Holding It Together Webinar (Twitter) (1)

Webinar: How Women Became America’s Safety Net (PRB Book Talk)

A conversation with author Jessica Calarco on her new book, Holding It Together

On June 27, our first PRB Book Talk focused on Holding It Together: How Women Became America’s Safety Net with author and sociologist Jessica Calarco.

In Holding It Together, Calarco (University of Wisconsin-Madison) draws on five years of research to show how U.S. society and policy disproportionately burden women with caregiving responsibilities. With an expert panel, we discussed Calarco’s key findings and their implications for reproductive health care policy and explore additional research on abortion, contraception, fertility, gender, and motherhood.

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Beth Jarosz, PRB: Welcome, everyone. I’m Beth Jarosz, Senior Program Director at the Population Reference Bureau, and I want to welcome you all to today’s discussion.

As we were preparing for this webinar, I started to write a really formal introduction to this talk. But as I was writing, I kept thinking about my grandmother, Alice. Her story began almost a century before the examples gathered in Dr. Calarco’s research but mirrors many of them so closely: pressure to get married, poverty, violence, and very few resources to teach out there.

It’s been generations. The same patterns still play out today. And it’s not like we don’t know these things. Researchers have been working for years to understand how policies can uplift people or leave them behind. We know that policies in the U.S. have a history of burdening women with caregiving responsibilities and offering them limited protections relative to peers and many other nations.

To be clear, we’re using the word women today in a gender-expansive way that encompasses cis women, trans women, people with a uterus, people who’ve had hysterectomies but identify as women, people who are parents, and those who are child-free. Under that umbrella, we find a group of people who tend to be marginalized by U.S. policy, with marginalization that cuts much deeper for Black women, Indigenous women, Hispanic and Latino women, disabled women, and trans women, to name just a few.

Today, we’re going to unpack some of the ways in which women are asked to hold it together. For the discussion, I’m joined by an all-star cast: Dr. Jessica Calarco of the University of Wisconsin–Madison; Dr. Tiffany Green, also of the University of Wisconsin–Madison; Dr. Karen Benjamin Guzzo of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and Jocelyn Foye of the Womxn Project. We’ll hear from all four panelists and will round out the hour with Q&A.

If you have questions, please type them into the Q&A box. I’ll ask as many of your questions as we can during that Q&A portion. Without further ado, I’m going to invite Jess to begin.

Jessica Calarco, author of Holding It Together: Thank you so much to the PRB team for inviting me. Thank you all for being here today.

And thank you also to the, uh, you know, um, the panelists who are helping to flesh out this topic with more details and insights from their expertise of Karen and Tiffany and Jocelyn. It’s a pleasure to be here with all of you, and I’m so grateful for your work, um, engaging with this material and being part of this conversation.

Um, and thanks, a note of thanks also to the research team that contributed to the work that I’ll talk about today, which included, um, a very large number of graduate and undergraduate students and staff members who helped me produce the research that I’ll be sharing in my talk today.

So I’ll start off here by alluding to or kind of building on what Beth mentioned, this idea that other countries—other, especially high-income countries—have invested in social safety nets to help people manage risk. They use taxes and regulations, especially on wealthy people and corporations, to protect people from poverty, give them a leg up in reaching economic opportunities, and give them the time and energy and incentive to participate and contribute to a shared project of care.

In the U.S., we have instead tried to DIY society. We’ve kept taxes low, we’ve slashed huge holes in the social safety net that we do have, and we’ve told people that if they just make good choices, they won’t actually need government support at all.

Now, the problem with this model is that you can’t actually DIY society. Essentially forcing people to manage all that risk on their own has left many American families and communities teetering on the edge of collapse. And yet, as I’ll talk about today, we haven’t collapsed in part because we have disproportionately women being the ones who are holding it together, filling in the gaps in our economy and the gaps in our threadbare social safety net.

So to illustrate what I’m getting at here, let me tell you the story of a mom that I’ll call Brooke. Brooke was raised in a conservative, white, working-class family in rural Indiana, and her parents had a volatile relationship when she was growing up, and given that upbringing, Brooke never wanted to have kids of her own. But then, like many young women, she ended up accidentally getting pregnant in college.

Brooke and her boyfriend Brendon initially planned to get an abortion, and Brendon’s parents even offered to pay. But then Brooke’s parents found out, and Brooke’s mom persuaded Brooke to keep the baby, promising that she would help both with raising the baby and also with helping Brooke finish college.

Once Brooke’s son Carter was born, though, Brooke’s parents told her they couldn’t afford to pay or help her pay for both child care and for college, and in the wake of that decision, Brooke ended up dropping out of college, moving herself and Carter into a women’s shelter and enrolling in welfare. And because welfare came with work requirements, Brooke also took the first job that she could find, which was a part-time minimum wage job in retail that she hated. And she eventually found a full-time job at a child-care center, but that job also paid only around minimum wage. That said, it did come with free child care, and so this was appealing because at the time she was paying almost as much for child care as she was for rent.

And so at the same time, even when she got promoted to assistant director of the center a few years later, Brooke’s salary was still only $25,000 a year. And given the precarity of that situation, Brooke thought about trying to go back to college to, to get a nursing degree. But Brooke just couldn’t figure out a way to make it work. She didn’t trust her parents to watch Carter, so night classes weren’t an option, and quitting her job, even with how little it paid, seemed too risky. So Brooke just kept working at the child-care center, and she was still working there five years later and still hadn’t finished her college degree.

So Brooke is one of the hundreds of mothers that my team and I interviewed for this book between 2019 and 2022. We conducted more than 400 hours of in-depth interviews with moms and their partners from across the socioeconomic and racial, ethnic, and political spectrum. Most of those families were initially recruited through prenatal clinics in Indiana, so I also conducted two national surveys, each with more than 2,000 parents of kids under 18 from across the U.S.

And what I find in the data, and what Brooke’s story illustrates, is that women’s unpaid and underpaid labor helps to maintain this illusion of a DIY society. It makes it seem as though we can get by without a sturdy social safety net. Brooke’s story also illustrates a second piece of the equation here, which is that to facilitate this kind of exploitation, the U.S. has tried to trap women in motherhood and leave them with nowhere to turn for support in holding it together for their children and nowhere to hide when others ask them to hold even more.

And I talk in the book about how this system of exploitation is, is particularly damaging for low-income and middle-income women and disproportionately for Black and Latino women and women from other racially marginalized groups. In the absence of a decent social safety net, women in these groups can be easily forced into having or raising children or more children than they planned. And once they’re caught in that kind of motherhood trap, they can be easily forced to fill in the other gaps in our economy and also in our social safety net.

So to that end, to give you another story, I’ll talk about a mom I call Patricia. Before the pandemic, Patricia, who’s a Black mom, was still married to her husband, Rodney, and they had three kids, a toddler and two in elementary school. At that point, Patricia was working full time from home as a customer service rep, and Rodney was working full time in construction, and they were earning less than $30,000 a year combined.

Patricia, unlike Rodney, had some college education and she might have been able to find a higher-paying job, but she’d taken her customer service job, even though she found it repetitive and demoralizing, because it was the best remote work job that she could get before the pandemic. And being able to work remotely meant that Patricia didn’t have to pay for afterschool care or make alternate arrangements if the kids got sick.

When the pandemic hit, though, that arrangement ultimately meant that Patricia and Rodney never even talked about who would care for the kids when, you know, schools and child-care centers closed. That responsibility just fell to Patricia, and Rodney kept leaving the house every day for work.

Now, this kind of pandemic parenting took a huge toll on Patricia. The kids were constantly interrupting during her work time, leaving her frustrated and overwhelmed. She talked about the guilt that she felt, saying, “When it’s time to clock out, I need to not clock out mentally as a mother too.” And given that guilt, Patricia decided in the fall of 2020 to cut back to just four days a week of paid work. She figured it would give her more time and energy to focus on the kids, and she also hoped it would give her more time to rest because she had recently and unexpectedly become pregnant with twins.

What ended up happening, though, was that Patricia’s extended family saw her extra day off as an opening to ask for her help with car rides. Patricia was one of the only people in her extended family who had a reliable vehicle at the time, and she and her family were living in Indianapolis, which has been rated as the worst major city for public transit in the U.S. And so Patricia said yes, even when she explained that, she said, “your whole day that you had to yourself ends up being dedicated to running errands for someone else.” And she told me, she said yes because she had, you know, she knew her family had nowhere else to turn. The buck sort of stopped with her. And she also worried that she might need help herself someday.

And unfortunately, that someday came when Patricia and Rodney ended up divorcing just before the kids, the twins, were born in 2021. At that point, Patricia had to lean on those same people who leaned on her, and after her C-section, for example, she needed someone to drive her to doctor’s appointments, and she was grateful that she hadn’t pushed them away before.

And so Patricia’s story gets at this idea that, you know, our attempts to DIY society have, have decimated families, and particularly families that have been systematically marginalized in our society. And in that context, it’s often impossible for women not to get stuck filling in the gaps in our economy and in our social safety net, because we’ve really left them with nowhere to turn for support and nowhere to hide when others ask them to hold even more.

Now, within this system, it’s important to acknowledge that, that more privileged women have it easier because they can afford to offload some of their responsibility they’ve been handed by dumping it onto others who are more vulnerable than they are.

And in the book, I talk about a couple that I call Holly and Kathleen. They’re a white, same-sex married couple, and when their daughter Willa was born in 2019, they planned to split paid work and care work evenly. But the child-care crisis kept getting in the way. Without family nearby to help and with huge wait lists for care, their best option, child-care wise, was a part-time spot that wouldn’t be available until Willa was 9 months old.

And so to make it work in the meantime, Holly and Kathleen decided Holly would work for pay part time from home, while Kathleen worked for pay full time, in part because Holly’s job as a data analyst didn’t pay as much and was able to be done remotely, while Kathleen’s job in law enforcement, you know, had to be done outside the home and paid a whole lot more.

So that arrangement, though, got increasingly difficult as Willa got older, and Holly couldn’t wait for Willa to start child care. But then almost as soon as that spot opened, COVID closed the center, and they’re just right back where they were before.

And, you know, this caused deep frustration for Holly. And she actually went in and complained to her, tried to go in and complain to the center director. But what she learned in the process was that the center couldn’t afford to recruit and keep staff, as she learned, for example, that, you know, her child’s previous teacher didn’t have health care benefits and was still struggling to pay off medical debt that she had accrued, you know, years before the pandemic started.

And hearing those stories left Holly feeling guilty. She told me, “Kathleen and I just feel really guilty about being complicit in this thing where it’s like we have all these women of color watching our kids, and we’re not really taking good care of them.”

And, you know, that guilt of complicity weighed heavily on Holly, but she also recognized that, that she and Holly needed reliable, affordable care if they were going to be working full time and especially if they wanted to pay for IVF to have another kid. And so she talked about how, you know, “we have more than we need right now, but it could change at any moment without that social safety net. So you’re like, I guess I should just hoard it in a giant pile and sleep on top.”

And so as we see in Holly’s story, some women benefit from this kind of exploitation of women who are more vulnerable because that exploitation makes it possible for them to afford to outsource help with care. And yet, at the same time, and as we also see here, even relatively privileged women are drowning because our DIY model has left all but the wealthiest families with more responsibility than they can manage and because what’s left over disproportionately falls to women, even when men could do more to fill in the gaps.

And on that front, and I’ll quickly tell the story of a mom I’ll call Virginia, who’s a tenure-track professor at a research university who makes $75,000 a year, and her husband is a middle school math teacher who makes $45,000 a year. And despite being the primary breadwinner, Virginia is still the default parent for the kids. She’s also the default caregiver for her aging parents, even though her brother could be stepping up to do more, and it makes it tremendously difficult for Virginia to be able to feel as though she can concentrate enough to do her work, her research. She said, “I do actually have a brain. I love thinking, and I’d love to be able to do that again sometime.”

Um, at the same time, she also balked at the suggestion from her employer that she should just be taking more time for self-care. She said self-care is just a way that institutions have offloaded their responsibility of enacting humane work. Um, and she said that what she really needed was institutional support. She said, “I need the child tax credit back. I need a financial cushion. I need time and reliable care for my kids. I need consistency, I need institutions to step up and be humane.”

And essentially, I mean, Patricia, or Virginia’s lament here makes clear that we already know what the problem is, and we already know the solution. And so the solution is to build the kind of safety net that would actually protect us all.

But we haven’t built it, and I, and I argue in the book that we haven’t built it because, you know, billionaires and big corporations and their cronies, or who I talk about in the book as sort of the engineers and profiteers of our DIY society, have us right where they want us. And because they’ve promoted a series of myths that help to dissuade us, to help, to delude us into believing that we don’t need a social safety net, and to, to divide us by race and class and gender and politics and religion in ways that prevent us from coming together to demand the kind of social safety net that would better protect us all.

So I’ll leave things there for now, just to ensure that we have lots of time for other discussion. But I’m looking forward to the, to the questions and also to the, to the discussion with the whole group. So thank you.

Beth Jarosz: Thank you so much. Um, and I’m going to invite Tiffany now to speak a bit about her research.

Tiffany Green, University of Wisconsin–Madison: Thank you so much for having me here today. Congratulations, Jess, on your new book.

Um, I’m going to talk a little bit today about, um, some work that my team and I have been doing on a policy called birth cost recovery, or the birth tax, and just really thinking about its implications for caregiving. Um, a special thanks to the people that have funded this research, including the Wisconsin Partnership Program, uh, the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families, and the Centennial Scholars Program. So many people on my team to thank, um, including, uh, Klaira Lerma, who’s not pictured here, my research director; Frank Lewis, Obi Anaya, and Mikaela Miller, who are RAs as well; and also the many community partners that have been involved in this work.

So, what is birth cost recovery and what does it have to do with what we’re talking about today? Um, birth cost recovery is a policy primarily practiced in Wisconsin, where states draw upon a certain interpretation of federal Medicaid law that allows them to pursue, um, the Medicaid birthing costs, um, that, that people pursue. So if I have a baby and I’m on Medicaid, uh, the father, um, the non-custodial father would be asked to pay part of that cost.

