New Policies Needed to Help Economically Distressed Communities

Sometimes places—and not just the people who live in them—need government help in recovering from severe economic distress, according to an article in the Winter 2011 Issues in Science and Technology.

Author Michael Greenstone, formerly the chief economist of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors, and coauthor Adam Looney found in their research that some U.S. communities that had devastating job losses in previous recessions, such as those of the early 1980s, often suffer economically for decades. They believe that a similar fate may await communities affected by the recent Great Recession.

Greenstone and Looney draw on economic research to argue that a national economic strategy is justified to help future distressed communities avoid or shorten the long period of adjustment that previously distressed communities have endured. They propose a basket of policy options that could begin the process of restoring good jobs to local workers.

In another article, Jonathan Lazar of Towson University and Paul Jaeger of the University of Maryland argue that the Internet is not living up to its enormous potential to enhance and broaden the lives of persons with disabilities.

“Despite the fact that the United States has the world’s most comprehensive policy for Internet accessibility and that clear guidance for creating accessible technologies already exists,” they write, “designers and developers of Web software and hardware technologies in industry, academia, and government often exploit holes in existing policy to ignore the needs of people with disabilities. As a result, most Internet-related technologies are born inaccessible, cutting out some or all users with disabilities.” They say that closing policy loopholes and enforcing existing rules would make a world of difference.

Also in the Winter 2011 Issues in Science and Technology, Steven Koonin, the Under Secretary for Science in the U.S. Department of Energy, argues that a key role of government in accelerating change in the energy system is helping to mitigate the risk facing private firms. Former U.S. Senate staffer William Bonvillian lays out a “Plan B” for climate change, now that Congress has said no to cap-and-trade policy. Other articles examine the ethical implications of developing synthetic forms of life and the increasing beggar-thy-neighbor innovation policies that some countries are pursuing.

ISSUES IN SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY is the award-winning journal of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and the University of Texas at Dallas.