J-PAL North America Launches Research Initiative to Focus on Covid-19 Recovery

The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in incalculable losses for millions of Americans, particularly among low-income communities and communities of color. As decision-makers work to address this unparalleled public health crisis, urgent questions remain on how the Covid-19 pandemic will impact the social and economic well-being of people in the United States once the immediate crisis has resolved.

This summer, J-PAL North America launched a new research initiative that aims to inform these pressing policy questions. The COVID-19 Recovery and Resilience Initiative will catalyze research on how to recover in the aftermath of the pandemic, with a focus on improving outcomes for those most harmed by this crisis. Academic leadership for the initiative will be provided by J-PAL North America’s scientific directors: Amy Finkelstein (MIT) and Lawrence Katz (Harvard University).

The pandemic has laid bare fundamental inequities that limit access to opportunity for low-income communities and communities of color, making the need for bold policy action all the more pressing. Policymakers and social sector leaders are seeking solutions to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic both in the immediate and long term. Evidence will be a critical tool to help determine which policies—from universal basic income to extended school years—will work to restart the economy and rebuild lives.

The Covid-19 Recovery and Resilience Initiative will seek to advance the dual goals of helping decision-makers implement evidence-based solutions in the immediate term while generating rigorous evidence on longer-term policy measures. Ultimately, J-PAL North America aims to create a playbook of evidence-based solutions by identifying key policy challenges, rigorously evaluating promising solutions, and sharing findings with decision-makers who can act on rigorous evidence to improve lives.

Drawing on insights from J-PAL’s network of leading academic scholars, the initiative established a learning agenda to guide work in the priority policy areas of (1) jobs, labor, and the social safety net; (2) education, youth, and opportunity; and (3) health care delivery.

These guides for future research outline a selection of prioritized research questions that, if answered, could significantly advance decision-makers’ understanding of how to effectively respond to this crisis. While not intended to be comprehensive, the research guides aim to serve as inspiration for researchers and as a resource to guide investment strategies for donors.

Prioritized questions in the policy areas of jobs, labor, and the social safety net focus on methods to support individuals who are unemployed in the short- and long-term, keep workers connected to benefits, and effectively smooth the job search process. In education, questions largely center on the need to address learning loss, minimize the widening of income- and race-based educational inequities, and support students’ mental health and social-emotional development. Lastly, prioritized focus areas for future inquiry in health care delivery include identifying methods to expand access to quality and affordable health care, increase take-up of positive health behaviors, and minimize the public health risks of additional waves of Covid-19.

The Covid-19 Recovery and Resilience Initiative is supported by Schmidt Futures and Arnold Ventures. For more information on the initiative or research agenda, see the J-PAL North America website or contact Initiative Manager Vincent Quan.

This article was written by Caroline Garau and originally appeared on MIT News on September 21, 2020.

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