And, how does this work? Um, basically, a person discovers that they are pregnant. Uh, they may or may not decide to enroll in prenatal Badger Care or Medicaid is what we call it here in the Badger State. Um, a person gives birth. Now, the state cannot withhold, uh, birthing coverage if the father is not declared. However, there is an automatic referral system in the state where if someone has a Medicaid for part of their birth, labor, and delivery costs, it automatically gets referred to child support.

Um, after that, the courts determined, um, one within the context of that child support order, if birth cost recovery or the birth tax should be incurred. Um, and that can be, that can be used to garnish a person’s wages, etc. And this is very much separate from child support, and it does not go towards the maintenance of the child. Um, if the birthing parent refuses to declare who the father is, the state can take away Badger Care or Medicaid after the 60-day period is over and they are otherwise eligible.

And so why does this matter? Well, for someone like me who studies structural inequality, this matters a lot. Because of structural racism, Black people and Indigenous people are far more likely to have their births covered by Medicaid, both in Wisconsin and the rest of the United States.

Um, I first learned about this policy from Rachel Azanleko, who was a former MPH student here who really focused on thinking about the impacts of birth cost recovery on outcomes. And she told me that, and as an economist I got excited, that there was a huge policy change in Wisconsin, which I’ll talk about in a minute.

But this is something that’s also coming up in the context of discussions with communities. This idea, particularly among Black communities, that this is a policy that magnifies financial instability for families. It penalizes birthing parents with health care coverage loss if they don’t declare the father. And it deepens many men’s struggles to financially support their children and strains family dynamics. So, you know, if there are strained family dynamics that that caregiving work almost certainly is going to go towards the birthing parents or mothers.

So in January 2020, Dane County stopped collecting new birth cost recovery funds. And we did some work to think about what the impacts might be on families. We found that there was an increase in child support that went to the birthing parent, and this was particularly true among Black families.

But one thing we found is that we weren’t hearing a lot about the Black families that were actually affected. And so in this, in this work through the Wisconsin Partnership Program, we decided to really try to document the experiences of the team and eventually create a quantitative survey where we could kind of assess how people’s experiences with birth cost recovery were affecting their mental and physical health.

Um, we started with birthing parents, and I’ll talk just a little bit about what we found. Um, and we also will be interviewing fathers as well, or non-birthing parents. Um, how do these birthing parents think that birth cost recovery has affected their lives? It’s dads not having money for necessities or extras. Negative impacts on bonding and, and these inequitable effects, particularly among Black Wisconsinites.

And so what this boils down to, again, is that it makes sure it helps to ensure that fathers are not able to fully participate in their children’s lives because of this extra cost that’s incurred. Um, here’s one quote from some of the qualitative interviewing that we’ve been doing. We interviewed, uh, I think 24, uh, birthing parents at this point.

“Yeah. I mean, that could be challenging for the 5-year-old.” So, so they’re talking specifically about birth cost recovery.

“I can’t give you extra money for school clothing because I got to help pay the birth expenses. Hey, I don’t have—let’s say I was to run into a gym where I needed $25 for gas. The funds is so tight that they’re not even leaving room for the fathers to do anything extra or curriculum activities, because they’re getting this money, taking out of their checks every two weeks or every week for child support.”

A second quote from a respondent: “If men didn’t have this birthing fee right off top, that would make it a better relationship bonding for the mother, the father, the child. Men would be able to do more, provide more, and it’d just be a healthy family overall.” So again, these quotes really embody the fact that this, this particular policy, far from being sort of these individual-level choices, has the capacity to frame what can be offered, fathers are able to offer children, and the stability of family units.

Um, just so you know, there have been some more recent policy changes. I feel like it’s a moving target for us. Um, Milwaukee County has stopped taking fathers to court for birth cost recovery. And Dane County also is, is working on forgiving back pay, as is Milwaukee. So there’s been a lot of change just since we started studying this policy. And we’re working to try to understand how this shapes family dynamics and caregiving within families.

Um, now we are focused on interviewing Black fathers now to understand their perceptions of the policy and understanding how this affects how they see fatherhood and their ability to support, uh, child, child experiences in their growth, and really trying to understand the short- and learn long-term effects of these policy changes on all Wisconsinites, but specifically Black Wisconsinites.

And I’ll end there and kick it over to the next person. Thank you so much.

Beth Jarosz: Thank you. And Karen, I will invite you to share about your research next.

Karen Benjamin Guzzo, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill:  Great, great. Thank you so much, and I’m really pleased to be here. And thank you to PRB for putting this together. Uh, and thank you Jess for writing this book.

And so I’m a demographer, and so I study population-level changes in behavior. And my particular area of research, uh, is childbearing, uh, looking at birth rates and trends over time, differences across different groups, um, the factors that predict whether people have children.

And so what’s important to me and some of my takeaways from this book or that related it back to a larger issue some of you may have heard of, which is that the U.S. is at record low fertility rates. Uh, this has caused considerable alarm and for all sorts of reasons, and maybe we can get into this later. Um, but different groups are alarmed for different reasons.

Uh, and so the question has become, geez, why aren’t women having births? And this is, I get this question a lot from journalists. And really, it’s tightly tied to how we think about women and birthing people. And you know, what we expect from them, how we judge them, and what we do or do not owe them and provide them as a society. And so when we’re talking about birth rates declining, um, to me, this is very much a story of damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

So for years the U.S. has had higher fertility rates than other countries, many of its pure nations. We, so we kind of aim for what’s called replacement level, which is about two births per woman. This allows women basically to replace themselves and their partners, and, uh, absent immigration, this keeps the population stable. And so with the U.S. was above this rate for, for quite a while when many of its pure nations were not.

And, as such, the U.S. was kind of able to ignore the social safety net, the kind of things Jessica talks about in her book: things like affordable care, affordable and accessible child care, lack of paid parental and family leave, um, having a functional health care system that everyone could access regardless of income or employment status.

And so low fertility, low birth rates, was really not on our national radar. Um, any woman can probably tell you it’s certainly on the individual people’s radar. So lots of women were, “So when are we going to start having kids? When are you going to start having kids?” Um, but this wasn’t a national conversation because what we are, the conversation we’re actually having as a country was who shouldn’t be having children.

And so the U.S. has generally had very high teen birth rates and high unintended pregnancy rates relative to our peer nations. Uh, and as it turns out, those teen birth rates and unintended pregnancy rates were actually propping up our overall fertility rate.

And so, since the 1990s, under the Clinton administration, um, we had the emergence of, um, different efforts to reduce teen and unintended pregnancy. Uh, so in 1996, we saw the emergence of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, um, come out. And then later expanded to include, um, teenage and unintended or unplanned pregnancy. Uh, it since changed its name again.

Um, and so in the 1990s, teen pregnancy rates were at, um, sort of record highs, but only in terms of recent memory. Because if you go back to the 1950s, during the baby boom, teenage birth rates were much, much higher. But they were the right kind of birth. They were births to people who were married, and we weren’t worried about those.

So what happened in the 80s and 90s is that birth rates were increasingly teen birth rates were to low-income women who were unmarried, women from racially minoritized populations. And these were the wrong kinds of births. And so we were very worried about those.

Um, and so, um, we had all sorts of campaign ads to reduce teen and unintended childbearing. So you might remember from just a decade ago, New York City ran these fairly horrific ads, um, targeting teen moms and trying to shame them into not having, um, children.

Um, and then even at the federal government level, we have official policies. Uh, every 10 years, the federal government publishes something called the Healthy People objectives or Healthy People initiatives. And, and these are kind of health, public health goals they’d like to reach over the next decade. And for a long time, those have included, uh, reducing teen and unintended pregnancy rates.

And so I say all this to say, over the past 10 years, basically since the Great Recession, it actually happened. We’ve seen this long-term decline in teen pregnancy rates, but now we’re also seeing a pretty sizable decline in births to unintended births that would be characterized by people themselves as happening maybe later in earlier than they would have wanted. So now that people aren’t having those births, this is essentially good news.

So when reporters ask me, you know, “What’s happening with birth rates? Why aren’t people having kids?” I’m like, this is a success story. This is a story in which young people, those are, those are the people who typically, if they had a birth, would consider it sort of earlier than they would have wanted. This is a good news story that people are able to better control their reproductive lives so that they can have children when they want them, under the context in which they want them, and to have as many children as they feel personally able to have.

Um, and so this is a good news story, but part of this good news story, the background to this is that we have been preaching for years that it is irresponsible for people, but really for women, for young women, to have a child when you’re not ready: you don’t have a good job, you haven’t finished school, you don’t have a good partnership, you know, you can’t afford to live on your own, you live in an unsafe neighborhood.

So we’ve been preaching this for years that you shouldn’t have a child if it’s, if you’re not in the right circumstances. And so the decline in unintended fertility in some way it’s very good. And the decline in birth rate is because of sort of declining teen and unintended birth rates. But we need to think about the other side of the story.

Um, since the Great Recession, our society, and that of other societies, I’ll be honest too, who also have more of a social safety net, um, a lot of these societies are not providing people, young people, a sense of security and optimism for the future. I mean, all for all intents and purposes, having a child is a future-oriented decision. And so people need to look to the future and think, “Okay, I can do this, and I’m going to have a good life, and I can provide my children with things.”

And so to me, it’s, it’s baffling that people are baffled that we’re not having, young people aren’t having kids today, that they are waiting. And because they’re holding up their end of the bargain, the bargain that we’ve been preaching for, you know, 15, 20, 30, 40 years really: don’t have kids, don’t have kids if you do not have, you know, essentially all your proverbial ducks in a row.

But the other half of the bargain is that society needs to create a set of conditions in which you can reasonably predict for the future that you’ll have enough money, you’ll have a good job, you can afford health care, you can afford to find a safe place to live. You can have a good partnership. And so people aren’t having kids because those things don’t look like they’re happening for them in the future. Um, and, of course, without an adequate social safety net otherwise, it’s just simply too risky to have children in some ways.

So most of my research really shows that it’s not that people are saying, “I don’t want kids.” They’re saying “I want kids, but not now. I want kids if—.” And they really are thinking quite rationally about what they want in the future, what they think childbearing for them should look like.

Um, and so if you’re a woman, childbearing is incredibly risky. So it starts in pregnancy. We monitor what you eat, what you drink, how little or how much weight you gain. If you have a substance use disorder, uh, and you’re pregnant, you could go to jail or risk losing your child rather than getting help. Um, if you’re sick during pregnancy, you know, God bless you. Um, because we don’t know what meds might work for you because we actually don’t study, um, women, pregnant women have typically been excluded from medical trials.

If you have a condition that threatens your pregnancy, um, or threatens your life and you live in certain states, uh, again, you might literally be risking death because health care professionals cannot or don’t feel as if they’re allowed to treat you. Um, even before some of these recent changes we’ve seen in abortion law, uh, your chance of dying during pregnancy, during childbirth, or thereafter was much higher in the United States than elsewhere.

And then, of course, if you make it all through that, and you have a child, and you’re on your own to figure out if you can take time off. We do not have paid family leave in the United States. So people go back to work much sooner than they would like. Um, but if you’d like to stay home and recover from childbirth, you know, bond with your baby, you’re going to have to figure out how to do that on your own. You’re going to have to fund that on your own.

If you do go back to work, um, you’re going to have to find someone to care for your child. Um, and we have such a huge problem with child care affordability and accessibility, and this has really been accelerated and magnified during the, um, the pandemic and post-pandemic years, uh, where we’ve seen a real decline in child-care slots.

So you have to go back and try to figure out who’s going to watch your kid for you, and can you afford it? Um, if you do have a financial setback of some sort, you know, you’ll have to navigate our patchwork safety net programs. Um, and those, there’s a lot of sort of administrative burden there, and it often seems like they’re designed to turn you down and humiliate you in the process of getting them.

Um, even for advantaged women, you have these sort of do-it-all norms, uh, and you’re going to be struggling to find child care during summers if your kids are school age or before and after school. Um, you are worried about social mobility, so parents feel like they have to do everything right and get their kids into all the right programs. Um, if you can afford not to work as a mom and you choose to work, you’ll be judged for that, and you’ll face this constant feeling of neither being good enough at work or at home. And these are all just really gendered things.

And so when, when people ask me, “Why aren’t people having kids?” I’m like, well, they’re making really rational choices about what’s available to them. What’s the safety net look like? What does my own future look like? Does it look safe? Secure? And mostly they’re saying no, it doesn’t. It doesn’t look like that right now. And so people are waiting longer and longer to have kids. And sometimes that might mean they end up with fewer kids or not having kids at all.

And so this is not a story of individual women saying, “Oh, I just don’t like kids.” I mean, of course, some people probably say that, but really it’s a story about young people as a whole looking around and saying, “There’s— the conditions in which you’ve told me I’m supposed to have kids don’t exist for me, and I’m not sure they will.” And so this is very much a story about what is our social safety net look like for people and families, but particularly for women who are making these decisions.

So I think I’ll stop there, so we have chances for someone else to weigh in.

Beth Jarosz: Thank you so much, Karen. And last but certainly not least, um, we want to, we’re talking about all of these challenges, the social safety net and sort of policy changes that could be helpful. So we’re going to wrap up with a little bit of discussion about, uh, how policy can change. So Jocelyn, turn it over to you.

Jocelyn Foye, Womxn Project: Thanks. Hi, everyone. How do you do? My name is Jocelyn Foye, she/her.

I am located in, um, Providence, Rhode Island, um, which I relocated from Southern California. But to give any of you a sense who aren’t from these parts, um, Rhode Island is the smallest state in the nation with only 1.1 million people living within our borders at this time. Our census says that we are a 77% white-identifying population, which if anyone studies census work, they’d understand that that’s not the right number for minority spaces. But, um, it’s an important one to name. And then also, we’re the third most Catholic state in the nation, which means we have an incredibly powerful, um, bully pulpit for the, for the bishops here.

And so when I moved here from Southern California, um, what I found really quickly was how restrictive the policy was for a state that people often say is a blue state when you see it on the map. And when we’re looking at presidential elections, it always goes blue. Well, we’re very purple, and it’s important to name that as I talk about this work, because, um, my organization came out of a place of recognizing that with Trump coming in as his first presidency, we had concerns.

A number of us who were doing policy, and I come from a background of being an artist, a spectacle-based artist and a design professor, and we wondered if we could put together policy strategies and inclusive installations that were spectacle based and activating of community to be welcomed into the process of how to do art and activism with us. So these are some images of ways we did the work. Um, and it’s, there’s a lot of pictures on our website. So we, we welcome you to take a look at it.

But the reason I think I was invited here was because the Womxn Project. Um, and I want to say to woman with an X when we originally named ourselves, was to be an inclusive organization to include all folks, of all folks who wanted to get active with us, to join it. Language has recently changed, and so we constantly are in a mutative form of how do we rebrand to be in alignment with inclusive, inclusive work?

Um, so, um, we came on the scene after 24 years of essentially what was the Roe bill in Rhode Island. It was, um, fought for, for 24 years and had no success. And so with our style of activism, what we did is we created this community quilt. And we wondered if by going into different areas across the state, and we had conversations with people about, were they aware of their rights? Were they aware that after, um, if Roe should be overturned—and mind you, we started this in 2017—um, that based on the constitution of our state, we would see that, um, providers would be tried as murderers.

And I went to an event in Washington, D.C., where I sat with some women from Alabama, and they said, you know, “Rhode Island and Alabama aren’t very different, are they?” And I was like, oh, tell me more like, what are you thinking? And what they said was, is that we both are run by the mob, which is true, and we both are, um, are going to have abortion providers tried as murderers based on our states’ constitutions.

So our group was like, okay, how do we bring more people to the table? Let’s look at the way marriage equality was done nationally. And we started doing one-on-one conversations, house parties. We started going into spaces where women were collecting, book clubs, sewing groups, you name it, and we started asking people if they wanted to make a quilt square with us. And the quilt square became essentially their own signature of a petition.

And as a lot of us may know, the history of quilts says a lot about, um, memor—  like memorandums or histories of passage of people’s lives. But it also is a, is a, um, history or a path of understanding of where to go.

So what we did is we ended up building this giant quilt, and we had master quilters across the state helping us build these sections that we carabinered onto one another, and we moved around and we would display in our state house. And for anyone who’s a visual interests learner, installation art, this thing kept getting bigger and bigger, and we had security guards really angry that we had this mass thing.

But what happened was a ton of people across the state felt really this was their thing. They all were working on it. It was a very collaborative effort. And what really happened was, is we got to have 2,500 small conversations with people who made those squares with us that were part of those quilts, and that had the networking effect that women do do so well, or small communities that are unique and tight with one another.

So it became an intersectional project in a lot of different ways because of where we were invited. And we intentionally designed it so that different spaces made it their own. People built different methods of this, this style of work together.

And we were able, after three years, to pass the bill, which was turned into, they named it the Reproductive Privacy Act. Um, and we did it because we built community momentum, and we got people to a point where they not only understood what was at risk through conversations and networking, but also they learned about the education of how a bill becomes a law. And they learned that they wanted to get involved and they wanted to see this bill through.

People felt a level of ownership. And so when I talk about us as an organization, the part that’s hard for people to wrap their heads around it is, is that we stemmed from grassroots organizing. We still are. Um, but we also shift policy. And we do that by way of, of basically the people power.

And often when you talk to organizational leaders who say, well, what is your piece? What makes you different here? Um, unfortunately or fortunately, it is the fact that I’ll walk into a room with legislators or the governor, often not comfortably, they’ll see me and they’ll be like, oh no, she’s here, because I bring sort of this level of question of what is the action or the behavior that I’m representing, but also how many people are, are coming with me.

And so what it’s done is, is in this movement, this intersectional movement of  “women’s work” or organizational, um, like, uh, patriarchally like suppressed spaces. What we’re doing is, is we’ve pivoted from not just working in the abortion space, but we’ve also been invited and have board members who are identifying in the space of the LGBTQIA space.

So after two years of passing the Reproductive Privacy Act through, excuse me, because of COVID, we passed essentially the Hyde Amendment in Rhode Island to be overturned. And so that meant that Medicaid recipients and state workers then had that included in their insurance policy, which, when we think about it, if you pull back on a lens, um, a lot of people will say abortion is been taken over by white women, second-generation feminists. And I can’t argue against that. But we looked for ways to make it everyone’s work. And with the second bill, it was an equity piece. It was like every, if one person has access to this, then everyone should.

And so now we’ve gone into the same sort of work in a similar way. But we’re not talking about abortion because it’s never really been about abortion. Roe was not about abortion being overturned. It was about taking away our rights. And so, in a medical way, and so we’re now looking at we just passed a bill this year, which is incredible because there’s really no good news in this horizon, but a provider shield bill.

And so we now have we just today, I just came from the signing of our governor where providers who are giving, doing abortions or who are doing gender-affirming care will be protected from any out-of-state attacks that they may receive from states so that those providers can be taken care of, as can the patients, which is not something we always get to talk about. So our work is this like modeling of policy mixed with community action.

And I think that, um, there’s a lot to say further, but I’ll stop. Um, we are, I will say this too, in, in just full disclosure, we’re an organization that started as a C4, not-for-profit, which is unusual. It’s not a C3. A C3 is tax exempt, so it’s not allowed to talk about policy as a lobbying thing. Well, we started as the opposite, which is a lot harder in America. People don’t like to fund this type of work.

But what it allowed us to do was it was tool, we had tools in our toolboxes that were different, so we were able to drive billboard trucks around our state with faces of General Assembly members on it that said, this person doesn’t believe in the right to abortion in your district. Here’s their phone number. Call and ask them why. Because it became an accountability process.

And, um, and we built massive coalitions around this work because people saw the value in it and for their communities as well. And so we’re growing while trying to figure out how to, you know, keep pushing the envelope. So I’ll stop there.

Beth Jarosz: I feel like I, we could continue this conversation for two more hours. Um, but we’ve got, we’ve got about 20 minutes now for questions, and we’ve had a lot of really fantastic questions, um, come in through the chat. So, um, I think I, I had prepared some questions, but I think the one theme that sort of has come across several of the questions that have come in is, what would an improved social safety net look like? And I’m thinking each one of you probably has a perspective on that. And we’ll go kind of in the same order we did. So Jess, Tiffany, Karen, and Jocelyn for that one.

Jessica Calarco: So I mean, I think that’s a great question. And I think the kind of social safety net that we need, in my view, is one that helps to essentially take care out of the for-profit market. That’s one piece of it, in the sense that so much of the unpaid, underpaid labor that women end up doing, women hold almost 70% of the lowest wage jobs in our economy. And often those are jobs where women, especially women of color, especially women from more marginalized groups in our society, are pushed into doing these kinds of low-wage jobs because someone, they’re not, they don’t work within our profit-driven model.

And so ensuring that that taking that work out of the market, whether that’s child care, home health care, the, you know, health care in general, that removing that from the profit pressures can help to then pave the way for the second step, which is about ensuring that the care, the care work is equitable and funded to the level where it can be both equitable and sustainable, essentially taking care of the people who care. And that includes both paid work and unpaid care work in the sense of things like unpaid, or things like paid family leave, things like paid vacation time, things like limits on paid work hours like they have in places like France, to ensure that everyone has the time and energy to contribute to this shared project of care.

So those are sort of, you know, two key components, um, kind of ways to think about the social safety net as opposed to, you know, specific programs. Um, so it’s about sort of, you know, giving people a backstop and also making sure that people have the time and energy to, uh, you know, take care of each other and take care of themselves because we can’t outsource everything, even with a sturdy social safety net.

Beth Jarosz: Tiffany, do you want to add to that? What’s, what would the safety net look for you?

Tiffany Green: I don’t have much else to add. I think high-quality child care is, is a key thing where, where child-care workers are paid well. We know that child-care workers were at the front lines during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and many quit, um, during, during that time. So making sure we have high-quality child care where the people taking care of our kids can actually afford, um, that high-quality child care is really key. Having, um, paid parental leave is really important.

But I would say even within the context of our institutions, many of us are at universities—I’m tenured now, so I will say this—um, a lot of the care work is put on, um, you know, faculty assigned female at birth. Let’s, let’s be really clear. So we have a pervasive, um, um, the thing where we put care work upon women and other people assigned female at birth within all of our institutions. So I think we need a full-sale overhaul, uh, a wholesale overhaul of what that looks like.

And the other thing I would say, I always think about the non-sexy things, and so one of those things is our tax system. I’m not an expert in that. But I’ve, I’ve been very convinced by my colleagues who are experts in the tax system in thinking about how we can use that to, to reduce poverty, because, again, many of the most impoverished households are headed by women. So things like the Child Tax Credit were very effective at, uh, at improving things, making sure we have, um, an equitable system so that people, people that, households that are headed by women, um, will not be as poor, I think is really important, other than, you know, burning down the patriarchy.

Beth Jarosz: Yeah. How about you, Karen? Anything to add?

Karen Benjamin Guzzo: Yeah, so I want to comment on something that I think I showed up in the Q&A a bit, which is that people sometimes say, oh, well, other countries have some of the social safety net things you’re talking about. You know, some of the Scandinavian countries have great leave or great child care, and their birth rates are also falling, or what’s happening, um, in East Asia, where the birth rates are extremely low and they have some generous policies.

Part of the problem, though, is that you need all the things, but you also need social change. Um, and it’s not enough to, especially for some of the East Asian societies, to say they have a generous maternity leave policy, um, if women are actually still expected to come home and do all the work, uh, and their husbands are not doing anything, or you still have a culture in where, um, working all the hours is how you actually get ahead in your job. So it’s not enough to have just any one of these things.

Um, but I would also say even if birth rates don’t go up, they are the right thing to do to have, you know, a strong maternity and parental leave policy, to have adequate child care. Um, it is, I think it’s important to have these things because it does improve the well-being of, of our families. And I think that is really where we all want to end up, where people feel like they can live the kind of meaningful lives without this level of stress.

But going back to the culture thing, and one of the things I find is a sticking point sometimes in conversations I’ve had in research I’ve done, which is that women feel as if they’re doing everything and their husbands are like, “But I’m doing so much more than my dad. I’m doing so much more than the earlier generations did.” And the women that they’re partnered with are saying, “But you’re not doing as much as me.” And so people are sort of talking across each other within relationships, but we don’t recognize this sort of care work and value this.

So there’s been this movement. Um, I think Richard Reeves is sort of the kind of most proponent, biggest proponent of this is, how do we get men, how do we help men out? But one argument he’s making is we’ve got to get men to understand that care work is important and meaningful. Um, and help them make, you know, firm relationships with their children, with their friends so that they can engage in this care work that makes everybody better.

And so we need a social safety net, but we need the cultural change that supports using a social safety net and that a social safety net is an investment and not some sort of extra expense that we’re doing because women aren’t doing their jobs.

Beth Jarosz: Thank you. And I actually think that answers one of the other questions that have come in. So the person who asked the question about how are men being called in, if that’s, if you want to continue on, repost that question in the chat. And then Jocelyn, do you have anything you want to add about the safety net?

Jocelyn Foye: The only, yeah, I mean from my lens as it would make sense then is, is that from a social safety net too, we need to be supporting not-for-profit organizations that are doing a lot of this work. Um, it’s the second largest industry in the United States, which is not-for-profit work, but how, um, those organizations struggle and actually exist within spaces where they’re in competition with each other is really difficult.

Um, and so I would just say for those with the means, it’s not always about money. It’s also sometimes, which we often talk a lot about, what it’s about, um, finding your superpower and what can you contribute to the work. Um, often for people who have the means, yes, money is a really helpful tool. But for people who time is of the essence, you have children, you, there are organizations that invite you to do some of the work with, um, them with your children, and more and more not-for-profits are making that a part of the process. Um, but also organizations are looking for people who can do work in ways that are very creative.

And so I’m just putting out there I think that, again, I come back to I’m not thinking of the folks who were trying to just get by, but I’m thinking of the spaces that are places where people can add a little something. Um, I think it’s important to name, and I, I don’t have a stat that’s as, as recent as I’d like, but Ms. magazine has been putting out research about what kind of not-for-profit funding exists in the United States. And in 2020, it was only 1.6% of not-for-profits were being funded that supported women and girls, specific not-for-profits. And so when we look at how support is existing out there, I think we could all do better. Um, and I think we make assumptions about that.

But I go back to I’m a designer. I always offer my resources as a designer. I can’t offer my resources as a, as someone who makes money. And so I try to fit it in when my kids go to bed before I go to bed, if I can. And I think that that’s a way to think about certain models. Again, a privileged model nonetheless. But if you had the time, what could you offer?

Beth Jarosz: Thank you. Um, and taking it in a slightly different direction and sort of a question that I had prepared, um, but then Tiffany sort of spoke to in the chat just now is that, you know, the underpinning this assumption is the idea that, um, that people should be having more children. Um, and is that really even a, is that really even the right assumption?

I know, um, Karen and I have been chatting about this a little bit too, that, and Karen, maybe you want to kick that off, that, that just that underlying assumption of is that even the right question, like is, is the question how to, how do we increase birth rates? Or is the question about making sure we have a safety net because that’s the right thing whether the birth rates get there or not? But also how do we push back against this idea that like people having kids is the way to solve our economic problems?

Karen Benjamin Guzzo: Sure, sure. So, um, I’ll just sort of lay my, my, my position clear, which is I’m not worried about our fertility rates. Uh, I worry about fertility in the sense of we have people who say they’d like to have kids and feel like they can’t have the kids that they’d like to have under the conditions they would like to have them. That is a societal failure to me that we have people who want to have children and feel like they can’t. That is a problem we need to fix. Um, but birth rates in themselves don’t concern me.

Uh, you know, if we’re worried about, you know, we talk about Social Security or, um, the labor force or something like that, or even worse, you know, nation-states. I can tell you how little I care about nation-states. Um, but, you know, things like Social Security, we have other means. We could, we could, we have other policy-level levers, um, but expecting people to say, oh, I should have children so that, um, future generations can, so that my kids 20 years from now can pay into Social Security to help fund retirees at that point is sort of nonsensical to me when we have levers like, we could raise the Social Security cap, um, you know, we can change our policies in terms of immigration. We, uh, we can, there are things we can do. And as automation changes and jobs change, do we need as many workers?

