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Strengthening America’s Communities

“How can we rebuild an economy and a culture where everyone has the tools to be necessary? To their families, their communities, and their employers?”

Arthur C. Brooks, President; Beth and Ravenel Curry Scholar in Free Enterprise

This question animated a significant body of work from AEI scholars over the past year. Across a host of critical economic, social, and cultural issues, AEI scholars approached specific policy challenges through the lens of restoring human dignity and human potential and making every American necessary. From increasing economic mobility to studying the opioid epidemic to helping the formerly incarcerated, AEI scholars led empirical work and on-the-ground research in local communities and produced reform recommendations designed to strengthen America’s communities.

Combating the Opioid Epidemic

The opioid crisis is unprecedented in its lethality and economic toll. One in 65 deaths in America in 2016 was classified as opioid related by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a staggering one-fifth of all deaths among Americans age 24 to 35 were due to opioids. The White House Council of Economic Advisers estimated the annual direct economic costs of the crisis at $72.3 billion.

Policymakers, health care professionals, and researchers must understand the origins of this public health and social crisis to effectively address it. AEI has responded with a robust body of work from economists Roger Bate and Alex Brill, demographer Nicholas Eberstadt, journalist Naomi Schaefer Riley, and addiction psychiatrist Sally Satel.

These scholars are studying the problem from economic, cultural, child welfare, and medical perspectives. As important, AEI has been learning from local communities what is working well and how successful programs might be scaled up through effective public policies. To that end, Satel has embedded herself for one full year in a small community in southern Ohio that the crisis has hit particularly hard. During her time there, she is treating addicted patients and conducting research.


  Gov. Doug Ducey (R -AZ) keynoted an AEI event on the opioid crisis and foster care. The June event was hosted by Sally Satel and Naomi Schaefer Riley and brought together health and family policy experts to discuss what states are doing to address the challenges related to the opioid epidemic. Schaefer Riley also hosted Gov. Matt Bevin (R-KY) for an AEI public event to discuss reforming foster care systems at the state level.

  Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) keynoted an AEI event on international shipment of opioids. Richard Geddes hosted Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) at AEI for a public address on the foreign sources of illicit opioids and how drugmakers use the United States Postal Service to send drugs to Americans who purchase them through online pharmacies. Sen. Portman discussed legislative steps that could be taken to ensure the postal service is strictly screening such deliveries. Geddes then moderated a discussion with postal policy consultant Jim Campbell, Hofstra University’s Julian Ku, and former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge.

  Sally Satel published a series of major pieces in prominent news outlets to help policymakers and public health professionals understand the roots of the crisis. Sally Satel’pieces appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Health Affairs, National Affairs, and Politico. They addressed different aspects of the crisis, including the myth of what is driving the crisis, opioid prescription control, the public and political response to the epidemic, and harm-reduction efforts.

   A number of major news outlets cited Alex Brill and Scott Ganz’s opioid study. In their working paper, “The Geographic Variation in the Cost of the Opioid Crisis,” Alex Brill and Scott Ganz estimate per capita state-level and county-level non-mortality and total economic burdens of the opioid crisis in 2015. Brill and Ganz’s study was cited in US News & World Report, the Washington Examiner, and the Charleston Daily Mail and mentioned in tip sheets from the Wall Street Journal, FiveThirtyEight, and the Washington Examiner. Brill was also interviewed by CNBC’s Squawk Box.

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Sally Satel on C-SPAN’s ‘Washington Journal’ discussed congressional efforts to combat the opioid epidemic.

    Roger Bate led a field study testing opioid samples procured through three sources to determine authenticity. In October, Roger Bate published “A Field Study of the Opioid Market: Authenticity and Price from Pharmacy to Street.” The working paper sheds light on how access to opioids has changed over time as the federal government has implemented restrictions and guidance that has limited physicians from prescribing these drugs. For several months in 2018, Bate interviewed pain patients in Philadelphia who allowed him to access the opioid products they used. Bate was able to then test samples of opioids that were obtained through three sources: brick-and-mortar pharmacies using a legitimate prescription, internet pharmacies with no prescription, and private dealers. The data indicate that street products are both less authentic and more expensive; 22 percent of samples procured on the street failed authentication. Bate published a related AEI Economic Perspectives report in December titled “Fentanyl and Fatal Overdoses: From Chemical Production in China to Users in Pennsylvania.”

  AEI hosted Joint Economic Committee Member Mike Lee (R-UT) for a discussion on the opioid epidemic. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) discussed at AEI in March a new report from the Joint Economic Committee’s Social Capital Project, “The Numbers Behind the Opioid Epidemic.” The event featured remarks from Sen. Lee and a discussion with Sally Satel and National Affairs’ Yuval Levin, moderated by Scott Winship (Social Capital Project, Joint Economic Committee).

To learn more about AEI’s work on this issue, visit aei.org/spotlight/opioid-policy-project.


  Major publication by AEI scholars, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), and other experts promoting economic mobility garnered high profile attention. In early January, AEI released a new compendium titled This Way Up: New Thinking About Poverty and Economic Mobility in partnership with Opportunity America. The collection offers new conservative thinking about how to help Americans move up the economic ladder by looking beyond government and harnessing the power of communities. It features original, accessible essays from Speaker Paul RyanArthur BrooksRobert DoarCharles MurrayMichael Strain, and several other experts. AEI marked its release with a public event featuring Rep. Adrian Smith (R-NE) and an event for congressional staff and policymakers. Visit aei.org/thiswayup to learn more.

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Arthur Brooks on CNBC’s ‘Squawk Box’ discussed the importance of dignified work.

  New online AEI debate series advanced discussion and understanding of today’s most pressing issues facing low-income Americans. Under the direction of Robert Doar, AEI launched an online Poverty and Social Policy Debate Series of point-counterpoint essays by various experts on policies intended to reduce poverty and increase opportunity for low-income Americans. Issues debated include child support assurance, restricting the purchase of sugar-sweetened beverages with SNAP benefits, and the merits of work requirements in safety-net programs.

  House Judiciary Committee Members headlined an AEI event on criminal justice reform. In July, Brent Orrell and Ryan Streeter hosted an event on criminal justice reform with Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Doug Collins (R-GA) to discuss evidence-based models that can help formerly incarcerated individuals reintegrate into work and society. Related to this work, Grant Duwe also released a series of reports exploring specific criminal justice reform interventions. The report topics include the effectiveness of education and employment programming for prisoners; social support programming such as prison visitation, faith-based programs, and mentoring; and a continuum of care from prison to the community.

  New data set offers critical resource for policymakers to analyze poverty, inequality, mobility, and the distributional consequences of government transfers, taxes, and tax credits. Bruce Meyer and James Sullivan (University of Notre Dame) developed the Comprehensive Income Dataset, which takes into account income, all transfer payments, and government benefits to arrive at a more accurate poverty level based on consumption. The White House Council of Economic Advisers released a report in July that discussed expanding work requirements in noncash welfare programs, which heavily cited Meyer and Sullivan’s past work.

  Media prominently covered a new AEI report on the factors crucial to black men’s success. In June, Robert Doar and W. Bradford Wilcox hosted an event with the Institute for Family Studies to release a new report titled Black Men Making It in America: The Engines of Economic Success for Black Men in America. The report indicates that education, military service, employment, church participation, and stable marriages were crucial to black men’s success. Contact with the criminal justice system, on the contrary, stood as one of the biggest obstacles to success. Event panelists included Columbia University’s Ron Mincy and the Washington Post’s Michelle Singletary. The report was covered by the Hill, the Federalist, Politico’s “Morning Money,” and the Washington Free Beacon.

  AEI and the Brookings Institution continue to collaborate on a multiyear project on federal paid family and medical leave policies. In September, the AEI Brookings Working Group on Paid Family Leave, directed by Aparna Mathur and Isabel Sawhill (Brookings Institution), released its second report, providing an analysis of the cost modeling of federal paid leave proposals, while also explaining the main drivers of differences in cost estimates. To model the costs of paid leave, the project drew on the work of Jeff Hayes (Institute for Women’s Policy Research), Ben Gitis (American Action Forum), and Sarah Jane Glynn (Vanderbilt University). Mathur and Sawhill also commissioned reports on rethinking the social insurance system from Heather Boushey and Elisabeth Jacobs (Washington Center for Equitable Growth) and Doug Holtz Eakin and Ben Gitis (American Action Forum).

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Ryan Streeter on Fox News’ ‘The Daily Briefing with Dana Perino’ talked welfare reform.

  New consensus report on increasing mobility for working-class Americans released. Robert Doar, Nicholas Eberstadt, Ryan Streeterand W. Bradford Wilcox participated in a working group with nine other researchers from eight organizations on public policy and broader social and cultural changes that could increase mobility for working- class Americans. The working group met six times in 2017 and 2018 and released a consensus report in November titled Work, Skills, Community: Restoring Opportunity for the Working-Class. AEI promoted the report heavily, including through a public event, site visits in Michigan and Ohio, and direct dissemination to hundreds of state and local policymakers across the country.

  White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) chairman gave keynote address at AEI on America’s War on Poverty. In September, Robert Doar, Bruce Meyer, and Michael Strain hosted CEA Chairman Kevin Hassett for a discussion on the CEA’s claim in a July report that the “War on Poverty is largely over and a success.” Hassett noted that real poverty still exists in the United States but that, based on household consumption, only 3 percent of the population is living below the poverty line. He argued for a new round of welfare reform based on low poverty numbers, the expanding economy, and a shortage of work participation among welfare recipients. Following Hassett’s remarks, Doar and Meyer discussed work requirements in SNAP and workforce development with the Brookings Institution’s Isabel Sawhill and the Urban Institute’s Demetra Nightingale.

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