The Academy’s 31st annual policy conference – Regenerating Social Insurance for Millennials and the Millennium – was by all measures a success. It represented a different approach to one of the Academy’s signature events in both style and substance.
“Universal basic income” (UBI) has only recently come into popular usage, but the idea of assuring a base level of income to all is not new. Social insurance programs have been performing a similar function for much of the last century. Social Security and Unemployment Insurance both provide a base level of income given one’s eligibility for receiving benefits. The latter part of the statement is, of course, a defining characteristic of traditional social insurance—eligibility is contingent on one’s paying in.
For all of us who are dedicated to the Academy’s mission – “increasing public understanding of how social insurance contributes to economic security” – 2019 has the makings of a challenging year.
One of the top challenges facing us as we begin a new year is to develop and refine a common language that connects with the public at large. When distraction, detraction, and discord seem so prevalent in the nation’s political discourse, we need new ways to refocus the conversation on unifying issues that matter most to many. When it comes to providing greater economic security and reducing inequality in our nation, we need to reframe how we discuss social insurance, so that its enduring value as shared protection will be communicated more effectively.
If we were to measure the American people’s current understanding of social insurance, what might we find?
Kathryn Edwards is an Associate Economist at the RAND Corporation. She is a member of the . After working as a research assistant at the Economic Policy Institute from 2008-2011, Ms. Edwards attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she received her Ph.D. in Economics. Along the way, Edwards was a graduate fellow of the Institute for Research on Poverty and a summer fellow at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
As the Academy gears up for our 31st annual policy conference, Regenerating Social Insurance for Millennials and the Millennium, I am thinking back to what we have learned from our last few conferences.
Our 2016 conference premiered the Academy’s focus on inequality. Keynote speaker Marc Pearson, Deputy Director of Employment, Labor and Social Affairs at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), reminded us that:
On Tuesday, November 7, the Academy hosted an educational forum for 30 members of a delegation of government officials from the Guangdong Province of China. The officials, representing various departments within the provincial government, were participants of Georgetown University’s Global Education Institute, which provides an executive program for Chinese provincial civil servants. Academy members and staff provided an overview of four key areas of the American system of social insurance.
Having recently completed my first year as the Academy’s Chief Executive Officer, I’ve reflected on my many interactions with Academy Members at our annual Membership meeting, Policy Conference, 30th Anniversary celebration, and other events that we have sponsored, as well as emails and phone conversations.
Among the questions most frequently posed to me are:
- Why has the Academy chosen “inequality” as our overarching strategic theme and framework?
- What does this mean for the Academy’s policy work?
I first addressed this issue in a letter to the New York Times published in February 2015.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us recall the contributions to our nation’s vibrant social insurance infrastructure by those women who are no longer with us, but whose legacies remain strong.
Among these often unsung heroines are: