Americans' Financial Struggles, COVID-19 Vaccinations, Virtual Schools: RAND Weekly Recap

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December 18, 2020

We discuss Americans' financial struggles amid the pandemic; learning from the first phase of COVID-19 vaccinations; why virtual schools may be here to stay; how corporate culture leaves women behind; ways to improve the well-being of home care workers; and what Joe Biden's Africa strategy might look like.

Cars line up during a food drive in East Rutherford, New Jersey, November 24, 2020, photo by Brendan McDermid/Reuters

Photo by Brendan McDermid/Reuters

Heading into the Holidays, Americans' Financial Difficulties Continue

Despite some recent increases in employment and spending, many U.S. households continue to struggle financially during the pandemic. New RAND survey results highlight the challenges facing millions of Americans:

  • Lower-income workers and Black and Hispanic households are facing particularly severe challenges.
  • The share of Americans who report difficulty paying their bills is rising. This could be because people have exhausted their savings, or because additional unemployment insurance benefits expired earlier this year.
  • The strategies that people are using to make ends meet have shifted over the course of the pandemic. For example, those struggling financially have become even more likely to turn to formal credit, such as credit cards, bank loans, and payday loans, to cover their bills.
  • Many people plan to spend less than usual on holiday gifts this year, which could indicate continuing hardship.

These findings help to paint a picture of the ongoing financial devastation caused by the spread of COVID-19.

Healthcare workers take part in a rehearsal for the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis, Indiana, December 11, 2020, photo by Bryan Woolston/Reuters

Health care workers rehearse the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis, December 11, 2020

Photo by Bryan Woolston/Reuters

What Can We Learn from the First Phase of Vaccinations?

This week, states and localities began rolling out their plans to distribute the first wave of COVID-19 vaccines. But no amount of planning can anticipate all of the challenges ahead. That's why learning from this initial phase will be crucial, say RAND researchers. And because the U.S. public health system is highly fragmented, it may be helpful to have a central group of experts dedicated to understanding what's working and what's not.

A student using her laptop at home, photo by damircudic/Getty Images

Photo by damircudic/Getty Images

Remote Learning Is Here to Stay

About 20 percent of U.S. school districts have already adopted, plan to adopt, or are considering adopting virtual schools after the pandemic. That's according to a new RAND survey of school district leaders. They cited student and parent demand for online instruction as key reasons for these decisions. But inequities remain a major concern. In districts that serve more students of color or more low-income students, access to devices and the internet continues to be a significant problem.

Woman works at home while her children play video games, photo by filadendron/Getty Images

Photo by filadendron/Getty Images

Will Corporate Culture Evolve to Support Women?

Compared with men, women are still paid less and promoted less often. According to RAND experts, these disparities remain largely because of complex factors in corporate culture. For example, an employee who can't work late or on the weekends may unfairly be deemed “unproductive.” Such problems were hard enough to remedy when the economy was booming. But the pandemic could make them worse. It's up to employers to make changes to ensure that women are no longer the exception to their established norms.

Health visitor and a senior woman during home visit, photo by FG Trade/Getty Images

Photo by FG Trade/Getty Images

How to Elevate the Well-Being of Home Care Workers

There are more than 2.3 million home care workers in the United States. They help their clients bathe, prepare meals for them, and clean their homes. According to RAND experts, more could be done to support the well-being of these workers during the pandemic. Policymakers could consider steps to ensure that home care workers have personal protective equipment, increased compensation during COVID-19, and “essential worker” status.

President-elect Biden announces his key health team nominees and appointees in Wilmington, DE, December 8, 2020, photo by CNP/InStar/Cover Images/Reuters

President-elect Biden announces nominees and appointees to his team in Wilmington, Delaware, December 8, 2020

Photo by CNP/InStar/Cover Images/Reuters

Considering Biden's Africa Strategy

President-elect Joe Biden has an opportunity to reset the U.S. relationship with sub-Saharan Africa, says RAND's Michael Shurkin. An important step is to start “seeing Africans as Africans and not pawns in some great game.” Along with refining counterterrorism efforts and finding new ways to support African partner nations, this could go a long way toward strengthening America's position in competition with other powers.

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