Urban Wire Ten Blog Posts That Elevated the Debate in 2019
Robert Abare
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This year began during the longest government shutdown in US history. Writing on Urban Wire, Urban researchers explained how the shutdown could harm the well-being of children and families in the DC area and across the country.

Throughout 2019, Urban researchers followed a similar formula—illuminating how unaddressed systemic problems and new policy proposals would affect Americans’ ability to succeed and find stability.

These topics were wide-ranging and carried significant implications for Americans from many walks of life: Who is most at risk of being miscounted in the 2020 Census, and what are the consequences of an unfair census? How is the “public charge” rule affecting immigrant families and their communities? What would 2020 presidential candidates’ proposals mean for student debt and health care coverage, and how much would those proposals cost?

Here are 10 Urban Wire blog posts that elevated the debate in 2019:

With Public Charge Rule Looming, One in Seven Adults in Immigrant Families Reported Avoiding Public Benefit Programs in 2018

“Even before the proposed rule was published, rumors about it were circulating in early 2018. Human services providers reported widespread ‘chilling effects’ on immigrant families’ participation in safety net programs for fear of potential immigration consequences. Stories of families avoiding programs continue even though the administration has not finalized or implemented the rule. Yet these reports have been largely anecdotal.

Now, for the first time, we have systemic evidence of the extent of chilling on a national scale through a unique data source, the December 2018 round of the Urban Institute’s Well-Being and Basic Needs Survey.”

Hamutal Bernstein, Dulce Gonzalez, Michael Karpman, and Stephen Zuckerman 

Which Households Hold the Most Student Debt?

“Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-MA) recent proposal to forgive a significant portion of student debt might be among the more generous plans, but Warren is certainly not the first to propose student debt forgiveness as a solution to the perceived student loan crisis—and it’s unlikely she’ll be the last. But to understand whether these proposals help those most affected by student debt, it helps to understand who holds that debt.” 

Sandy Baum, Victoria Lee, and Alexandra Tilsley

Don’t Confuse Changes in Federal Health Spending with National Health Spending

“There has been confusion over estimates, like ours, that measure the effect of single-payer (i.e., Medicare for All) proposals on both federal spending and total national health spending.

The two are not the same, and too frequently, people use estimates of both and make misleading apples-to-oranges comparisons.

Federal health care spending is the money the federal government spends on health care, whereas national health spending includes all health spending, regardless of who pays for it.”

Linda Blumberg, John Holahan, and Michael Simpson

Can We Deregulate Ourselves out of the Affordable Housing Crisis?

“After decades of the federal government playing a limited role in local land-use regulations, there is renewed interest on both sides of the aisle for a stronger federal effort to rein in restrictive zoning laws.

Last week, President Trump signed an executive order establishing a White House Council on Eliminating Regulatory Barriers to Affordable Housing, which is charged with quantifying the effects of local zoning laws and other regulatory barriers on housing markets and recommending ‘best practices for removal.’ And most of the Democratic presidential candidates who have offered housing solutions in their policy platforms include ideas to ease local land-use restrictions.”

Solomon Greene

An Underfunded 2020 Census Puts an Accurate Count at Risk

“Given how complicated the logistics are to produce as accurate a count as possible, funding is critical, and a predictable funding stream is necessary for the planning and execution of a successful census. The 2020 Census has lacked this from the start. As Arloc Sherman at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has shown, planning and final testing are critical in the latter half of the decade (i.e., years 6–9). But in this past decade, funding for the run-up to the 2020 Census fell below levels provided in the last three decennial census cycles.”

Diana Elliott and Charmaine Runes

Separating Race from Ethnicity in Surveys Risks an Inaccurate Picture of the Latinx Community

“Whenever we—Jorge (a native Mexican) and Rob (a third-generation native Mexican American)—fill out a survey, we face the inevitable paired set of questions asking about our ethnicity and race. We readily fill in ‘Hispanic/Latino’ for the Hispanic ethnicity question, but the subsequent race question always gives us pause. What should we pick? ‘White’? ‘Amerindian’? ‘Mixed’? Or should we choose ‘Other’ and fill in ‘Mestizo’?”

Jorge Gonzalez and Rob Santos

Mapping the Hispanic Homeownership Gap

“Despite improvements in recent years, Hispanic homeownership still significantly lags behind non-Hispanic white homeownership. Homeownership is key for building wealth, and consequently, the homeownership gap between white and Hispanic households has serious implications for the total wealth gap between those groups.

Similar to our prior work mapping the black homeownership gap, we examined the 100 US cities with the largest number of Hispanic households and created a map to show the size of the Hispanic homeownership gap and the scope of the affected population across selected US metropolitan areas.”


Sarah Strochak, Caitlin Young, Alanna McCargo

Three Ways Bikeshare Can Counteract, not Reinforce, DC’s Disparities

“The DC Department of Transportation clearly considers equity in its bikeshare development plan, and the department used online crowdsourcing to allow residents to vote on new station placement. But is bikesharing reinforcing DC’s existing disparities, or is it effectively acting to reverse them?

To answer this question, we need data. Unlike many privately owned, dockless bike or scooter sharing services, Capital Bikeshare makes anonymized ridership data available online. We focused our analysis only on registered members (who account for three-quarters of the total trips in DC, compared with casual nonmember users) because these riders are more likely to be local residents.”

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Yipeng Su and Robin Wang

How Can the First Step Act’s Risk Assessment Tool Lead to Early Release from Federal Prison?

“The First Step Act offers people behind bars the opportunity to earn credits toward early release from Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) institutions.

People who haven’t been convicted of one of a long list of offenses are eligible to earn credits for early release by successfully completing evidence-based educational, employment, or substance use treatment programs or by engaging in other productive activities. Many of the details about these programs and activities are still to be defined by BOP, and how BOP chooses to implement them will ultimately affect the impact of the earned credit system.   

We developed an interactive version of DOJ’s risk assessment tool that shows users how the tool would score people based on several inputs and what factors could increase or decrease a person’s score.”

Emily Tiry and Julie Samuels

How Corporations Can Boost Their Affordable Housing Investments

“Last week, Google made headlines when it announced a $1 billion investment in affordable housing in the Bay Area. Google plans to build 20,000 new homes over the next decade, including 5,000 affordable units, and to support programs that address homelessness.

It makes sense for corporations to invest in housing, considering they make long-term bets on the regions where they choose to do business. Affordable housing is vital to the well-being of a region’s residents and to a local economy’s ability to attract and retain a strong talent pool.

But these generous corporate investments could go a lot further toward closing affordability gaps in hot markets like the Bay Area or Seattle if they went hand in hand with zoning reforms that accommodate the construction of more housing, more cheaply.”

Mary K. Cunningham

Research Areas Neighborhoods, cities, and metros