Here are the RAND research projects that resonated most in 2020, a year unlike any in living memory.

Most popular RAND research of 2020. Image by RAND Corporation
Most popular RAND research of 2020. Image by RAND Corporation

It has truly been a year unlike any in living memory. 2020 has been surreal. Turbulent. And for so many, painful.

COVID-19 has taken more than 1.5 million lives, wreaked untold economic despair and personal heartbreak, and upended nearly every aspect of daily life.

The pandemic also shined a spotlight on long-standing inequities; the virus tends to hurt most those who have the least.

That spotlight burned even brighter this summer, after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd, an unarmed Black man. …


The government could prioritize allocating more funding to states to help with vaccine distribution and test-trace-treat.

by Rafiq Dossani

COVID-19 vaccination stations inside Hillcrest High School in Queens, NY, January 11, 2021. Photo by Anthony Behar/Reuters
COVID-19 vaccination stations inside Hillcrest High School in Queens, NY, January 11, 2021. Photo by Anthony Behar/Reuters
COVID-19 vaccination stations inside Hillcrest High School, a designated New York City priority vaccination center, in Queens, January 11, 2021. Photo by Anthony Behar/Reuters

The disorganized public health response to the pandemic in the United States helped ensure that the nation led the world in infections nearly from the beginning of the pandemic, and it has remained there since. Initially, a slow federal government response in restricting overseas travel to the United States was the reason. This was followed by a confused personal protective equipment (PPE) and treatment supplies acquisition strategy, again at the federal level. This slowed the access of states to critical supplies of masks and other PPE, as well as treatment supplies, such as ventilators.

Once the disease was in the domestic domain, the mistakes at the federal level were compounded by a slow and inadequate adoption of efficient test-trace-treat (3T) regimes at the state level. This appears to have been a primary cause for widespread community transmission. …


As the first COVID-19 vaccines are being administered across the United States, countless questions have arisen about what comes next.

The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is administered in Avondale, Louisiana, January 9, 2021. Photo by Kathleen Flynn/Reuters
The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is administered in Avondale, Louisiana, January 9, 2021. Photo by Kathleen Flynn/Reuters
The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is administered during a drive through event at InclusivCare in Avondale, Louisiana, January 9, 2021. Photo by Kathleen Flynn/Reuters

As the first COVID-19 vaccines are being administered across the United States — developed, tested, and approved with historic speed — countless questions have arisen about what comes next. Is one vaccine better than another? Can the United States both speed up inoculation and overcome some people’s hesitance to get the shot?

Dr. Courtney Gidengil, a senior physician policy researcher in RAND’s Boston office, authored a comprehensive review of vaccine safety in 2014, which is being updated now and will be released soon. She said that the size of the patient trials (over 30,000 participants in each of the Pfizer and Moderna trials) and length of follow-up to date should instill confidence, despite the newness of mRNA vaccines. Extended studies of other vaccines also show no evidence of long-term damaging effects, she said. …


The United States faces fundamental challenge that may require an education overhaul: Truth Decay.

A 2nd-grader votes in a mock election at his school in Gainesville, Florida, November 3, 2020. Photo by Brad McClenny/Reuters
A 2nd-grader votes in a mock election at his school in Gainesville, Florida, November 3, 2020. Photo by Brad McClenny/Reuters
A 2nd-grade student votes during a mock election at his school in Gainesville, Florida, November 3, 2020. Photo by Brad McClenny/Reuters

Overview

The United States is grappling with an intangible yet existential threat: an increasing unwillingness to accept basic facts. Education must play a pivotal role in rebuilding our civic infrastructure and restoring public trust. RAND researchers identified four opportunities to help educators and policymakers reenergize civic development in American classrooms.

In 1957, the Soviet Union catapulted a metallic orb the size of a basketball beyond Earth’s atmosphere. Sputnik, Russian for “fellow traveler,” became the first artificial satellite, collecting data for three weeks before its batteries died — and the Space Race sprang to life.

Soviets celebrated. Sputnik was both a monumental scientific achievement and a political victory over their Cold War rival, the United States. …


Do unemployment benefits keep people from accepting jobs? What effect do they have on the economy?

by Kathryn A. Edwards

People wait in line at the St. Clements Food Pantry in New York City, December 11, 2020. Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters
People wait in line at the St. Clements Food Pantry in New York City, December 11, 2020. Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters
People wait in line at the St. Clements Food Pantry in New York City, December 11, 2020. Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters

Do unemployment benefits keep people from accepting (PDF) jobs? What effect do they have on the economy? Researchers and policymakers have been debating these issues since COVID-19 led to widespread job losses last spring.

But there’s another, more fundamental question to ask: Without unemployment benefits, how would people make ends meet?

It goes without saying that unemployed workers cut their spending and some strategically skip bill payments. Evidence suggests that many Americans don’t have much cash savings as a cushion.

