What a Difference a Decade Makes
Notes from the president
Decades are often given names that serve as a short—and nostalgic—description of a bygone era: The Roaring Twenties. The Fabulous Fifties. The Swinging Sixties. But the passage of 10 years can also tell a more nuanced story of economic, environmental, and social progress.
Pew’s work is all about moving the needle on difficult challenges—especially where we can add unique value and serve the public good. Often, we are in it for the long haul—a decade or more—and a critical element of our approach is to establish priorities, timelines, and milestones that chart progress along the way. Then we can determine, using rigorous research, whether we’re achieving our objectives.
Three stories in this issue of Trust illustrate the point.
The first is our cover story about the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act. This bipartisan legislation, which passed the House 363-62 and the Senate 92-8 and includes six Pew priorities, is the largest conservation package since 2009. It will safeguard nearly 2 million acres of public land and 450 miles of scenic rivers across four states: California, New Mexico, Oregon, and Utah. The legislation also expands several national parks, creates five national monuments, and protects some of the best steelhead trout spawning streams in the world.
This major land conservation law did not happen quickly or easily: We worked with local partners in each state to move this legislation forward, including businesses, outdoor enthusiasts, veterans, Native Americans, conservationists, community leaders, and others who want to conserve wild places. Accompanying the narrative of the decade-long effort to craft and pass the bill, you’ll find breathtaking photographs of some of the sites the law protects.
In another long-standing effort, Pew’s state fiscal health project provides research, analysis, and technical assistance to help state officials navigate fiscal challenges and identify solutions. Starting in 2007, our nation became mired in the worst economic downturn since the 1930s. Millions of Americans lost their jobs, and, in many cases, their home values and savings plummeted. States felt the pain too, as revenue declined and economic growth stalled.
In 2009, the economy began a decade-long expansion that continues to this day. As you’ll learn in this issue, states have benefited from this turnaround with tax revenue higher in 2018 than in 2008 and “rainy day” reserve funds at record levels in some states.
But states didn’t benefit from the economic expansion right away; the 50 states together gave up $283 billion in forgone revenue—adjusted for inflation— just between 2009 and 2012. As a result, a key economist has called the last 10 years a “lost decade” for many states. That’s because despite a turnaround in the national economy, revenue and expenditures in these states have declined. As of 2016 (the most recent year for which some data are available), funding for K-12 education was down in 29 states; state investment in infrastructure is at its lowest level in more than 50 years; and many local governments are facing their own challenges because of shrinking state aid.
In this issue, we also look at an important milestone for Pew’s work in our hometown of Philadelphia: the 10th anniversary of the “State of the City” report. To commemorate this annual assessment of economic, social, and cultural trends in the city, the Philadelphia research initiative recently published “10 Trends That Have Changed Philadelphia in 10 Years,” a data-driven portrait that vividly describes the many changes the city has undergone over the past decade. The report notes that Philadelphia’s population has grown steadily, fueled by young adults and immigrants. Over the past 10 years, violent crime has fallen 31 percent, but opioid deaths have nearly tripled in the same period and are now the city’s third-leading cause of death.
The news on infant mortality is much better; 178 infants died in 2017, compared with 286 in 2007—a decline of more than one-third. And the number of people in Philadelphia without health insurance has dropped substantially, as has the city’s jail population. This issue of Trust brings into focus these and other trends—and the difference a decade can make to a great and historic city such as Philadelphia.
It’s difficult to predict what name will be given to this and future decades. Yet we should always strive to make the future brighter. At Pew, we measure progress toward that goal with evidence-based data. But our most important tools for building a stronger and healthier world are the commitment of our organization’s founders to public service, the diligence of our staff, and the dedication of our partners. They have strengthened our work throughout the decades—and always will.