An Extraordinary Year
Notes from the president
The year 2020 was a headline writer’s dream. From a pandemic, to global protests for social justice, to Brexit and a contentious U.S. election, there was an extraordinary number of stories to tell. And much of what we read in our newspapers and online last year was surprising, troubling, disappointing, and heartbreaking.
But here is the headline I would write about 2020: In difficult times, good things still happen. We saw that last year as Pew and our partners—despite unprecedented challenges including working at home, communicating on laptops and smartphones, and keeping families safe and friends supported—continued to improve policy, inform the public, and support the foundation of our civic life. That work produced an impressive list of accomplishments, many of which are highlighted in this issue of Trust.
Here are some examples.
Pew’s evidence-based approach and convening of stakeholders—ranging from conservationists, to hunters and fishers, to business leaders—helped build strong bipartisan support to pass the Great American Outdoors Act. This legislation—including $6.65 billion for priority repairs—is the largest investment in our national parks in nearly 65 years and will ensure these national treasures remain available for people to enjoy and learn from for decades to come.
Similarly, research from Pew’s consumer finance project was critical to getting Virginia’s Fairness in Lending Act across the finish line last year. Virginia consumers can now obtain safer and less costly loans, and residents of the commonwealth are expected to save $100 million annually.
In 2020, Pew continued its decades-long work to strengthen the fiscal health of states and cities, including our hometown of Philadelphia. Research from our state fiscal health team is being used to develop federal legislation that will help ease the economic pain caused by COVID-19, including technical support for those leaders entrusted with managing state and local budgets during these difficult times. Pew’s data is also informing how Philadelphia and other jurisdictions can best manage tax revenue, pension liabilities, and rainy day funds.
Philadelphia shares many of the problems other communities, large and small, have faced even before the onset of COVID-19. But according to Elinor Haider, who directs Pew’s Philadelphia research and policy initiative, “Housing affordability in Philadelphia is really different from other places. It’s not that prices are so high; it’s that incomes are so low.” After more than a decade of research on the city and urban issues, the initiative has now begun to develop specific policy recommendations for Philadelphia. That focus now includes identifying barriers to accessing home loans, learning from innovative home-funding policies in other cities, and improving ways to target limited resources. You’ll learn more about how Pew is expanding its mission in Philadelphia in this issue.
Our state fiscal health team has also taken a look at states and cities that depend on the leisure and hospitality industries. Americans are traveling less; avoiding restaurants and movies; and paying fewer sales taxes. And while most, if not all, states have lost revenue because of this decline in tourism, Hawaii, Florida, and Nevada have been hit the hardest, as we report in this issue of Trust. Hawaii’s general fund is projected to decline 15.6% this year. Sales tax revenue plummeted in Nevada after casinos were ordered to close. And Florida endured massive layoffs when families stopped attending theme parks.
The recent events at the U.S. Capitol were a painful illustration of America’s political and social divisions, which make it difficult to make progress. The Pew Research Center studied this gap in 2020. As you’ll read in Trust, some 77% of Americans say the country
is more divided now than before the pandemic, compared with a median of 47% in 13 other nations surveyed. But even in a survey that highlights differences of opinion about race, climate change, the economy, and public health, there is still good news: Overwhelming majorities of Trump and Biden supporters surveyed said that their preferred candidate should focus on addressing the needs of all Americans.
That sentiment is by no means the end of the partisan divides that have defined our politics for many years. But it might signal a willingness to begin to come together. Facts and data can help—both in the United States and around the world—by providing a common language for us to address long-standing systemic problems as well as emerging challenges. As the achievements highlighted in this issue of Trust show, when we come together, good things can still happen—even in the worst of times.