Latin offers us a phrase that aptly captures 2020: “annus horribilis.”
The COVID-19 pandemic, the severe economic catastrophe it is causing, and the ongoing violence directed at people of color combined to bring anguish, illness, and death to millions of people across the United States. Hardships have been numerous, and unevenly experienced. Such widespread pain is taking a toll on our society.
In view of these unprecedented and intertwined threats, the Academy reoriented our work to elevate the critical role of social insurance in addressing these crises. Our range of activities and new research projects this past year included:
- Producing a series of COVID-19 and caregiving webinars, as well as new briefs and other publications, to explain the various risks exposed and exacerbated by the pandemic, and how social insurance programs are providing vital protections – or falling short (and what we might do about these gaps).
- Pledging to pursue diversity, equity, and inclusion in all of the Academy’s activities and to provide updates on our ongoing efforts to fulfill this pledge;
- Reframing our 2020 Ball Award tradition into a broader Campaign for Social Insurance, which included issuing The Future of Social Insurance: Insights From the Pandemic – a compendium of essays on Social Security, Medicare, the economy, labor and workforce issues, retirement, aging, disability, and long-term care by former Ball Award recipients.
- Shifting our summer internship program and our Main Street forums focusing on Universal Family Care from in-person to virtual experiences;
- Substantially increasing our visibility in both traditional and social media to call attention to the enduring value of programs like Social Security and Unemployment Insurance as engines of economic security, especially in times of recession.
While we look back at the past year, we also look forward to the year ahead, which has the potential to be a transformative one.
The aptness of that Latin phrase notwithstanding, 2020 is ending with glimmers of cautious hope – a democratic election with results upheld despite efforts to undermine them, vaccines that appear to be effective, and signs of economic recovery (albeit shaky and certainly not uniform). There is clearly more work to be done to ensure a more equitable economic recovery. Our nation continues to reckon with racism, and this requires a commitment by many, including organizations like our Academy, to address racial and other forms of injustice in all that we do and to be accountable for results over rhetoric.
As 2020 finally comes to an end, our thoughts are with all who have suffered losses, and our gratitude is for all who have given to others in so many varied ways.
In these uncertain times, we will need certainty of purpose. For now, let us focus on the lessons this past year has taught us, including a renewed appreciation for the role of social insurance at times of profound peril.
At the end of a recent meeting of the Academy’s Board of Directors, Chair Bill Rodgers shared this video, “Together.” This song reaffirms the core value of social insurance identified by Academy Founding Chair Bob Ball, who often said that the essence of social insurance is the fundamental proposition that “we are all in this together.”
On behalf of the Academy’s Board of Directors and staff, may you, your family, friends, and colleagues make the most of this holiday season and gain strength from the togetherness that social insurance brings to us all, even in these distressing times.
William Arnone is the Chief Executive Officer of the National Academy of Social Insurance.