Urban Wire 2015: The year in research
Nicole Levins
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In 2015, the Urban Institute developed engaging interactive features, hosted informative events, published hundreds of blog posts, and sent thousands of tweets—none of which would’ve been possible without our firm research foundation. The nearly 400 publications Urban scholars released this year captured media attention, advanced fields of study, and influenced policy. Here are our center directors’ picks for the best research products of 2015.

Building Alaska’s Science and Engineering Pipeline: Evaluation of the Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program: "[This] project is an excellent example of Urban research helping practitioners learn and disseminate information about the effectiveness of their programs. The findings inform ANSEP’s programming and provide lessons for other STEM education programs that serve underrepresented minorities nationwide."

– Greg Acs, director, Income and Benefits Policy Center

Collection: King v. Burwell”: “The clear-cut HPC all-star for 2015 was the analysis of the potential effects of a Supreme Court decision on behalf of the plaintiff in King v. Burwell, which challenged granting Affordable Care Act subsidies to qualified individuals who reside in states that rely on the federal Marketplace. This Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded work, led by Linda Blumberg, John Holahan, and Matthew Buettgens, received extensive media attention and was central to the Supreme Court’s decision to rule against the plaintiff and uphold the provision of Marketplace subsidies to eligible resident of all states. It is hard to identify a research product that had a bigger impact in any year.”

– Steve Zuckerman and Jenny Kenney, codirectors, Health Policy Center

Housing Policy Levers to Promote Economic Mobility: “This paper has been described as ‘excellent’ by senior officials in the White House, a great primer by other senior scholars, and a model for how we might tackle other policy analysis.”

– Erika Poethig, Institute fellow and director of urban policy initiatives, Policy Advisory Group

Localizing Public Services and Development: The Local Public Sector’s Role in Achieving Development Goals in Health and Education: “Crises such as the Ebola outbreak highlight the fragility—indeed the incapacity—of health systems in many poor countries. Ben [Edwards] and colleagues are working to understand how funding, discretion to manage services, and skewed accountability lead to poor everyday health services—and outcomes—in local communities. These factors are essential to the design of solutions.”

– Chas Cadwell, director, Center on International Development and Governance

Making a Difference with Data: NNIP and Federal Place-Based Initiatives: “Our work with NNIP shows the power of networks to get excellent and relevant research done. Urban is an NNIP partner—we host NeighborhoodInfo DC—but we also are the hub that connects other partners in three dozen other cities around the United States. We’ve demonstrated that generating, analyzing, and disseminating data in a civic process helps build trust and understanding and creates a shared commitment to action. And we’ve shown that together, the insights from these local partners can inform work throughout the United States.”

– Rolf Pendall, director, Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center

Millennial Childbearing and the Recession: “The report first documents that fertility rates have fallen, so fewer children are being born, but because nonmarital childbearing rates are falling, it also means that fewer children are being born in more disadvantaged households. These findings likely also have positive implications for the future: a reduction in fertility for women in their 20s may result in a delay in childbearing, which means that their children are more likely to be born into better circumstances (older mothers and households with two parents who are in a healthy and stable relationship). This could potentially lead to a decrease in inequality among families with children.”

– Liz Peters, director, Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population

Reducing Harms to Boys and Young Men of Color from Criminal Justice System Involvement: “2015 brought continuing attention to, as the authors put it: ‘the uniquely fraught position of African Americans in the national consciousness concerning crime and justice in the United States.’ This paper makes an impressive contribution to the ongoing national dialogue by exploring how to reverse the policies that have led to the overrepresentation of young African American men in detention and how to alleviate the potentially devastating effects of justice-involvement for these young men, their families, and communities. Akiva [Liberman] and Jocelyn [Fontaine] offer a thoughtful range of tangible solutions at the system, community, family, and individual level, such as rethinking drug laws, crafting racial impact statements as a prerequisite to justice policy changes, monitoring school discipline programs for racial disparities, using trauma-informed approaches to restore youth well-being, and pursuing restorative justice models and other alternatives to incarceration.”

– Nancy La Vigne, director, Justice Policy Center

The Rebirth of Securitization: Where Is the Private-Label Mortgage Market?: “Why is the volume in the private label mortgage-backed securities (PLS) market so low, when almost all other securitized markets have seen a rebirth? The PLS market is important, but not well understood; its disappearance has affected the availability and cost of mortgages for borrowers with less wealth and less-than-perfect credit who do not quality for government-backed loans. But if securitization remains a purely government-backed activity, the cost and availability of mortgages for a much broader group of borrowers could be affected over time. In this report, we provide a detailed discussion of what needs to be done to fix the PLS market.”

– Laurie Goodman, director, Housing Finance Policy Center

Should We Tax Internalities Like Externalities?: “Economists have studied the optimal policy response to harms we do to others—externalities—for a century, but the damage we do to ourselves—internalities—has gotten far less systematic attention. In this paper, Donald Marron identifies the similarities and differences between internalities and externalities and creates a framework for evaluating potential tax policy interventions such as soft drink taxes.”

– Len Burman, director, Tax Policy Center

Understanding Data Use for Continuous Quality Improvement in Head Start: “This report summarizes the conceptual framework—a thorough and creative achievement, as well as the results of extensive qualitative and quantitative research. It signals a milestone for Head Start, a path forward, and an important practical validation for performance management capacity building and research.”

– Elizabeth Boris, director, Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy