November ushered in a new U.S. president-elect, a third surge of COVID-19 cases, and mounting challenges in the U.S. and abroad. Brookings experts again published research on a range of issues including student debt, international trade, and the breakdown of Joe Biden’s victory. Here is a selection of 10 of those items from just this month.
1. COLLEGE SCORECARD SHOWS SOME STUDENT LOANS MAY NOT BE WORTH THE COST
Adam Looney examines the Department of Education’s college scorecard that tracks where student debt comes from and if loans are worth their high price tags. More than $1.5 trillion is owed in student loans in the U.S. with borrowers ranging from highly educated professionals to first-year dropouts, Looney notes. The scorecard indicates troubling patterns because a “large number of students are borrowing to attend programs where graduates rarely earn more than a typical high school graduate (about $26,500),” he writes. For example, 4 percent of all student borrowers will gain an AA degree that earns them a median salary of only $24,671. “While approaches that treat borrowers uniformly – like across-the-board loan forgiveness – would help struggling borrowers, they also help high-income, well-educated, and advantaged students,” Looney explains. “That is expensive, inequitable, and unnecessary, because there are better policies available.”
2. KAMALA HARRIS’ VICTORY HIGHLIGHTS IMPORTANCE OF ADDRESSING RACIAL INEQUALITY
Kamala Harris will make history as the first Black and Asian woman to serve as vice president. Camille Busette observes that Harris’ historical ascent is especially significant due to the national reckoning with racism this year. Vice President-elect Harris’ identity as a woman of color reflects the American people’s hopes of ending enduring racism and violence, Busette says. “In exit polls, 72 percent of non-white voters backed Biden/Harris, and 20 percent of voters listed racial inequality as the most important issue motivating their vote, a percentage that is higher than for any other issue,” Busette writes. “Of those who listed racial inequality as the top issue, 91 percent voted for Biden.” Both Biden and Harris will have to deliver on their promises to address racial inequality to keep their multicultural voting coalition together, she explains.
3. LARGE METROPOLITAN SUBURBS IN KEY STATES DELIVERED BIDEN’S VICTORY
William Frey analyzes the voter demographics of the 2020 presidential election and finds that Biden’s victory was due mostly to large metropolitan suburbs, especially in important battleground states. In 2016, Donald Trump’s winning margin came from rural and nonmetropolitan America in seven key states. However, Frey explains, “large suburban areas in 2020 registered a net Democratic advantage for the first time since Barack Obama’s victory in 2008. Because more voters live in large suburbs than anywhere else, they largely contributed to the success of the Biden/Harris campaign. In addition, suburban voting patterns made a large difference in key states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. “As the nation’s demography becomes more diverse in terms of race, age, and educational attainment, the growing Democratic-leaning voting blocs are likely to comprise even greater shares of the suburban electorate – cementing the importance of the suburbs in elections to come,” Frey writes.
4. HOW PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN CAN NAVIGATE A POSSIBLY DIVIDED CONGRESS
With the political makeup of the U.S. Congress now contingent on the Senate runoffs in Georgia, Darrell West explains how a divided government will affect Joe Biden’s policies. He points out there would be dramatic ramifications for Biden’s cabinet choices, agency appointments, and a range of policy options depending on which candidates win in Georgia. If there is a GOP-majority Senate, Biden will be forced more to the political middle and have progressive legislative policies blocked without the use of executive orders. But, West says, “[Biden] can overturn his predecessor’s initiatives in the areas of digital access, personal privacy, data aggregation, cybersecurity, cell tower siting, high-skilled work visas, for-profit learning platforms, telemedicine, energy efficiency, broadband non-discrimination, and paid prioritization of internet traffic.” He adds that “What he does through executive orders likely will be more impactful than bills he is able to move through a divided Congress.”
