Improving Public Policy
Decree, treaty help protect waters in Panama and Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor
In March, during the eighth annual Our Ocean Conference, President Laurentino Cortizo of Panama signed a decree to substantially expand the size of the Banco Volcán Area of Managed Resources from approximately 5,500 square miles to 35,000 square miles. With this action, which was backed by Pew’s Blue Nature Alliance partnership, Panama has protected more than 50% of its ocean waters. Also at the meeting, Panama joined Colombia, Costa Rica, and Ecuador in committing to negotiate a binding treaty that would enable coordinated management and conservation of the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor, home to some of the world’s most productive, biologically diverse, and ecologically significant marine environments. In addition, a coalition of philanthropic, government, and nongovernmental organizations—including Pew’s partnerships with Enduring Earth, Blue Nature Alliance, and the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project—announced nearly $120 million in total private and public fund allocations to date that strengthen marine protections for the corridor. Securing this legally binding four-country agreement and providing funding for its implementation is an important Pew priority.
West Virginia prioritizes nature-based solutions to combat flooding
Starting in March, a West Virginia law mandated the development, by 2024, of the state’s first flood resiliency plan. The legislation creates a Flood Resiliency Trust Fund that would invest in nature-based solutions to reduce flood risk. The fund will focus on low-income communities and conditions and support the existing Disaster Recovery Trust Fund to encourage local adoption of development standards that would make infrastructure more resilient to severe weather impacts. West Virginia is the fourth state for which Pew has helped secure comprehensive statewide flood resilience plans, with a total of more than $1.7 billion in financial incentives to use nature-based solutions to address flood risks.
Australia commits to significantly expanding Macquarie Island Marine Park
In late February, the Australian government issued its draft plan for Macquarie Island Marine Park, which would nearly triple its size. The government’s proposal would also significantly increase, by about 150,000 square miles, the no-take sanctuary protection in which fishing and other extractive activity would be prohibited. Macquarie Island, a World Heritage Site, provides crucial habitat for penguins, seals, whales, fish, and migratory seabirds. The new plan, which has been through a statutory public consultation and included over 14,000 submissions of support from scientists, stakeholders, and the Australian public, was developed with input from Pew and its partners. The proposal advances efforts to expand Australia’s marine park and sanctuary network to the subantarctic region.
Fiscal federalism engages state, federal leaders with wildfire research
Pew’s research on state spending on wildfires continues to be of interest to governmental leaders. Since January, members of Pew’s fiscal federalism initiative have presented their research to officials at the U.S. Department of the Treasury and U.S. Fire Administration. Pew experts also presented their wildfire spending research at events sponsored by the National Governors Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures, and the National Association of Counties. The research has also been referenced by the Council of Western State Foresters and the California State Assembly. These activities advance the project’s goal of informing the ways government leaders budget for natural disasters.
Pew and The Nature Conservancy expand oyster restoration partnership
In February, Pew and The Nature Conservancy announced the second phase of the Supporting Oyster Aquaculture and Restoration (SOAR) program with a $3 million grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and a $3.3 million grant from the Builders Initiative. The expanded SOAR program will rebuild 30 acres of oyster reefs on 12 sites along the East and West coasts, making shorelines more resilient while also supporting about 100 oyster farms and 300 jobs. The project will also dedicate some of this new funding to promote opportunities for innovation, resilience, and diversity within the aquaculture and restoration sectors.
President Biden announces important measures to conserve lands and waters
In March, President Joe Biden announced a series of important environmental measures. The recently designated Avi Kwa Ame National Monument in Nevada and Castner Range National Monument in Texas will protect nearly 514,000 acres. In addition, the secretary of commerce will initiate a national marine sanctuary designation to protect all U.S. waters around the Pacific Remote Islands, which could help ensure the conservation of at least 30% of the nation’s oceans by 2030. In addition, federal agencies will outline plans to restore and protect ecological corridors, such as wildlife migration routes. And the administration released a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through conservation of marine habitats that store carbon, deployment of offshore wind energy, and use of nature-based solutions to improve community resilience to a warming planet. These actions advance goals for Pew and the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project.
Pew launches housing policy initiative
In April, Pew launched a housing policy initiative to help policymakers reimagine their approach to housing by illuminating how outdated regulations and statutes drive shortages of housing and small mortgages. Strict local zoning and land-use regulations have limited the availability of homes, especially lower-cost options. At the same time, compliance process requirements have made it difficult for lenders to offer small mortgages, preventing millions of creditworthy homebuyers—especially Black, Hispanic, Indigenous, and rural households—from achieving affordable homeownership. Millions are instead turning to riskier and more costly alternative financing arrangements. To address these issues, Pew is studying the ways policymakers can increase housing availability and safe home financing by revising land-use regulations, improving access to mortgages under $150,000, and making nonmortgage financing arrangements safer for homebuyers.
Michigan jail reforms prove to be an early success
A package of 20 jail reform bills adopted in January 2021 has shown early success, the Michigan Jail Reform Advisory Council has said. The council continued the work of the Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration, which received technical assistance from Pew’s public safety performance project. The new laws have most notably restored driver’s licenses to over 150,000 residents whose privileges were suspended for reasons unrelated to dangerous driving (for example, failing to appear in court). In addition, the council found that judges are sentencing people convicted of minor misdemeanors to jail less frequently, and more people on probation are earning early release after meeting the conditions of their sentence. These findings support the project’s goal of safely reducing jail populations and addressing the restrictive consequences of criminal legal system involvement.
Pew provides forum for collaboration among state broadband offices, Congress, and federal agencies
In February, the broadband access initiative hosted a day of events to build collaboration and information sharing among state broadband offices, Congress, and federal agencies. Senator Angus King (I-ME) hosted broadband project director Kathryn de Wit and associate manager Jake Varn for panel discussions with Hill staff and state broadband office officials. That evening, more than 200 employees from state broadband offices, federal agencies, and the Hill, plus Pew experts and officials, continued the conversation during a reception. Assistant Secretary of Commerce Alan Davidson expressed his gratitude to Pew for providing a “safe space” that enabled government officials to get to know one another without lobbyists, consultants, or potential grantees present—a sentiment many other attendees echoed.
Invigorating Civic Life
Philadelphia artists win Grammy Awards
Pew Center for Arts & Heritage grantees The Crossing and the Philadelphia Orchestra, along with the orchestra’s music and artistic director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, were awarded 2023 Grammy Awards in February. This is the third Grammy for the professional chamber choir, which won best choral performance for its album “Born.” With Pew support, the choir will present the world premiere of “Farming,” a newly commissioned choral work by composer Ted Hearne, in June. Nézet-Séguin was conductor of the work that won the Grammy for best opera recording, and he was the pianist on the best classical solo vocal album, released with soprano Renée Fleming. In addition, two recordings on which the Philadelphia Orchestra performed won in the classical instrumental solo and contemporary classical composition categories. The Center awarded the orchestra a 2022 project grant to restore scores and perform music by 20th century Black composer William Grant Still.
Emerging Leaders Corps launches
In January, with grant support from the William Penn Foundation, the Philadelphia research and policy initiative kicked off the Emerging Leaders Corps, a peer-learning cohort of 17 individuals from the public and private sectors nominated by elected officials and civic, cultural, and economic development leaders. The goal of the program, which ran through April, was to build a shared understanding of the key challenges facing the city and develop and reinforce opportunities for data-driven decision-making. This program engaged a new generation of Philadelphians, expanding the audience for and gathering insights to inform the initiative’s work, as well as building a peer network for collaboration and problem-solving. The participants represented the geographic, racial, ethnic, linguistic, and policy diversity of Philadelphia.
Informing the Public
How the pandemic has affected attendance at U.S. religious services
Since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic three years ago, observers of religious life in America have wondered whether—and how—the upheaval would affect religious worship. Would the temporary shuttering of churches and other houses of worship accelerate the longer-term decline in attendance, especially if many people who stopped attending religious services in person during the pandemic never go back? Or could the widespread introduction of virtual services extend congregations’ geographic reach, increase their appeal to young people, and help them attract new audiences? A Pew Research Center report issued in March found that a stable share of Americans have been participating in religious services, either virtually or in person, during the pandemic. However, in-person attendance is slightly lower than it was before the coronavirus public health emergency.
Artificial intelligence: What Americans think
Pew Research Center issued a series of publications examining what Americans think about artificial intelligence (AI). A February report on AI in health and medicine found that 6 in 10 U.S. adults said they would feel uncomfortable if their own health care provider relied on artificial intelligence to do things such as diagnose disease and recommend treatments. Meanwhile, an April report on possible uses of AI in the workplace found that most Americans oppose AI’s use in making final hiring or firing decisions. Yet there are instances where people think AI in workplaces would do better than humans. For example, 47% think AI would do better than humans at evaluating all job applicants in the same way.
Americans’ views of China continue to be negative
A Pew Research Center report issued in April examined Americans’ views of China. It found that 83% of U.S. adults continue to have negative views of China, and the share who have very unfavorable views (44%) has increased by 4 percentage points since last year. Around 4 in 10 Americans also now describe China as an enemy of the United States, rather than as a competitor or a partner—up 13 percentage points since last year. Meanwhile, 62% of Americans see the China-Russia partnership as a very serious problem for the U.S., up 5 percentage points since October and back to the original high levels seen in the immediate aftermath of the Ukraine invasion in 2022.
About half of Americans have listened to a podcast in the past year
In April, a Pew Research Center report examined how Americans use podcasts to get news and information. The survey found that about half of Americans have listened to a podcast in the past year, and 1 in 5 of those listeners say they listen to a podcast nearly every day. Listeners turn to podcasts for entertainment, learning, hearing others’ opinions, and staying up to date about current events. Most podcast listeners say they hear news discussed on podcasts; however, just 1 in 5 listeners say they listen to a podcast that’s connected to a news organization.