Um, and so we need to we need a wholesale sort of reimagining. And do I think it’s going to happen? I don’t know about that, but, um, but this idea that birth rates are going to be the thing that save us as a future just does not resonate with me, because it’s not just about birth rates. Let’s be really honest. It’s about the right people having births. Um, it’s not just we don’t want more immigrant births, so we don’t want births from poor people. We want a very specific group of people to have births. Um, and ideally, they should stay at home with their kids and get out of the labor force.

And I mean, it’s, there’s a whole level of things that, you know, probably aren’t worth getting into right now.

Beth Jarosz: And, Tiffany, since you were the one who put that comment in the chat, is there anything you want to add to how we think about the sort of social structures about who’s the right person, or, you know, that it should be going up?

Tiffany Green: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s very much grounded in the eugenics of, of, of earlier and I guess present times that the people that need to be having births are white cisgender women and other people should not be giving birth. Um, so I teach a lot about that in my classes, and I think it’s really important to sort of question our underpinning ideas of why we, we think people should be giving birth.

Like Karen, I don’t care about birth rates. I care about people that, you know, from a reproductive justice standpoint, the right to get pregnant and stay pregnant is really critical. And we know that social structures, uh, are very much against, for example, Black people, uh, getting pregnant, whereas during enslavement, um, the idea was for Black women to get pregnant and to, to perpetuate the institution of slavery. So there is no neutral way of thinking about birth rates, uh, in, in that context.

So in total agreement with Karen and just adding that extra historical context.

Beth Jarosz: Thank you. Um, and then there are, there are so many good questions. Um, and I have to pick, we probably have time for one, maybe two more. So I am going to go with one, um, that, uh, Jess, throughout the book, there’s this theme that good choices aren’t enough to save people, um, that, that there is this sort of social belief that, oh, well, you know, if that person had just done x differently, then y wouldn’t have happened. And you lay out a really clear case that that is not really how things work. Could you expand on that just a little bit?

Jessica Calarco: Sure. I mean, this is basically the idea that correlation is not causation in the sense that certainly there are, um, choices that people can make in our society or some people can make in our society, things like getting married, you know, delaying childbirth, uh, going to college, finishing a college degree. You know, these kinds of choices correlate with better outcomes. You know, more economic stability, lower risks of poverty, better health outcomes.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s those choices themselves that lead to those better outcomes. And it ignores the role of privilege in facilitating people making those kinds of choices. As Karen was talking about before, we’ve set people up to understand that you should really only be bringing a child into the world, or you won’t be, the only real way to not be judged for doing so is if you’re doing so in the right kind of context.

And the same is very much true for marriage. The same is very much true, I mean, for college. I talk in the book about how just going to college, especially for women given gender pay gaps and given the way that we, you know, differentially value gendered work, it doesn’t necessarily pay off in those kinds of ways.

And so we have to be very careful about that kind of messaging that just tells people to make good choices. And that’s really the whole, um, the basis of this DIY myth that I talk about.

Beth Jarosz: Does anyone else want to speak to that question?

Karen Benjamin Guzzo: I would just chime in to say some of the stuff that was in the book that I’ve seen in other places, which is you make the right choices and something catastrophic goes wrong and there’s no safety net for you. You have a sudden illness, uh, your spouse dies. All your good choices don’t mean anything, you know, because you’re on your own again, because there’s no safety net.

So, again, making these right choices, it’s no guarantee that things will work out. And so the amount of luck people have, um, in their lives is sort of underplayed because the people who’ve done well don’t like to think of themselves as being lucky or fortunate, but they are just one sort of bad mistake or bad, you know, car accident away from something catastrophic happening. But we don’t think about it that way. And we tend to say, oh, you must you must have made bad choices to have ended up this way.

Beth Jarosz: Um, I don’t think we have time to address this one, but I just want to note that a couple of people have mentioned in the Q&A that there’s also, we’ve talked a lot about child care, but similar patterns play out with elder care and with other family caregiving responsibilities. So I think it’s sort of just a resounding acknowledgment that that is true, and that when we talk about these roles that society plays on women, we’re talking about all of those, um, even if we’re focused on the child care piece today.

So the last question I want to leave with, um, is we’ve talked about a lot of what’s wrong. Um, we’ve talked about a lot of the challenges and the holes in the safety net. I want to just ask, is there anything that makes you optimistic about the future? And we’ll, we’ll go in reverse order this time. So we’ll do Jocelyn and wrap up. Jocelyn, what makes you optimistic?

Jocelyn Foye: Sure. Um. So, uh, the Womxn Project lately has been doing a lot of organizing at school board and town council levels, because that is a space where a majority of women are taking in, taking on the roles of those leadership positions, at least in school committees. But typically they get kicked. They decide not to continue in government because, frankly, it beats them down.

Um, what I will tell you is, is, well, we’re fighting against a lot of the hate group organizing ourselves in terms of how it’s impacting bodily autonomy and freedoms. Um, I will tell you that when people in their communities find out, so in Rhode Island, people don’t think it’s as present here. And so I would say that representation of the different states that is here in this panel, that’s a very different type of thing. But for this particular state, when people find out that there is things, there are certain things happening in certain areas close to them, people aren’t shying away from it as much as we expected. They’re actually asking, how can I help?

And so my talks have been very much around maybe it’s not direct because that puts you in direct conflict with people or vulnerable with people who are in your community directly, maybe at the supermarket. But there are different ways to engage. And I’m seeing a lot of innovative thinking and a lot of, of hopeful thinking, and that gives me hope that whatever happens on the other side of this, um, presidential election, that the network we’re building within our state, within these different communities to defend, um, their school boards and town councils that we’ll have a network of people that are working together to do something as simple as, how do you support people if Medicaid goes away?

And so there are different methods of behaviors that people are analyzing and turning to for their community health centers to do that. So again, I think hope is coming in like, who are the heroes? And it’s everyday heroes that we’re seeing, and it is moms, and it’s birthing people who are just like, you know, not, not on my watch. And so I think that that’s an important place to be and to hold on to is hope.

Beth Jarosz: All right. How about you, Karen? What gives you hope?

Karen Benjamin Guzzo: Young people. Um, they are very, they, they’re very clear that they, like, they think about parenthood a lot and what we owe kids. And they’re not willing to, to take it for granted that things will work out okay. They’re like, well, what do I need to do? And so they’re very conscious about, about having kids and about what their futures look like and how what they need to do to make it to, to, to make a better future for themselves and the, and the kids they’d like to have.

And so I’m always impressed by the young people I talk to. And I say, I sound so old when I say that. But, you know, my students in college, like they are really deliberate about thinking about their futures and what they want, and they want to make sure that they have those. So, so it’s not people aren’t taking childbearing too seriously, it’s that they’re taking it very seriously and they’re not willing to do things under, you know, less unsuitable conditions. And I think they’re going to work for those.

Beth Jarosz: Thank you. How about you, Tiffany? What, what gives you hope?

Tiffany Green: You know, um, so prison abolitionist Mariame Kaba always talks about hope being a discipline. And I think that is what I try to do.

You know, I work in reproductive health and equity and justice, and there’s a lot to be depressed about. But I think for me, it’s staying in the work and seeing that no matter how, how, you know, we despair, there have been people that have been working in reproductive justice for a long time. There have been people that have been working to, to expand access to child care for a long time. There have been people that have been fighting for all of the things that we’re talking about, and that progress is never, was never going to be linear.

So I think really for me, it’s staying in the work and working to uplift those people who are doing that work that keeps me hopeful.

Beth Jarosz: Thank you. And last but certainly not least, Jess, what gives you hope?

Jessica Calarco: Yeah, I mean, I think one thing that gives me hope, in addition to what’s already been mentioned, is that we got really close with Build Back Better, and we actually learned some really important lessons from the policies that we put in place during the pandemic: things like the Child Tax Credit, things like universal free lunch, you know, from the Medicaid expansion. We learned from these policies that we can do large-scale social programs in the U.S. despite our size, despite our political variations and all of the other challenges that we’re up against.

And the other thing that gives me hope is that, at least for now, we still live in a democracy, which means that we have the chance to, that we don’t actually need to persuade everyone, that we, if we can convince enough people to reject the kinds of myths that are designed to delude and divide us, then we actually have a shot at electing the kinds of policymakers who have the potential, at least, to fight for a stronger social safety net.

And so I think it’s those are the kinds of pieces that give me hope that we got very close and that this is possible if we just have enough people who are willing to reject some of these ideas that help us stay stuck in the status quo. Thank you.

Beth Jarosz: And thank you all so much. This has been—I don’t know if you can tell from the reactions that are coming in through the chat here with the hearts and the clapping—this has been an absolutely fantastic conversation. And thank you all for your time today. I truly, truly appreciate it, and we will post the recording soon.

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American Community Survey Resources, Shortcuts, and Tools Workshop

Expert data users from PRB, the U.S. Census Bureau, and the Southern California Association of Governments review shortcuts, resources, and tools to help data users maximize their experience analyzing American Community Survey data.

An array of resources and tools can be used with American Community Survey (ACS) data to enhance the efficiency and proficiency of data users. However, given the volume of information available from the U.S. Census Bureau and elsewhere, learning about these resources and tools may be challenging for some users.

In this 90-minute workshop, expert data users from PRB, the Census Bureau, and the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) walked through some of their favorite shortcuts, resources, and tools to help data users maximize their experience analyzing ACS data.

Attendees were first introduced to the ACS data users group, an online community that provides help to members seeking to better understand ACS data and methods. The second presentation focused on accessing Census data via the API and MDAT, including basics such as how to create a call for an estimate in the API and access data through the public microdata sets (MDAT) on data.census.gov.

The third panelist provided a high-level overview of how to use R and the tidycensus package to execute commands such as switching between spatial scales, outputting a map, and looping through a query to assemble a longitudinal series from the ACS.

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06-24-ARC Chartbook_b

Appalachia Sees Higher Incomes, Lower Poverty Rates, and Boosts in Education, but Still Lags Behind Rest of Nation

New report shows progress and enduring challenges—especially for rural areas

New data released today by PRB and the Appalachian Regional Commission shows that rates of labor force participation, educational attainment, income, and poverty continue to improve in Appalachia.

The 14th annual update of The Appalachian Region: A Data Overview from the 2018-2022 American Community Survey draws from the latest American Community Survey and comparable 2022 Census Population Estimates. Known as “The Chartbook,” the report contains more than 300,000 data points comparing Appalachia’s regional, subregional, state, and county economic status with the rest of the nation.

Key improvements in the region’s economic indicators are as follows.

Increased income and lower poverty rates

  • Poverty rates declined in every Appalachian subregion, state, and type of county (urban and rural). The region’s overall poverty rate (14.3 percent) decreased two percentage points between 2013-2017 and 2018-2022.
  • Median family income increased 9.3 percent between 2013-2017 and 2018-2022, which was on par with national median income growth.
  • All income measures increased for every subregion, state, and type of county (urban and rural)—even after adjusting for inflation.

Higher educational attainment and labor force participation

  • The share of individuals ages 25 and older who held Bachelor’s degrees increased by three percentage points, with more than one in four Appalachian adults reaching or surpassing this level of educational attainment in 2022.
  • Between 2013-2017 and 2018-2022, labor force participation increased in every Appalachian subregion and type of county (urban and rural).

Increased population growth in south

  • Southern Appalachia’s population increased 11.8 percent between 2010 and 2022, which surpassed the nation’s population growth average by more than four percentage points.

Increase in broadband access

  • The share of Appalachian households with at least one computer device rose 8.6 percentage points between 2013-2017 and 2018-2022, while the share with broadband internet access increased by 12.2 percentage points. Both increases surpassed the national average, with federal and state programs designed to narrow persistent gaps in digital resources likely contributing to improvements.

“We celebrate the progress Appalachia has made, including declined poverty rates and increased broadband access. However, we know that there is still much work to be done for our entire region to reach economic parity with the rest of the country,” said ARC Federal Co-Chair Gayle Manchin. “ARC will continue to prioritize the quality of life of Appalachia’s 26 million residents, and remains committed to continued collaboration across federal, state, and local levels to ensure our people have a bright future.”

Despite positive trends, several data points revealed vulnerabilities that emphasize the inequities in Appalachia compared to the rest of the nation:

Overall population decline

  • Nearly 60 percent (252) of the region’s 423 counties saw a population decline between mid-2010 and mid-2022. Rural counties were especially susceptible—77 of the 107 rural Appalachian counties lost residents.

Poverty rates for children and families and specific counties

  • Though regional poverty rates have declined overall, rates have stayed the same or increased in 76 Appalachian counties. Poverty rates are highest for Appalachians under 18 (19.2 percent) and ages 18-24 (22.1 percent).
  • Though the percentage of Appalachian households receiving payments from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) decreased slightly more than the national average, participation was still higher (over 13 percent) compared to all U.S. households (over 11 percent). Participation of Central Appalachian households reached more than 20 percent.
  • For households with children under the age of 18, Appalachia’s SNAP participation rate (21 percent) is nearly three percentage points higher than all U.S. households.

Disability and poverty in older adults

  • Appalachia’s population trends older than the nation as a whole, with individuals ages 65 and older reaching at least 19.5 percent in 292 Appalachian counties.
  • Additionally, the percentage of Appalachians ages 65 and older with a disability is more than three percentage points higher than the national rate. This was also the only age group for which poverty rates increased slightly.

Despite gains in access, digital divides persist

  • Even with higher-than-average increases, Appalachian households still lagged nearly four percentage points behind U.S. rates for broadband subscriptions and device ownership. In 73 Appalachian counties, households were at least 13.3 percentage points below the U.S. average for broadband subscriptions. This gap in high-speed internet connectivity impacts residents’ access to remote work, online learning, telehealth, and more.

“The data in this year’s Chartbook highlight strides being made in the Appalachian Region, with noteworthy improvements across economic, educational, and health-related measures,” said Sara Srygley, a senior research analyst at PRB. “Yet, these data also emphasize considerable variation throughout the region—particularly the persistent challenges facing rural communities.”

The data show that Appalachia’s rural areas continue to be more vulnerable than its urban areas. Appalachia’s 107 rural counties are also more uniquely challenged, compared to 841 similarly designated rural counties across the rest of the U.S. Though rural Appalachians did have higher health insurance coverage than the rest of rural America, rural Appalachian counties continue to lag behind on educational attainment, labor force participation, broadband access, household income and population growth.

