun violence and regulation. While views about the causes of gun-related violence range from mental health problems to easy access to firearms, strong majorities across multiple polls favor measures to regulate the sale and possession of guns. However, they write, while “substantial numbers of Americans believe that federal legislation would make a difference, they are dubious (if not downright cynical) that Congress will enact it.”

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