Borrowing is another option, but one only readily available to those with a strong credit history before becoming unemployed. A home equity line of credit, for instance, would only be available to those who were already homeowners. …


Laura Bogart’s HIV research sheds light on why some might question the safety of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Laura Bogart. Photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND Corporation
Laura Bogart. Photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND Corporation
Laura Bogart. Photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND Corporation

The rapid development of vaccines to fight COVID-19 has presented Americans with an urgent new question: Would you get one? Polls in the fall, before the vaccines were announced, suggested that many Americans had their doubts. And Black Americans, in particular, were especially likely to question whether a vaccine would be safe or effective.

Laura Bogart studies medical mistrust, especially in the Black community, as a senior behavioral scientist at RAND. Her research has shown how centuries of oppression and unethical medical experimentation became a barrier to effective treatment for Black Americans during the HIV epidemic. …


RAND researchers published roughly 400 op-eds and blog posts during 2020, reflecting an enormous variety of expertise and perspectives.

RAND Commentary Highlights of 2020
RAND Commentary Highlights of 2020

Three events dominated the news in 2020: COVID-19, the U.S. presidential election, and the protests across the country following the killing of George Floyd. But the roughly 400 op-eds and blog posts published by RAND researchers during the year reflected an enormous variety of expertise and perspectives, from remote education to election cybersecurity to the economic harms of racial disparities. Below are 10 highlights, presented chronologically, that landed in high-profile news outlets.

What the G-20 Can Do About Coronavirus

By Charles P. Ries
Published March 29 in The Wall Street Journal

“Cooperation among G20 members will prove critical to enabling the world to combat the disease and recover from the economic damage it is causing. The G20, chaired by Saudi Arabia, brings together the countries that can make a difference: China, the United States, major European countries, Russia, Australia, Brazil, Japan, South Korea, Turkey, and South Africa, among others. Communiqués will not be enough, however. …


How do we reduce the chance of things going wrong—and make sure there is quick course correction if they do?

by Paul Brenner, Shoshana R. Shelton, Richard H. Donohue

Healthcare workers rehearse administration of the COVID-19 vaccine in Indianapolis, Indiana. Photo by Bryan Woolston/Reuters
Healthcare workers rehearse administration of the COVID-19 vaccine in Indianapolis, Indiana. Photo by Bryan Woolston/Reuters
Health care workers rehearse administration of the COVID-19 vaccine in Indianapolis, December 11, 2020. Photo by Bryan Woolston/Reuters

With emergency use authorization for the first COVID-19 vaccine now in place, states and localities have turned their focus to the logistics of dispensing it as quickly as feasible. Still, uncertainties abound.

Intense planning (PDF) cannot anticipate all problems. Instead, it is essential to build a process of learning into the plan.

The cycle of uncertainty, learning, and adaptation has shaped the pandemic from the start. At first, the role of airborne transmission and the need for masks were not understood. The guidance about who should be tested has been updated continually. …


Without intervention, these institutions may not weather the storm.

by Jenna W. Kramer, Shelly Culbertson, Shanthi Nataraj

People walk outside Hostos Community College in the Bronx, New York, December 16, 2017. Photo by Eduardo Munoz/Reuters
People walk outside Hostos Community College in the Bronx, New York, December 16, 2017. Photo by Eduardo Munoz/Reuters
People walk outside Hostos Community College in the Bronx borough of New York, December 16, 2017. Photo by Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

Enrollment at America’s community colleges is down by nearly 10 percent compared with before the pandemic. In first-time enrollment, the decline is even more steep — down by nearly a quarter compared with last fall.

This is a sign of trouble not just for community college students — who are more than a third of all U.S. college students — but also for the community college system, the nation’s workforce, and any U.S. economic recovery.

For first-generation college students, particularly students of color and those from low-income families, community college can be a path to a four-year degree or a middle-skill career. Associate degree earners, research shows, secure higher-paying jobs than those with a high school diploma and have more stability in employment. Greater investment in community colleges also promotes social mobility among degree recipients and economic development in their communities. …


Children’s participation helps decisionmakers be more aware of children’s needs and their rights.

by Michaela Bruckmayer

Illustration of rainbow colored sillhoueesearchers are examining how children participate in decision-making processes across
Illustration of rainbow colored sillhoueesearchers are examining how children participate in decision-making processes across
Photo by melitas/Getty Images

The European Union recently held the 13th annual Forum on the Rights of the Child, during which experts from a range of sectors who work on issues relating to children came together to discuss how best to guarantee the realisation of children’s rights.

This year’s conference focused on the EU strategy on the rights of the child, set to be implemented between 2021 and 2024. The aim of the strategy is to provide a framework for EU action to better promote and protect children’s rights. …

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