The blog of the Urban Institute
December 21, 2020

Ten Blog Posts That Elevated the Debate in 2020

December 21, 2020

Undoubtedly, 2020 has been a year like no other. The coronavirus pandemic devastated communities across the globe and affected nearly every aspect of our lives. The movement for racial justice gained unprecedented support and shed light on widening disparities. And climate disasters—increasing both in frequency and intensity—brought monumental loss.

For more than 50 years, the Urban Institute has studied the effects social and economic policies have on the well-being of people and places. Decades of expertise prepared researchers for this year.

On Urban Wire, researchers answered some of the most critical questions facing society. What would it take to keep people safe during the pandemic? How can the country keep the economy afloat? What would it take to dismantle structural racism? What policies could drive an equitable recovery?

Urban Wire equipped changemakers with real-time insights they needed to develop evidence-based solutions, both for immediate relief and long-term recovery. Urban researchers also lifted up example after example of the resilience residents, communities, and local programs demonstrated to support each other.

As we look forward to the new year, Urban Wire authors will continue to follow the facts to inform innovative solutions that will help rebuild the country and a shared foundation of truth.

Here are 10 Urban Wire blog posts that elevated the debate in 2020:


The COVID-19 Recession Will Be Different

“A ‘service sector recession’ could cut much deeper than normal downturns. It may be less responsive to traditional policy remedies.

“Policies to support the service sector introduce thorny public health conundrums. Policymakers should work to prevent widespread economic hardship, but a revival of services could weaken efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19. As a result, none of the options look good.”

Daniel Kuehn


How We Should Talk about Racial Disparities

“The historical context of racial disparities in every domain—healthhomeownershipeducation, and beyond—reveals a more accurate national narrative in which government-sanctioned policies and practices have facilitated the upward mobility of white Americans and created barriers to mobility for Black Americans.

“Policies—more than choices, culture, or genes—explain disparate outcomes because race has no biological basis and was created solely to justify and facilitate systemic oppression.

“By consistently providing context, we can help shape a new narrative that indicts the systems that created injustices, rather than the people oppressed by them.”

Natalie Spievack and Cameron Okeke


It Wasn’t Enough: The Limits of Police-Community Trust-Building Reform in Minneapolis

“The combination of tragedy and mass uprising may be expanding what’s possible, and there are many proposals out there, from ones that focus specifically on policing’s policy structure to the more broadly transformative. But we do know police need to be accountable when they harm people, and how much policing is used and for what needs to be aligned with community priorities.

“Until the answers to that pass muster in African American and other communities who experience the most harm from police, they will never be enough.”

Jesse Jannetta


When People Can’t Pay Their Rent, What Comes Next?

“Even before the pandemic, the country was facing a housing insecurity challenge—nearly half a million people homeless on any given night, millions living doubled up and in overcrowded situations, and 11 million low-income households severely rent burdened.…

“Policymakers aren’t short on evidence-based solutions to these problems. We know what works, but the political will to fund rental assistance is what we need now.”   

Proportion of working-age renters who were worried about being able to pay next month's rent in March and April 2020

Mary Cunningham and Abby Boshart


The COVID-19 Crisis Continues to Have Uneven Economic Impact by Race and Ethnicity

“The COVID-19 pandemic and related shutdowns have led to the highest unemployment rate nationwide since the Great Depression, nearly a century ago. But the unemployment rate alone does not fully cover how people have been affected. Many are struggling to pay rents or mortgages, are having trouble affording food for themselves and their families, and have lost employer-sponsored health insurance during a still-growing public health crisis. These effects are not shouldered equally; evidence shows the pandemic has more severely affected people of color because of structural racism’s persistent influence.”

Expected employment income loss by race and ethnicity in April, May, and early June 2020

Steven Brown


Is Student Loan Forgiveness an Effective Form of Economic Stimulus?

“There are good reasons for Congress to relieve the burden of student loan payments during the pandemic, building on the six-month pause in payments included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. But evidence suggests canceling student loan balances would not be a cost-effective form of stimulus and would direct the most benefits to higher-income households. Congress can get more bang for its buck by targeting financial support to families most in need who are most likely to spend.”

Matthew Chingos and Donald Marron


Confronting Racism and Supporting Asian American Communities in the Wake of COVID-19

“The rise in anti-Asian xenophobia has had tangible economic consequences for Asian small-business owners. In mid-February, with only 15 confirmed US cases and before social distancing policies were in effect, small businesses in Manhattan’s Chinatown reported sales drops of between 40 to 80 percent, as the virus spread in China.”

Danielle Kwon


With Increasing Climate Disasters, Who Receives Assistance Matters

“Just three weeks after Hurricane Laura made landfall as one of the strongest hurricanes to hit the US, deadly wildfires swept across the West Coast. Under orange skies reaching from Washington to southern California, millions of acres of landscape burned.…

“As the frequency of natural disasters increases, relief and recovery efforts must account for the diverse needs, strengths, and vulnerabilities of the communities affected.”

Amy Rogin, Eric Burnstein, and Carlos Martín


The CARES Act Eviction Moratorium Covers All Federally Financed Rentals—That’s One in Four US Rental Units

“The CARES Act’s eviction protection provisions cover approximately 12.3 million occupied federally financed rental units, or slightly more than one in four total rental units in the US.

“There are, however, operational impediments to this relief. How a renter would find out whether their landlord has a federal mortgage is unclear, and landlords may not know about available relief or how to take advantage of it.”

Number of rental units covered by the CARES Act

Laurie Goodman, Karan Kaul, and Michael Neal


Many Families Are Struggling to Put Food on the Table. We Have to Do More.

“In the early weeks of the pandemic, about one in four nonelderly adults (24.6 percent) with children younger than 19 and about one in four (25.6 percent) with children younger than 6 reported their households were food insecure in the previous month.”

Elaine Waxman

Stuart Malcolm, a doctor with the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic, walks pasy a supportive sign on a boarded-up shop while speaking with people experiencing homelessness about the coronavirus in the Haight Ashbury area of San Francisco California on March 17, 2020. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP) (Photo by JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images)

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As an organization, the Urban Institute does not take positions on issues. Experts are independent and empowered to share their evidence-based views and recommendations shaped by research.