Critical Value

Critical Value is a podcast from the Urban Institute that explores issues of significance for research, policy, and people. We talk with experts and highlight the best available data and evidence to elevate the debate on topics that matter.

#23 How Neighborhood Gun Violence Impacts Communities

Neighborhoods with high rates of gun violence also tend to be dealing with high rates of poverty and limited opportunity – and these systemic challenges can have long-term impacts. Host Justin Milner talks with researchers Jocelyn Fontaine and Elsa Falkenburger about the challenges facing communities that struggle with gun violence, and a starting point for creating policies that are community-driven and trauma-informed.

Related links:
“We Carry Guns to Stay Safe”: Perspectives on Guns and Gun Violence from Young Adults Living in Chicago’s West and South Sides
Six things we learned from young adults experiencing gun violence in Chicago
Trauma-Informed Community Building and Engagement
December 5, 2018

#22 The Amazon Opportunity: Inclusive Growth and Shared Prosperity

This week’s Amazon HQ2 announcement represents a unique opportunity for the Washington region. Host Justin Milner talks with Urban Institute president Sarah Rosen Wartell and senior vice president Margery Turner about how best to take advantage of the moment and catalyze collaboration across the DC region to ensure inclusive growth that benefits all people across the income spectrum.
November 14, 2018

#21 Thinking Big about Big Data

The idea of “big data” can seem daunting – but it has the potential to solve some of the big problems facing our country. Host Justin Milner speaks with Graham MacDonald, Khuloud Odeh, and Jessica Kelly from Urban’s tech and data team about how big data is analyzed and interpreted and how it can help inform the world we live in for the better.
November 8, 2018

#20 Credit, Savings, and Financial Well-Being

The US is the wealthiest country in the world, but many Americans are still struggling to make ends meet. How can building credit and saving money lead to greater opportunity? Host Justin Milner speaks with Urban Institute Nittoli fellow Ricki Lowitz and senior fellow Caroline Ratcliffe about the path to good financial health.

Related links:
What is the Cost of Poor Credit?
Busting credit myths can help low-income Americans strengthen their financial health
Thriving Residents, Thriving Cities: Family Financial Security Matters for Cities
October 24, 2018

#19 Don’t Give Up on Homeownership Just Yet

These days, it can seem like buying a home is becoming increasingly impossible for young people. But homeownership still matters when it comes to building wealth, and there are supports out there to help. Host Justin Milner talks with housing finance policy expert Laurie Goodman and communications expert Sheryl Pardo to break down the major obstacles to homeownership.

Related links:
Barriers to Accessing Homeownership Down Payment, Credit, and Affordability - 2018
Access and Affordability: Interactive map and research on 3 barriers to homeownership
More than 19 million millennials in 31 US cities are ready to become homeowners
Down Payments Quiz
October 9, 2018

#18 How to Spend Bezos’s $2 Billion

With the creation of the Bezos Day One Fund, Amazon’s founder committed $2 billion to alleviate family homelessness and create and operate preschools in low-income areas. Host Justin Milner speaks with experts Mary Cunningham and Erica Greenberg about how to move the needle when addressing these two critical areas of need.

Related links:
Four ways Jeff Bezos’s $2 billion could make the biggest impact on homelessness among children and families
What areas could benefit most from Jeff Bezos’s preschool initiative?
10 Characteristics of Infants and Toddlers
10 Characteristics of Preschool-Age Children
September 26, 2018

#17 Opportunity Zones and Community Development

Opportunity Zones have the potential to make a huge economic impact on disinvested communities across the country. Host Justin Milner speaks with researchers Brett Theodos and Brady Meixell on how this brand-new economic development initiative works, and how we’ll know if it’s truly successful.
September 12, 2018

#16 'The Children Are Our Future': Trends in Public Spending on Kids

Evidence shows that investing in children today can decrease poverty for the next generation of adults. Host Justin Milner speaks with researchers Heather Hahn and Cary Lou about the federal government’s current spending on kids, future projections for this spending, and what that means for America’s children.

Learn more at Kids’ Share: Analyzing Federal Expenditures on Children.
August 15, 2018

#15 Evidence-Based Policymaking

How are lawmakers using evidence-based policymaking to ensure that taxpayer resources fund the most efficient and effective interventions? Host Justin Milner speaks with experts Demetra Nightingale and Ron Haskins about making decisions and crafting policy based on what’s been proven to work.
July 25, 2018

#14 Amazon and Economic Development

As Amazon conducts its search for a new corporate headquarters, cities are offering huge tax incentives to win over the retail giant – and ultimately stimulate local development. But are these tax incentives truly effective? What tradeoffs are state and local governments making in these deals? Host Justin Milner speaks with state and local finance researcher Megan Randall to get a full picture of the economic and social effects of winning an Amazon bid.
July 9, 2018

#13 The Geography of Opportunity

In the US, where we live determines a lot about our lives – from the quality of education to the types of work opportunities available. How did we develop such wide disparities in access to opportunity? And what can we do to better support upward mobility in all communities? Host Justin Milner talks with urban policy and development experts Margery Turner and Solomon Greene about the status quo and how we can change it.
June 20, 2018

#12 Mobility from Poverty

How can we dramatically increase mobility from poverty in the United States? Nisha Patel, executive director of the US Partnership on Mobility from Poverty at the Urban Institute, has spent the past few years trying to answer this question. Host Justin Milner chats with Nisha about her research and what kinds of interventions are possible to make real, lasting progress against persistent poverty in America.