The Appalachian Region: A Data Overview from the 2018-2022 American Community Survey was written by PRB and the Appalachian Regional Commission.

In addition to the written report, ARC offers companion web pages on Appalachia’s population, employment, education, income and poverty, computer and broadband access, and rural Appalachian counties compared to the rest of rural America’s counties. For more information, visit www.arc.gov/chartbook.

About the Appalachian Regional Commission

The Appalachian Regional Commission is an economic development entity of the federal government and 13 state governments focusing on 423 counties across the Appalachian Region. ARC’s mission is to innovate, partner, and invest to build community capacity and strengthen economic growth in Appalachia to help the region achieve socioeconomic parity with the nation.



Data Opportunities and Challenges in a Post-Roe World

What are the barriers to conducting abortion-related research in the United States today?

In 2022 the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade, ended the Constitutional right to an abortion and dramatically changed the health care landscape in the United States. Researchers on abortion, fertility, and reproductive health have been working to understand the implications of the Supreme Court decision, including access to care, birth rates, and health outcomes.

In this webinar expert panelists discussed questions including: What are the barriers to conducting abortion-related research today? What have we learned from the data so far? Where are the data gaps and how can we fill them?

Panelists included:

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Aerial view of Gaza City

The West Bank and Gaza: A Population Profile

What do data tell us about the people who live in Gaza and the West Bank?

(April 2002) The West Bank and Gaza are unique entities in today’s world. Parts of the two areas consist of a series of autonomous, Palestinian-governed regions. The West Bank, approximately the size of Delaware, is bordered by Israel to the west and Jordan to the east. Gaza (also called the Gaza Strip) is approximately twice the size of Washington, DC, and shares a border with Israel to the north and east and Egypt to the south.

Political History

Britain ruled the area it called Palestine after World War I under a mandate from the League of Nations. Following Britain’s withdrawal in 1948, war broke out between Palestine’s Arab majority and Jewish minority for control of the territory, the former eventually supported by troops from surrounding Arab states. Jewish forces won, and the State of Israel was created from 77 percent of Palestine. Jordan and Egypt took control of the remaining 23 percent. Jordan annexed the area under its control and called it the West Bank; Egypt maintained control over what became known as Gaza but never annexed it. Israel seized both areas during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, and later annexed East Jerusalem while keeping the bulk of the West Bank and Gaza under occupation. Israel also drew international criticism by erecting more than 180 Jewish settlements in the areas.

As part of the peace process between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the two sides signed a series of agreements beginning in 1993 that provided for a limited withdrawal of Israeli forces from parts of the West Bank and Gaza and the establishment of an autonomous, PLO-run government in areas inhabited by Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority (PA) began functioning in 1994.

The two sides deferred negotiations over “final status issues” to a later date. Among these issues were whether the Palestinian-governed regions of the West Bank and Gaza would become an independent state and what its borders would be. The result is that the autonomous Palestinian areas remain locked in an unviable, semi-statal condition. Following the staged Israeli withdrawal, the PA exercises full civil and security control over 80 percent of Gaza. The remainder contains Jewish settlements and is still under Israeli control.

The situation in the West Bank is much more complicated. The Israeli-Palestinian agreements created three zones: Area A consists of territory under the full civil and security control of the PA; Area B is territory under the PA’s civil and partial security control, but Israeli forces exercise predominant control; and Area C remains under full Israeli control and contains the Israeli settlements. By 2000, 17 percent of the West Bank was classified as Area A, 29 percent as Area B, and 59 percent as Area C. Much of the area where the PA exercises some type of control does not form a contiguous territory, however. Gaza is separated from the West Bank, while in the West Bank, Areas A and B are themselves divided among 227 separate areas (199 of which are smaller than 2 square kilometers) that are separated from one another by Israeli-controlled Area C. All but 40,000 West Bank Palestinians live in Areas A and B.

A Young and Growing Population

The population of the West Bank and Gaza is almost completely Palestinian Arab. The bulk of these are Sunni Muslims: 92 percent of West Bankers and 99 percent of Gazans, with the rest Christians. In addition to the Palestinian population, approximately 214,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank and Gaza, according to the Foundation for Middle East Peace in Washington, DC [Data are from 2002.]

West Bank Gaza
Population (2000 estimates) 2.0 million 1.1 million
Births per 1,000 population* 37 43
Deaths per 1,000 population* 4 4
Infant deaths per 1,000 live births* 22 26
Rate of natural increase* 3.2% 3.9%
Total fertility rate* 5.0 6.6
Life expectancy at birth* 72 years 71 years
Capital The Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital, although they do not exercise authority over the city. Ramallah and Gaza City serve as the de facto capitals of the West Bank and Gaza, respectively.

* Palestinian population only.
Source: US Census Bureau.


The population of the West Bank and Gaza boasts several notable features. The population growth rate is among the highest in the world: 3.4 percent in the West Bank and 4.0 percent in Gaza, according to US Census Bureau estimates. A full 45 percent of the West Bank population are children under 15 years of age, compared with 50 percent in Gaza. Palestinian-controlled Gaza is also one of the most densely populated places on earth with some 4,091 people per square kilometer. Regionally, the Palestinians exhibit high levels of literacy. Among those 15 years and older, the rate is 92 percent for males and 80 percent for females, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. About 825,000 Gazans (78 percent of total) and their descendants are registered refugees from the 1948 war as are 583,000 West Bankers (30 percent of total). Not all refugees reside in refugee camps: 55 percent of Gaza refugees live in 8 refugee camps while only 27 percent of West Bank refugees live in 19 camps.

Life expectancy at birth is relatively high compared with Arab countries. But the territory faces several significant health concerns relating to underdevelopment, the legacy of occupation, and ongoing political turbulence and violence. The Palestinian uprising since October 2000 itself includes a major health problem. Between October 2000 and late February 2002, more than 1,000 Palestinians were killed and over 17,000 injured in clashes with Israelis. Israeli forces have reentered parts of Areas A and B, prevented movement among many Palestinian areas, and laid siege to Palestinian towns. The escalation in tensions between the two sides has resulted in reduced access to health and medical facilities for some Palestinians.

Some economic indicators actually declined during the early years of the peace process and have recently worsened. During 1992-1996, real per capita gross domestic product for Palestinians declined by over 36 percent, because of the combined effects of falling aggregate incomes and high population growth, according to Palestinian Chambers of Commerce, Industry, and Agriculture. The poverty rate in September 2000 stood at 21 percent. During the first three months of the uprising that began in October 2000, the situation worsened as the Palestinian economy contracted by 50 percent and unemployment rose to 40 percent. The Jordan Investment Trust estimates that the economy suffered a total of US$6.8 billion in losses during the first 12 months of the uprising.

Pollution is an environmental and health risk. Of particular concern is groundwater pollution by organic and inorganic contaminants that seep into the aquifers, especially in Gaza. These include untreated sewage (only 38 percent of households are connected to sewage systems), garbage and industrial waste, and fertilizers from agricultural runoff. The West Bank and Gaza also face problems from dumps, including Israeli dumps over which Palestinians have no control.

Michael R. Fischbach is an associate professor of history at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia, where he specializes in modern Middle Eastern history.


  • Palestine Economic Research Institute (MAS), Economic Monitor 5 (June 1999).
  • Jordan Investment Trust, Weekly Review & Analysis 1, no. 19 (November 11, 2001).
  • US Census Bureau, International Data Base, accessed online at www.census.gov/ipc/www/idbnew.html, through March 20, 2002.
  • Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), accessed online at www.pcbs.org, on April 16, 2002.
  • Palestinian Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture, accessed online at www.pal-chambers.com, on April 16, 2002.
Aerial view of Dar es Salaam city in Tanzania.

Census Across Africa: Using Census Data for Policy and Planning

Le recensement en Afrique : l’utilisation des données de recensement pour l’élaboration de politiques et la planification

Countries across Africa that are engaged in the 2020 census round (underway from 2015 through 2024) are grappling with financial, administrative, and other constraints and hoping to take advantage of the wealth of data that a census offers about populations. The 2020 census round has become particularly important for establishing a baseline measurement of indicators required for assessing progress toward countries’ Sustainable Development Goal commitments.

This Population Bulletin provides an overview of the historical trajectory in African nations’ administration of censuses, their use of technological innovations in the 2020 round, and prospects for innovation in using census data for development planning.

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Census Data Are Used to Inform Policies and Programs

The research spotlights in this report are a unique feature that highlights the breadth of activity being undertaken across the continent to ensure census results can be used in policymaking and program planning.

Examples from Ethiopia and Malawi illustrate how technological progress—particularly the increasingly high performance of computers and the development of electronic collection technologies—offers opportunities to share and reduce costs. It also offers the possibility of improved data storage capacity and practices.

While analysis of the enormous mass of census data remains a major challenge for many countries, researchers are using the data to gain a better understanding of demographics and other characteristics, illustrating the value of investing time and expertise in a thorough analysis of census results. Such analyzes are being applied to examine how a range of issues affects a population, such as:

  • Child mortality in Burkina Faso.
  • People living with disabilities in Senegal.
  • Access to surgery in Nigeria.
  • Access to electricity in Eswatini.
  • Measurements of poverty and education in Mali.
  • Measurements of domestic work in Mali and Senegal.
  • Evaluation of the quality of census data for measuring fertility in Eswatini.

Decisionmakers Can Plan More Effective Services With Census Data

The 2020 census round in African nations offers opportunities for new technologies that support data collection and analysis, which analysts, policymakers, and others can draw on to better understand the past and present and provide more effective public planning and services for the future.

This Population Bulletin was developed by PRB in collaboration with the Union for African Population Studies (UAPS) and is available in English and French.

Les pays d’Afrique engagés dans le cycle 2020 de recensements (en cours de 2015 à 2024) sont aux prises avec des contraintes, entre autres financières et administratives, et espèrent tirer parti de la richesse des données qu’offre un recensement de la population. Le cycle 2020 de recensements est devenu particulièrement important pour établir une mesure de référence des indicateurs requis pour l’évaluation des progrès vers les engagements des pays pour les objectifs de développement durable.

Ce Bulletin de population donne un aperçu de la trajectoire historique de l’administration des recensements des nations africaines, de leur utilisation des innovations technologiques lors du cycle 2020 et des perspectives d’innovation dans l’utilisation des données de recensement pour la planification du développement.

Les données du recensement sont utilisées pour informer les politiques et les programmes

Les points forts de la recherche présentés dans ce rapport mettent en évidence de manière unique l’étendue des activités entreprises à travers le continent pour garantir que les résultats du recensement puissent être utilisés dans l’élaboration des politiques et la planification des programmes.

Les exemples de l’Éthiopie et du Malawi illustrent comment le progrès technologique – en particulier les performances croissante des ordinateurs et le développement des technologies de collecte électronique – offre des opportunités de partager et réduire les coûts. Il offre également la possibilité d’améliorer la capacité et les pratiques de stockage des données.

Alors que l’analyse de l’énorme masse de données de recensement reste un défi majeur pour de nombreux pays, les chercheurs utilisent ces données pour mieux comprendre les données démographiques et d’autres caractéristiques, illustrant ainsi l’intérêt d’investir du temps et de l’expertise dans une analyse approfondie des résultats de recensement. De telles analyses sont appliquées pour examiner comment une série de problèmes affectent une population, tels que :

  • La mortalité infantile au Burkina Faso.
  • Les personnes vivant avec un handicap au Sénégal.
  • L’accès à la chirurgie au Nigeria.
  • L’accès à l’électricité en Eswatini.
  • Les mesures de la pauvreté et de l’éducation au Mali.
  • Les mesures du travail domestique au Mali et au Sénégal.
  • L’évaluation de la qualité des données de recensement pour mesurer la fécondité en Eswatini.

Les décideurs peuvent planifier des services plus efficaces grâce aux données du recensement

Le cycle 2020 de recensements dans les pays africains offre des opportunités pour les nouvelles technologies qui soutiennent la collecte et l’analyse de données, sur lesquelles les analystes, les décideurs politiques et autres peuvent s’appuyer pour mieux comprendre le passé et le présent, et fournir une planification et des services publics plus efficaces pour l’avenir.

Ce Bulletin de population a été élaboré par PRB en collaboration avec l’Union pour les études démographiques africaines (UEPS). Il est disponible en anglais et en français.

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Webinar: Writing About Population Research for Non-Scientists

Have you ever wondered how to get your research into the hands of policymakers, or wished your findings were known by a wider audience? PRB and the Association of Population Centers (APC) organized a webinar to highlight ways to expand the reach of your research by distilling your findings into messages and formats tailored for non-technical audiences, including policymakers and the media. Panelists from Syracuse University and PRB describe how to write an effective research brief, common pitfalls in writing for non-technical audiences, and using social media to communicate about your research.


Date: March 7, 2024, 2:00-3:00 p.m. ET

Moderator: Diana Elliott, Vice President, U.S. Programs, PRB


Support for this event was provided by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

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Diana Elliott, moderator: Hi everyone. Thank you for joining. Welcome to today’s today’s webinar on writing about population research for non-scientists. I’m Diana Elliott, Vice President of U.S. Programs. Though this webinar was organized by the Population Reference Bureau and the Association of Population Centers, with funding from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

I’m pleased to introduce four speakers to today’s event. Shannon Monette is the Lerner Chair in Public Health Promotion and Population Health at Syracuse University, and we’ll cover some of the benefits of writing research briefs and examples of impact at the Lerner Center. Following Shannon, we’ll have Beth Jarosz, Senior Program Director; Paul Scommegna, Senior Writer; and Mark Mather, Associate Vice President, all in the U.S. Programs department at PRB. And we’ll be providing some additional guidance for writing briefs and bridging the research and policy gap.

We’re going to save the Q&A till the end, and we encourage people to use the raise-hand feature in Zoom and to unmute yourself to ask questions. So for those of you who aren’t familiar with where this is in zoom, if you go to reactions at the bottom of the screen, you’ll see that there’s a raise hand feature under that reactions tab. The webinar is also being recorded and will send you a link to the recording and the slides in a few days. Closed captions are also available. Participants can turn on captions by selecting the Show Captions option from the Zoom control bar. Now I’ll turn it over to Shannon.

