The health and well-being of people are intimately tied to the conditions of life in their communities—conditions that structure opportunities and pathways for lifelong and even inter-generational well-being. Philanthropic efforts to improve community health must attend to the many systems that shape life conditions by focusing not only on whom, what, or where to fund, but equally importantly, on how to fund.
The Urban Institute’s recent comprehensive review of health-focused community development investments made by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation between 2013 and 2019 yielded a wide range of insights about how philanthropic investments can drive enduring systems change needed to improve community health, well-being, and equity across the nation.
Darrick Hamilton, the Henry Cohen Professor of Economics and Urban Policy at The New School, has gained national recognition for shaping policy solutions to close the racial wealth gap, which refers to how hundreds of years of structural racism have deprived Black families of resources that accumulate and transfer from one generation to the next. The typical White family has 10 times the wealth of the typical Black family and seven times the wealth of the typical Latinx family. This stark and persistent racial wealth gap has harmed generations, driven disparities and appears to be growing, even after controlling for household characteristics and long-term education and income gains by Black people.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated racial, ethnic, and gender disparities that have existed since long before the current public health crisis. With declining infection rates and increasing vaccination rates, the United States seems to be on a path to recovery. But a full recovery from the health and economic fallout of the pandemic will require adequately supporting our most vulnerable communities. A new analysis confirms disparate health and economic effects by race, ethnicity, and gender and inadequate public policy responses in the wake of the pandemic and offers actionable solutions for a more equitable recovery.
Two pandemics upended our nation this year. The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to sicken, kill, and reshape the lives of people everywhere, and is also testing our nation’s healthcare, public health, education, and social protection systems like never before. The second pandemic is one that has been with us since well before our nation’s founding but has come into much sharper focus this past year. Like a virus, it has infected virtually every aspect of our society including our laws and policies, a central focus of the Policies for Action (P4A) research program: systemic racism and its attendant social, economic, and political injustices. Although this time last year, the need for sound policy research was clear – especially in light of growing inequality in health and wealth, and the conditions that drive and are shaped by these – 2020 made these needs more visible and more urgent. As P4A enters its sixth year, a strong and growing community of policy researchers across the country, supported by a stellar National Advisory Committee, are generating a host of research findings crucially needed at this moment.
To help people make ends meet, the United States offers a set of income supports for families with low-incomes, children, seniors and people with disabilities. Recent research from Policies for Action found these income support programs do more than reduce income inequality—they also save lives and promote health equity, particularly for women and children.
Research suggests that one in seven children in the United States have a diagnosable mental health condition. But despite efforts to increase access to care through school-based mental health services, most youth with a mental health condition do not receive the treatment they need. Telehealth services, however, have the potential to increase access to school-based mental health treatment by reducing districts’ need for on-site personnel—of which there is a national shortage—without compromising the quality of care. Therefore, states should consider maintaining the telehealth flexibilities they enacted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic as a means to improve access to critical school-based mental health services for youth, even after the public health emergency ends.
It is with good reason that there has been an outpouring of support for essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Essential workers have tended to the sick, responded to emergencies, and kept the food supply intact, thus permitting the rest of society to have continued access to health care and basic necessities, and to remain safe and, for the most part, comfortable.
As has been reported, Black and Latino workers make up a large share of the essential workforce, and these demographic groups have experienced higher rates of COVID-19 infections and deaths. Discrimination, disparate access to health services, higher rates of chronic illness, lower incomes, and deficiencies in housing and other social determinants of health have all contributed to the higher risk of COVID-19–related illness and death among racial and ethnic minorities.
Even as the COVID-19 pandemic raged, state legislators continued to quietly pass laws that consolidate power in state capitals and take away local governments’ authority to protect public health. Oklahoma is the latest example.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA), which turns 10 on March 23, dramatically changed Medicaid, making it available to millions of previously ineligible low-income adults. As some states continue to debate whether to expand Medicaid and policymakers propose more far-reaching changes to the program, it is critical to provide timely evidence on how the program is working and what the potential effect of major changes would be.
Policies for Action is entering its fifth year with a growing community of researchers across the country and a maturing pipeline of research to support critical policy development. Find out how we're expanding the quality and reach of our work in 2020.