Learn more at
June 6, 2018

#11 How Cities Can Promote Inclusive Growth

Economic growth doesn’t affect everyone in a city equally. Some populations experience great prosperity, while others get left out. But what if that’s not the narrative we have to buy into? Host Justin Milner speaks with Erika Poethig, head of the Urban Institute’s Research to Action Lab, about a new path forward for cities called “inclusive recovery.”

To learn more about inclusive recovery and find out how your city ranks, see Urban’s interactive feature, “Measuring Inclusion in America’s Cities.”
May 23, 2018

#10 Mapping Police Violence: A Q&A with Samuel Sinyangwe

If you don’t know Samuel Sinyangwe’s name, you definitely know his work. He is one of the creators of Mapping Police Violence, the most comprehensive database of people killed by police in the US since 2013. In this live conversation with Urban Institute staff, Sinyangwe discusses his approach to activism and research.

Learn more about Samuel Sinyangwe’s work at and follow Urban’s research on structural racism.
May 8, 2018

#9 Treating the Opioid Crisis

The opioid epidemic is the deadliest drug crisis in American history, and it demands a multifaceted response. This week, we focus on one crucial facet: medical treatments for opioid addiction, including buprenorphine and methadone. These drugs are proven to help people in recovery—so why aren’t they reaching everyone who needs them? Host Justin Milner talks to health policy expert Lisa Clemans-Cope about the evidence behind these treatments, the barriers to access, and the evolution of the opioid crisis.

Click here to view a collection of Urban Institute research on the opioid crisis.
April 11, 2018

#8 The Fair Housing Act at 50

April 11 marks the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, which banned race-based housing discrimination in America. Yet today the goals of this landmark civil rights law remain largely unrealized, and the gap between black and white homeownership persists. This week, host Justin Milner talks to housing finance policy expert Alanna McCargo about why black homeownership has stalled and what can be done about it.

For more information about housing disparities, see these recent Urban publications:
Are gains in black homeownership history?
A closer look at the fifteen-year drop in black homeownership
Mapping the black homeownership gap
April 11, 2018

#7 Tax and Transfer

It’s that time of year again. With the April 17 filing deadline fast approaching, we take a closer look at the transfer of benefits through the US tax system. Host Justin Milner talks to tax policy expert Elaine Maag about how the American household has changed, how the tax code hasn’t, and what families can expect from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
March 28, 2018

#6 The Wealth Gap

The US economy seems to be in good health, but wealth inequality hasn't improved in the past 50 years. Host Justin Milner talks to Urban Institute expert Signe-Mary McKernan about the growing gap between rich and poor and the difference between wealth and income.

Find the “Nine Charts about Wealth Inequality in America”, with much of the data Signe-Mary highlights, here.
March 14, 2018

#5 What the New Tax Law Means for Businesses

The recently passed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act made dramatic, permanent changes to business taxation. Host Justin Milner chats with Mark Mazur, director of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, to understand how businesses are affected by the new law.
February 27, 2018

#4 Budget 2019

On Monday the President released his much-anticipated budget request to Congress for 2019, and just last week he signed a budget deal from Congress that set spending levels for the next two years. How do these two items interact, and how will they affect government spending? Host Justin Milner speaks with three Urban Institute experts to unpack all the moving parts.
February 14, 2018

#3 What Is Single-Payer?

Support for single-payer health care is at an all-time high in the US. But what does it mean to have a single-payer system, and how would it work? Justin Milner talks to health policy expert Linda Blumberg about the details and trade-offs that would matter most in a single-payer plan
January 31, 2018

#2 Preparing for Disaster

From the hurricanes in Puerto Rico and Texas to the wildfires in California, the US faced disaster after disaster in 2017. Host Justin Milner sits down with Carlos Martín, an Urban Institute senior fellow, to discuss why these devastating events are happening so often and how federal, state, and local governments can better prepare for them.
January 16, 2018

#1 Rethinking Long Prison Terms

Over the past few decades, people have been spending more time in prison, and the lengthiest prison terms have been getting even longer. Host Justin Milner sits down with Ryan King, an Urban Institute senior fellow, to discuss the policies behind the problem. This episode features the voices of people who have served long prison terms, through audio excerpts from Urban’s interactive feature “A Matter of Time.
January 3, 2018

The Teaser

A preview of our brand new podcast, with host Justin Milner and Urban Institute president Sarah Rosen Wartell.
January 1, 2018