Shannon Monette: Thank you, Diana. Welcome, everybody. I’m looking forward to the conversation that we’re going to have today about writing population research for non-scientists, in addition to being Lerner Chair at Syracuse University. As Diana mentioned, I’m also the director of the Center for Policy Research here and a professor in the sociology department. And we have two brief series, one through the Learner Center and one through the Center for Policy Research. And they’ve both been quite successful. So what I’m going to do is, um, provide a motivation for writing briefs. Presumably you all think that it’s important and that’s why you’re here. But I’m going to give you a few reasons why I think that, um, writing policy and research briefs can be really exciting. Uh, I’ll talk a little bit about the purposes of and audiences for these briefs. I’m going to provide a couple of overarching tips about structure. In a couple of examples. Uh, Paola will cover more detail later about some tips for writing effective briefs. And then I’ll finish up by sharing some examples of how some of our briefs have resulted in broader attention, uh, or impact that that’s been really exciting.

Uh, so first, why might we want to disseminate our research to nonacademic audiences or non-scientists? Well, one reason is that it’s just super fun. Um, I think it’s way more fun than writing academic papers or presenting academic talks, because you can be more free in your language and your style. You can be provocative. Um, it provides the opportunity to meet different kinds of people that you might not otherwise meet and interact with. Another good reason is to help break down barriers between academics, between scientists, and between the public, and show people outside of academia that what we do can be relevant and is relevant to their lives. Um, it’s also an opportunity to show the public that we’re people to into to help build trust, which is particularly important during an era where there’s declining trust in academics and experts. Another reason is that your dean, your department chair, your research center director, your parent, your partners can use it to show off your work. Um, provost and deans love this kind of stuff because it’s really easy for them to share with donors. Um, and rather than an academic article which can be 40 pages or even longer if you consider the supplementary materials, these short 2 to 3 page briefs or something that you know the dean can share with alumni or with their advisory board members, your parents might read these things too, like mom probably isn’t going to share your academic article with their friends, but she might post your brief on Facebook. Another reason is that it’s a way to get really timely findings out more quickly than an academic journal, you know? We all know it can take forever for academic articles to come out. Sometimes we’re working on time pressing issues, and we want people to know what’s happening right now, so it’s a really good outlet for that.

Um, briefs can also get you research into the hands of unexpected audiences. It can launch unexpected opportunities. I’ll talk about some of our successes and those unexpected opportunities at the end of my presentation here. Um, and of course, these things can generate a lot of impact. They may… They may actually be your best shot at someone paying attention to and using the hard work that you’ve done. Um, academic articles are behind a paywall. They’re long, they’re dense, they’re difficult to get through. But briefs and things like op eds even get to main points quickly so they can have a lot of impact.

Uh, and so in terms of like, what are the purposes of research briefs or policy briefs and who are the audiences? Well, the purpose of briefs are to translate your findings and disseminate your findings in publicly accessible and easily digestible formats, toward some purpose, towards some action. So that purpose or that action might be to enhance knowledge or raise awareness. It could be that you want to change hearts and minds about some topic. It could be you actually want to change behaviors or practices. Um, or it could be that you want to influence policy debates. Um, the audience for these are varied. I think it’s, it’s somewhat important going into the writing that you have a target audience in mind. So your target audience may be policymakers at the national level, the state level, the local level. Um, your audience may be practitioners. If you’re writing about health care, for example, um, your audience may be reporters. A lot of faculty actually use these briefs for their undergraduate classes. So the audience may be students and the audience might also just be the general public.

Um, what I like to tell our authors when they’re writing briefs is, would your uncle Bob understand what you’re writing here, what you’re saying here? Um, so in terms of writing style, these audiences are important to keep in mind. Just a few words about brief structure. Paola is going to discuss a suggested approach for writing briefs for PRB and a checklist of things that they consider at PRB, but I thought I’d quickly provide some suggestions for how you might think about structuring a brief. And here I’ve just provided an example of our brief template that we use at the Syracuse University Center for Policy Research. Generally, policy briefs or research briefs, um, summarize 1 or 2 main findings or big picture takeaways. They’re not bogged down with a lot of detail or nuance. Is this 1 or 2 big things that you want your audience to know? They’re usually 2 to 4 pages. Sometimes they’re one page. They’re definitely not 20 pages. Briefs are, as they’re called, very brief. Um, they should provide a short intro of the problem and why your reader should care about this problem. Our briefs, we have the authors provide 1 or 2 main research findings, include visualizations if possible. Pictures are worth a lot. And also our briefs include implications for policy. And I know that that PR, er, PRB’s briefs do as well. Now, what you don’t see here is theory, a lit review, or a lengthy data or methods section for our briefs. We do include a very short data and methods section at the very end. Um, they’re very short, and we just sort of just describe what the data set is, the, the years that are represented, the sample size, and maybe a couple of sentences about variables. But then we direct the reader to a published journal article, if there’s one that exists from which the brief is, is summarizing findings.

So just show you a couple of examples from brief series here at SU. So, this first one is a brief that was led by my colleague here, Jennifer Karras Montes. You can see it’s just three pages. It provides a nice snappy title: Democratic erosion predicts rising deaths from drug poisoning and infectious disease. So, it gives the main takeaway right there in the title. It includes a couple of key findings so that if someone only read those key findings, they would know right away, uh, everything they need to know about that. The takeaways of this brief, you’ll see there’s a short introduction about the problem. Um, there are a couple of really easily understandable figures in here. And then at the very end, there is a section about what should be done about this problem. What are the policy implications? And in this section, we ask our authors to be concrete to identify the actors. Um, they’re not the place where you advocate for future research. They’re the place where you advocate for changes, for policy or practice. And I think you can be provocative here. Um, it’s okay that you didn’t study a specific policy. You’re the expert. You can speak to what you think the implications are of what you found.

Here’s just another quick example. This one is from our Center for Policy Research brief series. Again, similar sort of format. We have a snappy title, key findings, um, an easily understandable figure, a couple of sections with a little bit of information about the findings and then, um, what the policy implications are here. And so again, just notice the title and notice the headings. They provide statements about the key takeaways and the conclusions. I wanted to just quickly give you a couple of examples, um, of the difference between academic writing and public language. Okay. So, the way that we’re trained to write for journal articles is academics is not the way that we want to write for public audiences. In fact, I would actually say that I would prefer the writing for public audiences, even for academic journal articles. But, um, people might fight me on that. So, the academic text here is on the left, the public brief text is on the right. And this is from an article that, uh, coauthored with some colleagues here at SU. And you can see this lengthy academic text, um, we’re using technical language in it, things like controlling for confounders, estimated models, um, county and state level data, just all kinds of technical information that a public audience may not understand or care about. Compare that to the short end text from the brief, and we’ve condensed all of that academic language into a very short sentence that says what this brief does in very clear and simple language. It’s much shorter, it’s much simpler, and it still delivers the intent of the research. We also present visually results differently in academic publications versus briefs. So this is just an example of how we converted a complicated technical table of our findings into a simpler figure that tells the exact same story. The table, you’ll notice, uses terms like counterfactual and IMR, which is the infant mortality rate. The figure just shows different minimum wage levels and number of infant lives saved at each different level of minimum wage, so it provides the same information but in a simpler format.

This is a similar example from a paper in a brief written by Andrew London. Another one of my colleagues here at SU. And this table shows a lot of numbers with various symbols. This is from his academic paper. There are odds ratios in here. There are confidence intervals and p values. Um, which is great. This is what we want for academic papers and this is what reviewers demand. But for the brief, the bar chart shows simple probabilities of the outcome. Much easier for a policymaker or reporter or for your Uncle Bob to understand and digest.

So I’ll finish up just by talking about some successes that we’ve experienced from our from our brief series. We’ve had lots of media attention from places like NPR and CBS News and New York Times and in many other outlets. Um, we’ve gotten attention from the public. So random readers will write in to our authors to thank them for writing the brief. We get a lot more of those than we get, like, the nasty emails. Those happen once in a while, too, depending on the topic and how controversial it is. But we get a lot more just random, you know, my daughter experiences this thing. Or thank you so much for writing about this. Or like, what do you think about what’s going on with this thing? And in my city, um, we’ve also had attention from policymakers. So one of our, our graduate students here in the Lerner Center, for example, wrote a brief a couple of summers ago that that ended up being shared with a staffer for a New York state senator here. Uh, and from that, our student was invited to testify at a New York State Senate subcommittee hearing on aging, which was really exciting for her. Of course, um, one of our Center affiliates has been asked to participate in congressional briefings and give Senate testimony as a result of her briefs on veteran food insecurity. And you never know when, when this kind of thing might happen. It doesn’t happen with all briefs, but I think it’s more likely to happen with briefs than with, with academic articles, because they’re so accessible and easily digestible and people can read them in a couple of minutes there.

Um, there are also unexpected invitations and benefits that come from, from writing briefs. And I’ll just give you an example from my own experience, one of the very first briefs I ever wrote was for the Carsey School of Public Policy at University of New Hampshire, and it was on rural urban differences and adolescent opioid misuse. Now, that brief was based on a peer reviewed, published journal article. So I had the article published, and then one of my colleagues, Ken Johnson at Carsey School, said, you know, why don’t you turn this into a brief? He, he had done a lot of these and had a lot of success. So I wrote this brief. They published it through the Carsey School. And then that led to an invitation to attend a conference at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Vienna, Austria. Like, these people paid for me to fly to Vienna to give a presentation on this, this topic that I was doing research on, not because they found my academic journal article even though it existed, but because they found my brief. Um, so it was, you know, a really exciting opportunity this, you know, working class kid from rural upstate New York gets to go to Vienna, Austria, which was super cool. And I’ve had similar experiences from other briefs. So I wrote a brief while it was at Penn State on, uh, deaths of despair and support for Trump in the 2016 presidential election. And that led to a lot of media attention. But it also led to, um, this research director from this organization called the Institute for New Economic Thinking calling me up and saying, we want to give you some grant money to study this topic more. It’s, like, unheard of. It doesn’t happen. People don’t just call you and say, we want to give you money. But, but he did. And in addition to, you know, that that grant that I got to conduct more research on that topic, that organization also paid for me to, um, to go to Trento, Italy, and to Edinburgh, Scotland, to give presentations on this topic.

So again, you never know when these things are going to happen. Um, it depends a lot on the topic. It depends on who sees your brief. But I think that these types of opportunities on anticipated benefits are more likely to happen when you’re writing in a style that’s accessible for people outside of academia. So I’ll just leave you here with a couple of examples of other media coverage from some of our Lerner Center briefs, and I’ll go ahead and turn this over to Beth. Thank you.

Beth Jarosz: Thank you. Take me a minute to switch sharing screen. And we did this into our run. So, if you can’t see my slides, please let me know. I’ll assume silence means it’s okay. Um, and Shannon described there being a barrier between research and sort of the wider public, whether it’s policymakers or the public or journalists, and I’m going to describe it as a gap. But, essentially, we’re talking about the same problem. And I think I wanted to start with, um, you know, a focus on public policy specifically because most of my career has been in informing elected officials and policymakers about data so that they can make good decisions.

So I’m going to focus a little bit on that policy piece. And when I say public policy, I mean a set of actions, plans, laws, behaviors that are adopted by a government and that can be enacted through things like agency guidance or court decisions, executive orders, funding priorities, policy documents, laws, legislation, rules, regulations and so on. So that’s the angle I’m going to take. In talking about that, the really good news is that evidence can matter. Um, and as Sutcliffe said in 2005, the bad news is that often it does not. Um, and so let’s talk about some of the reasons why that gap exists.

Um, there is a deep communication gap. And I think a piece of it is different languages and different skill sets. And I’ll talk about that. But part is also that stereotypes are part of the problem. Um, so before I go on to the next slide, I want to ask each of you to take a moment and picture a policymaker. Think about the words or the phrases or the sort of emotions that come to mind when you think of someone who’s in elected office. And, and when we have asked this in the past, um, we get things like that they have very limited perspective, that they distrust research. Or if people are feeling less generous, that policymakers don’t understand research and that they are the ones who are responsible for digging up evidence and data to inform their policymaking, that their actions aren’t evidence based, and all of these have the sort of undercurrent of that policymakers are partisan. Um, which may be true in some cases, but in my career, I’ve worked with a lot of elected officials. And even when we don’t necessarily agree on policy or policy ways of achieving things, um, I think that there is a lot more, uh, appetite for having evidence informed public policy than I think sometimes they get credit for. And of course, policymakers may have stereotypes about researchers. Things like excessive use of technical jargon, um, researchers and journal articles, in particular, being very general and theoretical rather than the sort of real world or real problems that policymakers are dealing with day to day. I use if you can’t see, I use real problems, in sort of air quotes, but that that is seen as a gap between the two worlds and that researchers tend to avoid policy. I know those of us who are in the research world, um, we don’t want to assume causality when we’re when we’re looking at data where there’s a correlation. Um, and so therefore there can be an interest in shying away from policy implications when what reason, what policymakers need are those policy implications or implementations. And sort of the summary in one word of that, of that series of stereotypes is sort of the tower piece.

And all of that said, it is possible to bridge the gap between researchers and policymakers. And I’ve got a couple of practical examples of how to do that. Um, longer term and sort of fodder, perhaps, for a different workshop is thinking about that research uptake and engaging policymakers up front. Um, but what we’re going to do today, just in the interest of time, is focus on that third piece about communicating strategically. And if you take nothing else away from what I say today, I would say: assume competence, but not expertise. So assume that the person who’s going to be reading it is smart, but that they’re not using the same terminology. They don’t have the same depth of knowledge about the theory. And what their goal is, is to be educated in order to make good policy decisions.

