The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
June 22, 2018

Using evidence to accelerate solutions

June 22, 2018

The Urban Institute board of trustees and I sat down recently with Axios cofounder and editor Mike Allen, known for his widely read, early-morning emails that shape the narrative in Washington. Allen’s Axios is turning its attention to the future, particularly the changing nature of work and America’s workforce. In our conversation, we explored how technology and other forces will continue to shape and disrupt our jobs, our communities, and our social fabric.

“We haven’t even begun to think about, when you look around your workplace today, how many jobs will cease to exist or become automated, or how workplaces will change altogether,” Allen said. “Journalism has more work to do help illuminate where we’re headed.”

Researchers have work to do, too, not just to illuminate where we are headed, but to advance evidence-based solutions to daunting challenges ahead.

For example, employers across the country are hungry for skilled workers, yet too many Americans still lack access to training to gain the skills they need to fill millions of open jobs. The American economy is evolving rapidly through automation and technological innovation, and many workers could be caught off guard by these transitions. Just as automation has replaced many routine, manual tasks, advances in artificial intelligence might replace routine, cognitive tasks. To thrive, more workers will have to pursue nonroutine jobs relying on their hands, minds, and interpersonal skills.

In a society where economic mobility is elusive, these transformations could harden inequalities, especially for those who face the legacies and daily realities of structural racism. Polarization could intensify, fueled by deeply held senses of injustice and anxiety.

But what if we could harness these forces of change to expand opportunity?

The first step might be to connect the changemakers to evidence. Today’s changemakers aren’t just federal policymakers—they are CEOs driving social change through how they lead their companies, what they invest in, and how they treat their employees; they are tech entrepreneurs designing new products to address long-standing social challenges; and they are local civic leaders, philanthropists, and service providers supporting and carrying out interventions that make a difference on the ground in communities. Allen says the most effective changemakers navigate related but distinct spheres. “The Axios magic is finding how worlds converge and collide,” he said. “We’re looking for people who are drawing connections, like between tech and philanthropy, or business and academia.”

That’s where institutions like Urban will be invaluable. Today’s researchers have a responsibility to bridge the gaps between these worlds. Urban is poised to celebrate its 50th anniversary this year, and with decades of research behind us, we are teaming up with changemakers and seizing new data science and research tools to advance solutions for the next 50 years—ones that expand opportunities and enable all people to thrive in the decades ahead.

Urban Institute President Sarah Rosen Wartell interviews Mike Allen, co-founder and executive editor of Axios, during the presentation portion of the Urban Institute's annual board of trustees dinner on May 9, 2018 at the Warner Theater in Washington, DC. Photo by Maura Friedman/Urban Institute.

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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.