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Institute update: How lessons from 2020 guided us in 2021

Innovative surveys, expanding scholarship, and continuing conversations

October 18, 2021

Two people with face masks walking through the city
Institute update: How lessons from 2020 guided us in 2021

Events of 2020 continued to resonate through many Opportunity & Inclusive Growth Institute activities in 2021. At the outset of the pandemic, Institute Director Abigail Wozniak issued a proposal for a large-scale survey to help Americans share their experiences during the pandemic’s downturn and recovery in a way that created actionable data. This led to Wozniak’s work co-directing the COVID Impact Survey (CIS), a prototype that ultimately informed larger national efforts to collect a wealth of timely information about such issues as employment, financial security, physical and mental health, and pandemic disruptions.

The flexibility of the prototype led to innovative projects that used surveys and direct contact between researchers and the public to generate insights about the pandemic and its consequences. One example: The CIS provided the backbone of an ambitious seroprevalence study in Minnesota, the Minnesota COVID-19 Antibody Study (MCAS). By recontacting CIS respondents who had given advance permission and supplying them with home test kits for COVID-19 antibodies, researchers could study what factors early in the pandemic predicted COVID-19 infection later in the pandemic. Wozniak joined a research team from the larger MCAS project to carry out this study, and work was ongoing through 2021.

MCAS is led by an interdisciplinary team of University of Minnesota researchers working in close collaboration with the Minnesota Department of Health. The Minneapolis Fed’s early commitment to supporting the CIS and experimenting with how best to learn about COVID-19’s many impacts continues to provide benefits to researchers and policymakers in the Minneapolis Fed’s district and elsewhere.

Our commitment to follow through on the Institute’s founding principles and the lessons from 2020 extends to our annual Visiting Scholars program. In 2021, we are hosting our first scholar from outside of economics, Chelda Smith. This is part of our ongoing commitment to expanding the scholarship we engage with. Our Advisory Board has been interdisciplinary from the outset. We’re now bringing a broader set of scholarly perspectives closer to our day-to-day work by modeling our visiting scholars after our advisors. Our current cohort of scholars are working on issues of stark importance, including education, safety net programs, and homelessness, as well as how Fed policy shapes the broader economy.

Finally, we’re following up on our spring conference event on “Racism and the Economy: Focus on the Economics Profession” with a report summarizing the event’s key lessons, including insights about specific actions to foster diversity, inclusion, and equity in the economics profession. The report is available as professors, instructors, and students return to campuses this fall.

Our commitment to carry forward important conversations about how racism enters the economics profession beyond the event led to the creation of the Conversation Leader pledge, which garnered more than 1,000 commitments and sparked ongoing discussions in academic departments, private companies, government agencies, and Federal Reserve Banks in the days and months that followed.