So how do we do that? A couple of a couple of tips are to use clear and concise language and avoid jargon. Um, and what I’m going to, uh, offer to all of you is an activity. I know we’re going to take Q&A at the end, but if in the chat you could type some jargony terms that you use. Maybe there’s a term that’s very specific to your research. And those of us who are here can start to give you alternatives, but we can be your sort of live thesaurus. So if you have a term like etiology, um, maybe we would respond with the cause of disease and use that phrase instead. Um, if you regularly use a phrase like externalizing behavior, um, it could be aggressive, impulsive, or antisocial behavior. Replace it with, um, so thinking sort of about the jargon that we use can be challenging, um, but one of the tips here is write what you would write academically and then go back and, try and go back and use a thesaurus and sort of work those words back out again so that your work is more accessible to a policy audience, like, so, um, Go ahead and type those. If there’s a key, a term, a jargony term that you use that’s really important to your work, type that into the chat. And Mark, Paula, Diana, and maybe Shannon can live give you examples of what you could replace that with. A couple of, a couple of suggestions coming into the chat. So, I will let people keep working on that and move on to the next sort of two, uh, tips for work for bridging that research to policy gap. And it speaks directly to issues that policymakers care about and provide information that allows them to feel confident taking action. I’ve grouped these two together, um, because, you know, we, we as researchers might think there’s a really compelling arc about sort of the, the life-saving implications of an investment or the, the sort of social, emotional well-being of a particular marginalized group is the most important thing. But you need to know your audience. And so if, if you’re talking to a set of policymakers who, what they’re going to care about most is the budget implications of something or the fiscal impact or whether or not it brings jobs to their community, it is okay to make that the primary selling point when you’re making your policy case. It’s not pandering. It’s not disingenuous. It’s meeting a person where they are with the issue they care about.

You can and think, think about one of the more polarized issues, you know, uh, diversity, equity and inclusion. I think most of the people on this call probably care very deeply about that. But if you start out with that in a talk with someone who has been sort of socialized to resist, that they might not hear anything else that you’re going to say. So maybe start talking about, more generally, human interest, maybe talk about fiscal impact, and then you can sort of lead into those other issues, um, that might have been more sensitive before you built on that report. Just, and in terms of providing information that helps them feel confident taking action, give them data that they know the sample size is big enough. You know you’re not going to put a whole literature review in there, but you can signal things like a wide body of research also finds that this policy matters, um, you know, or study after study shows that if you do X, Y will happen. Um, you don’t have to do a full lit review to signal that they can feel confident that if they take this policy action, there’s going to be an outcome at the end that they expect.

And then, last but not least, um, propose with that solution is, and Shannon alluded to this when she did her overview. What is that concrete action step that they can take? Is it expanding a program? Is it making a budgetary change? Is it funding, um, additional health care services? Make it clear what the ask is in your writing and what the outcome is going. And so with that, I am going to turn it over to Paola to give you some specifics about how to write a brief working in those cases that I’ve talked about in terms of adding some more.

Paola Scommegna: Thanks, Beth. What I’m going to do is share some very specific techniques, um, that we use at PRB so you can recognize them and really understand the reading, the reasons behind them. And the first thing I want to share is it’s crucial to understand the, the differences between academic and journalistic writing. Academic writing, um, builds to a conclusion, starts with background, findings, and the conclusion is at the end. Next slide. But journalistic writing turns that format on its head. It’s called the inverted pyramid, and the most important information is shared first. Generally, that’s the conclusion. And then additional evidence and background comes later. And this format is used in newspapers, but also in writing for the web and policy memos. And this is what people are very used to reading. So as you begin writing for non-scientists and are aiming to communicate in a non-technical way, I would almost I would encourage you to go sit in a different desk or have a picture of your audience there so that you can think of this totally different way of communicating. And next slide. Oops.

Beth Jarosz: But I apologize. I have no idea what just happened to my computer.

Paola Scommegna: All right, well, the next one is, is on, um, writing headlines, and, um, let’s see if we can get to it. There. There we go. Okay, so these are some tips on writing headlines. It’s the first thing that you’ll do, and what we suggest is you state the main finding clearly like a newspaper headline. You may describe the action needed. You may aim for about 20 words, and it must have a verb. So, next slide, will give you some examples. And, and these examples are from recent population research. And what I’ve done is I’ve highlighted some of the verbs in red.

So you can see that these have verbs, and there’s action here. The first one: U.S. Teenage Births Hit Record Lows and Could Drop Further if Contraceptives Were More Accessible. It outlines the findings of the research, and it also implies the implications of the research. The next one was on, um, describes a natural experiment: When High Schools Moved Start Times to After 8:30 a.m., Attendance and Test Scores Rose. Um. I, very. The main message is right there. The third one is, um, looks at some pilot studies or small-scale research on, um, and the finding is: Taxes and Health Warning Labels on Sugary Beverages May Help Limit Consumption and Improve Health.

Um, next slide. And so the next thing we suggest is you begin writing with a summary of the main message. Now, Shannon shared how you can break that into three bullet points. Um, and, and, and that works quite well. And what we suggest is try to get it in the first paragraph. Um, clearly state the main problem or issue. Summarize your main research findings. Name the implications for policymakers and these three things together. Answer what we call with each other the “so what?” question. Why should people care about your research? Why should they be interested in what you found?

Um, next slide. So, this is some research out of Penn State that does that in the first two sentences. Um, the main finding of the research is the first section. The first sentence, Children in households that receive federal rental assistance are healthier and miss less school due to illness than those whose households are waiting for help. The research is summarized there. The second sentence, however: Up to 75% of renters who need federal housing assistance, including public housing or rental vouchers, don’t receive it. So the problem, the issue, the why people should care, is right there in the second sentence.

Next slide. So, here are some style tips to keep in mind. We talked about jargon with Beth, that, be conversational, and one way to do that is once you’ve written something, is to read it out loud and make sure it sounds like how you speak. The second thing is to define acronyms and technical terms. For example, if you write on the EitC, you need to say “earned income tax credit,” and then in, include a few words to explain what that is: lower, middle and lower income workers tax bills. Um, and that’s certainly how you would talk with someone who isn’t familiar with the acronyms that you use often.

Third, um, write in first person. I. I did this. We investigated this. And that will help you use active voice rather than passive voice. So, you would say, “we surveyed a representative sample,” rather than “a representative sample was surveyed.” And the reason we’re so fussy about passive voice is that it’s not conversational. It takes all the action out and the actor is unclear. And so it’s something we strive to avoid in the, the things we publish.

Finally, insert citations as numbered end notes. You saw that in the pieces Shannon shared with you, and you’ll see it in the pieces on the PRB website as well.

Next slide. Um, subheads. What are they, and why use them? Um, they’re descriptive phrases with a verb, and they’re really important. They break up the text. Highlight the main points for a reader who’s skimming, and research shows that many of us are skimming, particularly when we’re reading online. It. They reinforce the main message and they provide signposting. They signal to the reader what to expect in the text in the following section.

So, next slide. So what I did here was I pulled some subheads out of a brief so you could see them separate from the text that follows them, and can see how they summarize the main messages. Um, and this piece was on parental incarceration and its impacts. Parental Incarceration Is Widespread and Taking a Severe Toll on Children’s Lives. When a Parent Is Incarcerated, Children Are More Likely to Develop Behavior Problems, Face Homelessness, and Experience Harsh Parenting. Those are the research findings, in brief. The third subhead, um, points toward the action. The policy implications: Screen Students for Parental Incarceration, Rethink Sentencing Policies. So, it’s a succinct way to communicate your, your findings and, and the main message of a piece and keep the reader going through your piece, even if they have a tendency to skim. Um.

Next slide. And now, um, finally, I have some advice on data and graphics from PB. We find that bar charts and maps are much better than tables. We aim for no more than 8 to 10 data points. The title should be non-technical and have a verb like a headline. Xs and Y axes is clearly labeled. Use whole numbers if possible. And next is a sample of a PRB figure in PRB style. And the first thing I want you to see is that the, the main title is in more conversational, less technical style. Female, White, and Highly Educated Older Adults Were Most Likely to Feel Lonelier During the Pandemic. But below it, we include a much more technically accurate description for people who might want to know more specific things. So that is there, too. Um, the, um, numbers are whole numbers. The axes are labeled. And look what we’ve done here with the colors. They are designed to help you, uh, help a reader look at what we want them to focus on. So the first two bars are age, the second two in another color or gender. The third are, um, race/ethnicity, and the fourth are related to education. So, the colors work to focus the communication as well. So, I’ll stop here and pass it over to Mark.

Mark Mather: Right. Thank you, Paola. I wanted to end just by talking a little bit about how PRB can help, what we’re, what we’re trying to do to, um, help you write your own research briefs. And so the last thing I wanted to mention in this, uh, in today’s presentation is that we have a, a new research brief series with the Association of Population Centers where we’re helping researchers. Uh, well, there’s two different options. Uh, one is that you draft a research brief, and we can assist at PRB with editing and production of that brief. Or if you prefer, we can draft a brief, a research brief on your behalf. The, um, we’re aiming for, for about a thousand words for these briefs, which is pretty typical. Uh, we try to include some simple interactive charts, and we’ll publish these, uh, materials on previous websites and share them through social media. And Lillian, you can see, just put in a link in the chat here. So this is where you can find a sample template that’s available. It shows you, uh, the basic structure for one of these briefs and as well as provide an example. And then there’s also a short online form that you can fill out if you would like to have assistance. Lillian, just put that in the chat as well. If you don’t want to fill out the form, you don’t have to. You can just send us an email and we’ll be sure to respond to you. Um, there’s no cost to you for this work. The only requirement is that the topic really needs to be related to demography and/or reproductive health and population health topics.

So, in the next slide, I just wanted to provide a list of some of the new and forthcoming research briefs that we have at PRB. The first three are currently available on our website, whereas the other, I guess five of them, are currently in production. So those have been drafted and they’re in the process of being copyedited. And just so you know, it does take a little bit of time to produce these. There’s a, you know, we want to make sure we get the data right. So there’s a fair amount of back and forth with the researcher. And then it goes to our communications team for copyediting. So, the whole process can take, um, sometimes 5 or 6 weeks, sometimes a little bit longer than that depending on people’s schedules. And you can see that these briefs are on a wide range of topics. Um, we’ve got briefs on, recent briefs on marriage, child care, coastal hazards, and gender norms.

And then I thought I’d end the next slide. Just, um. I think there’s one slide before this one. Beth. There is not. So yeah, you can just go to the next slide. But I don’t know what happened to this, the intervening slide. But, um, I thought I’d end with this because, um, this is an example where PRB wrote a research brief and, um, it ended up being picked up for a maternal mortality awareness campaign last year. And it’s, it’s, so it started with a research brief that Paola had written, and we’re really proud of this one, because it took a lot of work to, um, to work with the advocates who were organizing this campaign. There was a lot of back and forth to make sure that they were representing the NICHD-funded research. So we wanted to make sure that everything was, was accurate. Um, and, you know, not everything that we publish gets a lot of attention. But if you keep working at this, you’ll find that, um, you can have an impact. And again, um, Lillian has just shared the link to this, uh, this brief and the related materials on our website, and I think I will stop there, and we can open it up for questions.

Diana Elliott, moderator: Right. Um, so. Just to remember, as part of the Q&A, um, we’re going to ask people to use the raise hand feature and then to jump in and ask their questions when they have them. Um, raise hand feature is at the bottom as part of the reactions, um, tab at the bottom of Zoom. Um, but we have a couple of, of questions that have come in. Oh, great. Alex, Kaylee, I see your questions. I’m going to ask the ones in the chat, and then we’ll turn to Alex and then Kaylee for their questions. So, we had one question come in through the chat, which is, what is the optimal timing for composing and publishing a research brief to mitigate potential copyright issues with journal article publication. Anyone want to jump in and, and speak to that one?

Shannon Monnat: I can, um. I suppose because we publish these briefs all the time, we don’t have any problems with, with copyright, um, concerns. And this is because you’re not actually reproducing the journal article. You’re summarizing the findings from that paper, if you have one. Um, and you are not copying and pasting the figures, for example, from the article, you know, we’re reproducing the figures to be more inclined for a public audience anyway, it’s your work. So there’s no, there are no copyright infringement concerns in terms of the best timing. If these are briefs that you want to pair up with an academic journal article, and for example, you want to link the journal article into the brief which, which I would recommend, um, I would suggest drafting the brief after you’ve gotten a revise and resubmit on your paper, or it’s pretty clear that it’s going to be accepted. Maybe you’ve gotten a conditional acceptance to have it ready to go so that once the, you know, you’re sending the proofs back to the journal, um, you have this brief done, and all you’re really waiting for at that point is the link from the journal article that you can embed into the brief. But if for some reason you don’t do that, that’s not to say that you can’t publish a brief after the article is already out. Um, this happens a lot with our authors, where they have an article that’s come out, they decide they want to write a brief. It’s targeted to a different audience. So it’s not like you’re missing out on anything if you don’t have the brief done right away. That’s, that’s my $0.02 on that.

Diana Elliott, moderator: Thanks, Shannon. Um, I’ll jump to the next question, um, which is, what platforms have you been most successful with reaching different audiences?

Beth Jarosz: I can, I can probably take a first crack at that. And I think we all probably have different perspectives. Um. I have found two things to be particularly helpful. One is social media, I’m assuming this is social media platforms, um, X before it became a terrible place to be. It was very effective for communicating with journalists and sharing information out. Um, I also am in the, the sort of unique position of I regularly present work to elected officials because of some work I do here in California. So I’ve got, like, a very direct line here that I don’t think counts. Um, but LinkedIn, weirdly, can be a good place because you’ve got an audience that is, uh, sort of issue focused, can be a really good platform to share. Um, and outside of that, one-on-one communications, you know that nothing—I know we’re talking about writing for these audiences, but, but nothing really beats building a relationship with whether it’s a policymaker. And again, I kind of mentioned this in the beginning to think about how to engage policymakers early on. If what you really want to do is policy change, start building those relationships, personal relationships, early on. Same thing goes with journalists that nothing beats knowing the person on the other end of the email.

Diana Elliott, moderator: Anyone else want to chime in on that one?

Shannon Monnat: Our briefs are indexed in Google, and I presume yours are as well. And actually, most of our hits come from that, from people doing Google searches. So we, we, we post the briefs and all the outlets that Beth mentioned. And, you know, we’ll get hits on those once in a while. Um, but when you look at the, the download statistics, most of it is from people doing Google searches because those terms kind of pop up at the top. Um, so, you know, just making sure you’re publishing with a brief series that does index on Google is a good strategy.