5. ‘ALL IN’ CLIMATE DIPLOMACY REQUIRES ACTION FROM US CITIES, STATES, BUSINESSES, AND COMMUNITIES
Thomas Hale and Nathan Hultman provide analysis on how the incoming Biden/Harris administration can engage the power of cities, states, businesses, and communities to enact an “all in” climate diplomacy. They explain that these non-federal actors that have pursued their own climate action in the past account for over half of U.S. emissions, 65 percent of the population, and nearly 70 percent of U.S. GDP. Policy recommendations include “leveraging climate action across all of society to ensure that U.S. climate targets represent maximum ambition.” Hale and Hultman conclude: “In this way, an ‘all in’ approach reminds the world that America’s openness and diversity in its society, economy, and political system are assets, not liabilities, in the battle against climate change.”
6. EXPLORING WAYS TO EXPAND THE PUBLIC ROLE IN HEALTH CARE COVERAGE
Matthew Fielder observes that public insurance programs like Medicare and Medicaid pay much lower costs compared to commercial health insurers. Fielder explores several ways of expanding the public role to determine provider prices in commercial coverage. “One commonly discussed approach to regulating provider prices is to limit what providers can collect for out-of-network services, such as at some multiple of what Medicare would pay for the same services,” Fielder says. “While this approach would definitely reduce prices for only the relatively small share of services that is delivered out-of-network, in some cases it could also reduce negotiated prices for in-network services.”
7. HOW TO IMPROVE US RURAL POLICY
Anthony Pipa and Natalie Geismar analyze how policy can be improved to maximize prosperity in America’s rural communities. They explain that U.S. political polarization is due not only to ideological reasons, but also because of the divide between booming cities and rural areas. One policy suggestion they offer is for the U.S. to launch a domestic development corporation to modernize technical capabilities and financing tools. “A new corporation would competitively award large, flexible block grants that invest in local vision, accompanied by cutting-edge technical assistance, rigorous analysis and measurement of results, and support to strengthen local leadership and civic capacity,” Pipa and Geismar write. “It would integrate and expand the breadth of domestic development financing tools, bringing strategy and improved impact to the set of narrowly defined and siloed tools that currently exist.”
8. POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS FOR US-CHINA RELATIONS
The incoming Biden administration will inherit a challenging relationship with China and must develop strategies to address them. Jeffrey Bader writes in his chapter in “The future of US policy toward China” report that “the United States should not engage with China in a race to the bottom of diplomacy.” Rather, both countries should view each other as strategic competitors. “If the Chinese see the value of at least a non-hostile relationship with the United States, it will restrain them from taking actions that they think might damage that relationship,” Bader observes. “On the other hand, if relations with the United States deteriorate, the voices of recklessness and protectionism on the Chinese side will be strengthened.”
9. WORK-BASED LEARNING CAN ADVANCE EQUITY AND ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY FOR YOUNG PEOPLE
Martha Ross, Richard Kazis, Nicole Bateman, and Laura Stateler explore how work-based learning can improve the school-to-work transition for young people after high school. They explain that “the educational and employment landscapes are riddled with inequities that routinely disadvantage young people who are Black, Latino or Hispanic, or low-income.” In their report, they suggest the implementation of work-based learning such as internships and apprenticeships, so that young people can gain necessary technical, academic, and interpersonal skills. Three critical elements of work-based learning include positive relationships with adults that support growth and development, social capital that provides information and contacts regarding employment, and work experiences that offer opportunities for hands-on learning and expose young people to new environments and expectations. “The dramatic rise in unemployment and the disruptions to education will hit young adults particularly hard and aggravate racial and ethnic inequities,” they observe, “making it even more imperative to build stronger, more robust connections to careers for young people.”
10. THE EFFECTS OF COVID-19 ON INTERNATIONAL TRADE
In his essay as part of the “Reimagining the global economy: Building back better in a post-COVID-19 world” collection, David Dollar answers the question, “What is the likely evolution of supply chains and international trade in the medium to long run after the COVID-19 pandemic?” One potential long-run effect on trade will be the structure of demand. Dollar notes that in a post-COVID-19 world, people in advanced economies are more likely to work from home permanently which in turn reduces demand for cars, gas, office, and retail space. “Three industries with extensive value chains involving developing countries are autos, electronics, and clothing,” he writes. “I would expect more demand for electronics and less for autos and clothing in a post-pandemic world. But the general point is that there could be large shifts in these industries that affect development opportunities.”