Bill Arnone, CEO, National Academy of Social Insurance

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.

In reflecting on it from several perspectives – as a host, participant, moderator, and presenter – I offer some observations to Academy Members and other attendees regarding the theme, the planning process, and what we learned.

First, the conference theme and title. Unlike most of the Academy’s previous conferences which typically focused on one major policy area, our 2019 conference examined a wide range of policy issues from the angle of segments of the nation’s population who face major economic risks not covered by our current social insurance infrastructure. This approach resulted in a high-level treatment of policy issues, instead of the deeper dive that has characterized most of our past conferences.

The conference title was carefully and deliberately selected to suggest that the concept of social insurance is a dynamic one and needs to be examined periodically in view of new risks confronting Americans. The Webster’s dictionary definition of the word “regenerate” is “to reform morally” or “to undergo rebirth.” It also connotes being “revitalized” or “renewed.” Adding “Millennials and the Millennium” made the point that, although its generational focus was on one particular cohort, all of us living in this century have a stake in the social compact embodied in our nation’s social insurance programs.

Second, the conference planning process. In celebration of the Academy’s 30th anniversary in 2017, the Founding Board Members presented at our annual gala torches to individuals representing a new generation of social insurance thought leaders. At that time, we let the torch recipients know that this symbolic act would be followed by more substantive involvement in the Academy’s activities. With that promise in mind, we reconstituted the torch recipients as our conference planning committee. They are:

  • Jean C. Accius, Vice President of the Long-Term Services & Supports and Livable Communities Group within the AARP Public Policy Institute
  • Ramsey L. Alwin, Director of Thought Leadership for Financial Resilience in the Office of Policy, Research, and International Affairs at AARP
  • Jeff N. Cruz, Senior Advisor to Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on the Senate Budget Committee for Social Security
  • Walt Dawson, Atlantic Fellow for Equity in Brain Health, Global Brain Health Institute (GBHI), University of California – San Francisco
  • Kathryn Anne Edwards, Associate Economist, RAND Corporation
  • Alex Lawson, Executive Director, Social Security Works
  • Kathleen Romig, Senior   Policy Analyst, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
  • H. Luke Schaefer, Associate Professor, School of Social Work and Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, and Director, Poverty Solutions, University of Michigan
  • Elisa A. Walker, Social Insurance Specialist in the Social Security Administration’s Office of Research, Demonstration, and Employment Support.

Also participating on the planning committee were Josie Kalipeni, Director of Policy and Federal Affairs at Caring Across Generations, and Alexandra Bradley, formerly the Academy’s Lead Policy Analyst for Health and Caregiving. In addition to serving on the planning committee, Jean, Ramsey, Walt, Kathryn, Kathleen, and Luke served as panelists or moderators during the conference.

Third, what did we hear and what did we learn from the conference?

Based on the comments we received both during and after the conference, many who attended found the panels stimulating and enlightening. Attendees appreciated the diversity in topics covered and in the panels themselves. The intergenerational composition of the attendees as well as the panels was singled out by many as making this conference quite distinctive from those of previous years.

One common refrain was the desire by attendees to have more time for interaction with panelists and with each other. For the first time at an Academy conference, attendees were asked to use a smartphone-based event app (MeetApp) to facilitate new ways of interaction and engagement. MeetApp was well received by those who used it, but some expressed a strong preference for more traditional means of audience participation and dialogue. Others expressed their preference for fewer panels and more networking opportunities. We will be taking this into account as we plan for next year’s policy conference.

Finally, what are the Academy’s follow-up plans?

As you may know, the overarching theme of the Academy’s policy work is inequality. Prior to this year’s conference, our focus has been on disparities in income and wealth from the perspectives of race, class, and gender. We will add generational cohorts to this framework.

One of the products of the conference is a new “Chartbook” of data particularly salient for understanding the economic situation facing Millennials and younger generations. A current version of the Chartbook is available on the event page. We will continue to update this Chartbook and encourage you to submit suggestions to Griffin Murphy, Research Assistant for Income Security, at

Two of the conference panels also provided previews of forthcoming Academy publications. The Academy’s concept paper on “Assured Income” will be issued later this month. The final report of the Academy’s Study Panel on Caregiving will be issued in March with a full release event in May. Stay tuned for more information about both.

As always, we encourage you to provide feedback on our 2019 Conference and to be in touch with your suggestions going forward by emailing me directly at

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