Mark Mather: I’ll just add, it’s, it’s good to have some, it’s okay to publish these in PDF format. But um, if you do that, it’s also good to have the short blurb so that people can find it easily, so they don’t have to take that extra step of opening up a PDF. I mean, that’s what social media is all about to you want to get people to see it first, and then if they if you get their interest, then they might click to see the whole thing in a PDF format. But as a general rule, we do now publish all of our briefs in HTML format so that they’re easier to search and easier to find.

Diana Elliott, moderator: Right. I think I’ll switch to, uh, folks with their raised hands. Alex, do you want to chime in and ask your question?

Alex: Sure. Hi everyone, thanks for holding this webinar. It’s been great so far. My question is related to, I think the question was just answered, but I wanted to know basically like, you write a brief, how does it get into the hands of a journalist or, or one of these people? And I understand there’s these research series, but do you contact journalists as well? Obviously, like you use your social media presence, but are there any other tricks to kind of get it in front of people? Um, and, and yeah.

Diana Elliott, moderator: Paola, I wonder if you have some thoughts on this.

Paola Scommegna: Um, it really helps that they’re, um, indexed in Google so that when a journalist is writing on your topic and they do a search, they find you. But I also follow who’s writing about the things I’m writing about in, um, in the national media. And I will send them something, um, through the, the addresses they provide, say, the aging reporter at the New York Times. I, I do send them things. Yeah. Usually, I’ll compliment them on something they’ve written and then saying, you might be interested in this.

Beth Jarosz: So excellent strategy. The only thing I would add to that is that if there’s a particular writer who you really hope will take up the article, if you can send them an early draft before it’s live and they feel like they have an exclusive, they’re more likely to respond favorably.

Diana Elliott, moderator: Not always a guarantee that they will write, though, and sometimes that’s very disappointing. Um, but they’re also, they’ve got other competing demands or editors who have opinions as well. So, um. Anyone else want to chime in to that or should I switch to Kaylee? All right. Let me switch to Kaylee’s question. Kaylee, do you want to chime in? And I’m sorry if I’m not pronouncing your name correctly.

Kaylee: Nope. That was spot on. Um, thank you all for your presentations today. It’s been incredibly helpful. I’ve just been taking notes frantically. So, my question is, um, pretty demography specific, but one of the things that I would love to hear about your experiences with or best practices is in terms of, um, when you’re trying to express uncertainty with your results. So, I’m thinking about, in the case of, for example, like demographic forecasting, um, or modeling in that way where, you know, you might have a point estimate, but what you really want to convey is like, here’s the possible range of outcomes. Um, how do you ,how do you manage the, the balance between like being honest to what your results are actually telling you versus wanting to tell this compelling story?

Beth Jarosz: This is, I, this is what I do all the time. So a, a big piece of my work is, is doing forecasting work for regional governments in California and um. I would say, where I started my career, point estimates were the only thing that people wanted to talk about. And now, particularly in the post-COVID context, there’s an appetite and an interest for having uncertainty ranges. Um, and I have had no problem just being really clear about that. Like, here’s the point estimate we’re going to use. And then here’s how widely it might diverge at the end. And um, really appreciated and no challenges with, um, sort of understanding among that policy audience.

Diana Elliott, moderator: Shannon, do you have anything to add based on your experience?

Shannon Monnat: Um, there, there’s a sociologist who wrote a journal article a few years ago with the title that said “eff nuance.” And the point was like, you’re going to get your point across much more clearly if you provide, you know, like not all kinds of little ifs, ands, or buts about what you’re trying to present, but you just say it straight. Um, having said that, I agree with Beth that it’s perfectly reasonable to just provide a range to say, you know, like our estimates suggest this is going to be the number. But because this type of projection can be uncertain, the range might be between x and x. And just say it like that. But what I would avoid is, um, all kinds of details that are things like, well, under this conditions, this thing happens, but only for this group and only on like Mondays. Right. So, um, then you have way too much detail and nobody really knows what to do about it.

Beth Jarosz: Yes to all of that.

Diana Elliott, moderator: Do we have any other questions from the audience? I don’t see any other raised hands. Um, and there was another question that was asked, but I believe it was already answered through the course. Yeah. Winnie, would you like to go ahead and ask your question?

Winnie: Yes. Thank you. So I wanted to know, can I, can a policy brief be publicly based on someone else’s research and not necessarily my own?

Mark Mather: Wait, you’re talking about, um, summarizing someone else’s research in a brief.

Winnie: That’s right. So, uh, without necessarily being the first author or whatever, like, you just find an interesting research and then you want to turn it into a book.

Mark Mather: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s, it’s good to, um, you know, the first thing you would do is probably just reach out to that person to let them know that you’re starting this process and because they will be important, uh, an important reviewer, we always send out our we we’re always writing briefs based on other people’s research. And, um, we send it out to them to make sure that we’re getting it right. And they like they also like to have, uh, they like to know when it, when it’s being published to so that, uh, in case somebody does come across that they’re not kind of taken by surprise when they get a call, um, that they, you know, a journalist just found this, this brief, and they want to talk to somebody about it.

Winnie: Great. Thank you.

Diana Elliott, moderator: Jan [German pronunciation]. It’s good to see you.

Jan: Good to see you, too. Thanks for the great presentations. Um, I was wondering if any of you had any, any experience with using a, AI to get a policy brief started, and if that is helpful.

Shannon Monnat: No, but that’s a great idea. I think I am. Part of me wonders. You know what I would spit back if you put in, you know, the abstract of a journal article and said, please simplify this using non-technical language. It might spit back something that could get you started. Um, and then once you’re started, it’s easier to, to proceed because it would probably identify what the most important parts of that abstract were for you. It’s worth giving it a shot.

Mark Mather: I agree. And there is one of our colleagues at PRB is using, I think it’s called a PDF or something, where you can upload a paper and ask it to pull out the key points. You can query AI for whatever you want to know about that paper. And I do think in some years’ time, you know, this business of writing my technical research briefs, we might be out of business when AI becomes much better at this. For the time being, I don’t think there, the, you know, I think that people can still tell the difference between one of Paola’s briefs and something that ChatGPT created, but who knows in ten years.

Diana Elliott, moderator: I still think there’s going to be a place for people, technical people, to review things. Well, I hold on to that, that hope for the future. Um, so, uh, I wonder if we have any other questions. Um. If not, I’d like to just sort of turn it back to the panel, and we’ve heard a few, I’d like to leave this on an uplifting note, right. We’ve heard a few, sort of tales, of success stories. I’m wondering if, if people want to chime in with some other success stories, to kind of inspire folks to write their first policy brief.

Beth Jarosz: You want that from the panelists? Or do you want anyone who’s participating to also share if they’re interested? Right, I think.

Diana Elliott, moderator: Yeah, I was thinking of the panelists, but yeah, we can absolutely open it up if if other people have success stories.

Beth Jarosz: Um, I would say in this sort of relates to the forecast question that was asked earlier. Uh, there, I wrote a brief about population decline, um, in the United States, that population growth has slowed dramatically in the wake of the pandemic, um, had been slowing leading up to that. And, you know, new Census Bureau projections show that we’re going to reach an inflection point at some point, certainly in the next several decades, if not in the next couple. So, I wrote a blog summarizing that, and a, a journalist from The Economist reached out and said, hey, I saw this blog you wrote. Would you be willing to talk about population change? So, it’s that, um, not every article you write, not every blog, not every policy brief, not every research brief is going to get picked up, but it’s having that sort of base of articles that are out there that gets you into the universe of the journalists that might be interested or the policymakers going to be interested. And then that builds. Now that journalist knows that, you know, I’m a resource for issues about population change and, and may come back to that again, you know, a year from.

Diana Elliott, moderator: And you developed a budding relationship with that journalist too, which is also really helpful. So, when Beth has something new out, she’ll send it to that journalist. And, and it helps. Um, Shannon, you had some great success stories. Not many people get to travel to such fabulous places because of their research. Um, I’m wondering if you have anything else to share on that front.

Shannon Monnat: This is the reason I keep writing briefs. I’m like, who’s going to send me on a trip next? Oh, it’s, uh, it’s so random, you know, like, I, I, um, I probably shouldn’t say it’s the reason I keep writing briefs. Because you shouldn’t write the briefs to get this kind of attention, because most often it doesn’t happen that way. So this idea that you’re building up this portfolio, that you become the go to person on this topic, that’s more likely to happen if your research is out there in the public, easily findable, not behind a paywall. When a reporter is looking for someone who’s an expert on X, you know, population projections for Beth or, you know, rural mortality. And in my case, they’re going to be more likely to find me through a brief than through a, through a journal article. And then these kinds of things happen, which can be exciting. And then you have to start saying no to things.

Mark Mather: I was just going to quickly use Paola again as an example because she, she drafted an article, I think it was 2019, Paola, the one on measuring longevity. So it’s pre-COVID, and it’s just an example of uh, if you, if you just keep producing these things, some of them will become very, uh, widely used. So when COVID, uh, happened the following year, that article started to get a ton of attention and ended up with several hundred thousand views in the first six months of 2020. So, um, so sometimes you might not get attention when you write the brief, but when certain current event, uh, policy, you know, issue comes around, it will start to get attention.

Paola Scommegna: And Mark, I was thinking of something you worked on a related to the burden renters feel or experience, and you gave data for every state, I think. And the governor of New York kept mentioning it, it just keeps turning up. Um, so there’s something you did a while back that’s driving policy.

Diana Elliott, moderator: Right. Um, hopefully that gives a little bit of inspiration for everyone on the call to ,to write, um, a policy brief, whether using AI or not. We support this completely. Um, and we can’t wait to read your briefs or to help you out with that, as Mark referenced before. So, just a reminder that this webinar has been recorded and there are slides and that link for the recording will be sent out afterwards. And I want to just thank everyone who participated who chimed in. Special thanks to Mark, Shannon, Beth, and Paola, um, for their terrific presentations and we look forward to being in touch.

Ugandan women walking and cheering

Localizing WHO Guidelines on Self-Care: A Practical Guide From Uganda

This how-to guide documents Uganda’s approach to developing and testing a self-care guideline, and illuminates a five-phase process that may be helpful for other countries looking to nationalize the WHO guideline.


In 2020, Uganda began the process of developing a national self-care guideline for sexual and reproductive health and rights. The guideline was based on the World Health Organization (WHO)’s guideline on self-care, released in June 2019 and revised in 2022.

Uganda’s process to develop and test this guideline, led by the Ministry of Health, an expert panel, and a national consultant from Samasha Medical Foundation, was effective in creating a policy tailored to the Ugandan context. The innovative approach also included pilot testing the draft guideline at the subnational level to inform revisions before national launch and scale-up.

Under USAID’s PROPEL Health project, PRB partnered with Samasha Medical Foundation to create a how-to guide based on this work. “Localizing WHO Guidelines on Self-Care: A Practical Guide From Uganda” documents Uganda’s approach and illuminates a five-phase guideline development process that may be helpful for other countries looking to nationalize the WHO guideline. For each phase, the guide shares the purpose and objectives, Uganda’s experience, lessons learned, and suggested activities and tools.

Learn more about PROPEL Health

Doctor talks to mixed race mother and child.

Family-Centered Care Matters for Kids With Special Needs, but Many Families Report Challenges With Providers

Families with limited resources or inconsistent insurance are more likely to face hurdles, new study finds.

Children and youth with special health care needs (CYSHCN) who receive family-centered care generally have better health outcomes, research shows. When health care providers engage and prioritize the needs of the family, CYSHCN enjoy better overall health; better access to coordinated, ongoing, comprehensive health care within a medical home; fewer emergency department visits; and fewer unmet health needs.

Yet in the United States, CYSHCN families from disadvantaged groups face barriers to receiving high-quality family-centered care, according to a new analysis of national survey data by Paul Morgan, now at the University at Albany, SUNY, and colleagues at Penn State University and SRI International.1

The researchers assessed family-centered care by measuring the extent to which doctors or other health providers:

  • Spent enough time with the child.
  • Listened carefully.
  • Showed sensitivity to the family’s values and customs.
  • Provided the family with specific information they need concerning the child.
  • Helped the family feel like a partner in the child’s care.

Data were from the 2016–2019 National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH), which uses a five-question screener to identify CYSHCN.

The study focused on the quality of care received by CYSHCN families in visits to health professionals in the previous year and controlled for potentially confounding factors including children’s general health status and the severity of their impairments.

Socioeconomic Background Is Tied to the Quality of Family-Centered Care

Morgan and colleagues found that some CYSHCN families report greater barriers to receiving high-quality family-centered health care, including:

  • Families without consistent health insurance coverage.
  • Poor and lower-income families.
  • Single-parent families.
  • Families who usually receive care in a clinic or health center, emergency room, or other setting outside a doctor’s office.
  • Families of children with autism spectrum disorders, anxiety, or depression.

By contrast, families of CYSHCN with asthma—the most commonly reported special health care need—were significantly more likely to receive family-centered care than families of CYSHCN without asthma.

The results did not show consistent racial/ethnic disparities across all the measures of family-centered care—a finding that surprised the researchers. However, families of Black and Hispanic CYSHCN reported that providers spent relatively less time with their children compared with families of white CYSHCN. Families of Hispanic CYSHCN also said that providers showed less sensitivity to their family’s culture and customs.

A Targeted Approach Could Help Improve Care

Evidence from the study suggests that socioeconomic factors, rather than race or ethnicity, are central drivers of disparities in family-centered care among CYSHCN in the United States. To address these disparities, policies and systems of care serving these young people and their families can adopt comprehensive, coordinated approaches to increase provider-family engagement, cultural responsiveness, and shared decision-making, the authors noted.

To help particularly vulnerable CYSHCN families, targeted actions should focus on care provided in emergency departments, community clinics/health centers, and other non-office settings, and on providers caring for children with autism spectrum disorders or internalizing disorders, the authors suggested.

This article was produced under a grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). The work of researchers from Penn State University was highlighted.



  1. Paul L. Morgan et al., “Disparities in Family-Centered Care Among U.S. Children and Youth With Special Health Care Needs,” The Journal of Pediatrics 253 (2023): 297-303.e6.