EDUCATION AND SOCIAL ISSUES
The Economic and Fiscal Impacts of Immigration
One in four Americans are immigrants or children of immigrants. Questions have been raised about immigration’s impact on the U.S. economy — whether immigrants more often displace or more often complement native-born workers, how they affect economic growth, and what impact they have on government budgets. The Economic and Fiscal Consequences of Immigration examines the evidence related to these questions.
When measured over a period of 10 years or more, the impact of immigration on the wages of native-born workers overall is very small, the report concludes. To the extent that negative wage effects are found, prior immigrants are most likely to experience them, followed by native-born high school dropouts. Even in these cases, the measured effects are typically quite small. In some cases, immigrants can actually raise the wages of native-born workers. Similarly, there is little evidence that immigration significantly affects the overall employment levels of native-born workers, though there is some evidence that low-skilled immigrants may reduce the employment rate of prior immigrants slightly, and reduce the number of hours worked by native-born teens.
The report also finds that immigration has an overall positive impact on long-run economic growth. The inflow of labor supply has helped the United States avoid the problems facing other economies that have stagnated as a result of unfavorable demographics, particularly the effects of an aging workforce. In addition, the infusion of human capital by high-skilled immigrants has boosted the nation’s capacity for innovation, entrepreneurship, and technological change. Research suggests, for example, that immigrants raise patenting per capita, which ultimately contributes to productivity growth.
Effects on government budgets are mixed, the report says. First-generation immigrants are more costly to governments than the native born, mainly at the state and local levels, in large part due to the costs of public education. However, as adults, the children of immigrants — the second generation — are among the strongest economic and fiscal contributors in the U.S. population, contributing more in taxes than either their parents or the rest of the native-born population. Over the long term, the impacts of immigrants on government budgets are generally positive at the federal level but remain negative at the state and local levels, the report says, though the fiscal effects vary tremendously across states.
The Academies’ study was funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, with additional support from the National Academy of Sciences Independent Fund, the National Academy of Engineering Independent Fund, and the National Academy of Medicine Independent Fund.
The Evidence on Bullying
Bullying likely affects between 18 percent and 31 percent of children and youths in the United States. Estimates are even higher for subgroups that are particularly vulnerable, such as individuals who have disabilities, are obese, or are LGBT. And there are growing concerns about cyberbullying; estimates of its prevalence range from 7 percent to 15 percent.
Bullying is a serious public health problem, with significant short- and long-term psychological consequences for both the targets and perpetrators of such behavior, says Preventing Bullying Through Science, Policy, and Practice. Developing effective preventive and interventional policies and practices could make a tangible difference in the lives of many children.
Youths who bully others are more likely to be depressed and have adverse outcomes later in life, the report says. Individuals who bully others and are themselves bullied appear to be at greatest risk for poor psychological and social outcomes. Children involved in bullying as perpetrators, targets, or both are also significantly more likely to contemplate or attempt suicide, although there is not enough evidence to conclude that bullying is a causal factor in youth suicides.
Programs that promote a positive school environment and combine social and emotional skill-building for all students, with targeted interventions for those at greatest risk for being involved, appear to be the most effective at preventing bullying. Federal agencies should work with relevant stakeholders to develop, implement, and evaluate evidence-based programs to address bullying behavior and bullying prevention training. Zero-tolerance policies that impose automatic suspension or expulsion from school after one bullying incident should be discontinued, the report says, because they are not effective at curbing bullying or making schools safer. In addition, social media companies should develop programs to prevent, identify, and respond to bullying on their platforms.
The Academies’ study was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Highmark Foundation, National Institute of Justice of the U.S. Department of Justice, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Semi J. and Ruth W. Begun Foundation, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Reshaping Regulation of Federally Funded Research
The increasing number and complexity of regulations governing federally funded research may be so burdensome that they are preventing the nation from getting the maximum return on its research investments. In 2016 the National Academies completed a two-part review of these federal regulations and released Optimizing the Nation’s Investment in Academic Research: A New Regulatory Framework for the 21st Century, which recommends reforms in several areas.
One area is the protection of human subjects in research. Ethical principles for human subjects research were laid out in the 1978 Belmont Report, but the research enterprise has grown enormously and changed profoundly in the four decades since. The Academies' report recommends that Congress authorize and the president appoint an independent national commission to examine and update the ethical, legal, and institutional frameworks governing research that involves human subjects.
The report also recommends that the executive branch withdraw the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to update the “Common Rule,” formally known as the Federal Policy for Protection of Human Subjects, in part because of concern over its proposed expansion of the definition of human subject to include de-identified excess biospecimens — a step that would make it impossible to use such specimens in research without written broad consent from the individuals undergoing tissue excision. (Although the executive branch has not withdrawn the NPRM, the final rule it promulgated did not include the expanded definition of human subject and the requirement for written broad consent.)
In addition to reviewing regulations on human subjects research, the report also makes recommendations related to research involving select agents and toxins, export controls, and intellectual property and technology transfer. For example, it urges Congress and the administration to support a robust continuation and renewal of the Export Control Reform Initiative. And it recommends that Congress allocate appropriate resources to upgrade the iEdison system, which tracks inventions that result from federally sponsored research, and to transfer responsibility for the system to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
The first part of the study, highlighted in the 2015 Report to Congress, called for uniform grant proposal formats and reporting requirements and a single conflict-of-interest disclosure process, and offered recommendations for agency inspectors general. It concluded that continuing expansion of federal regulations on research is diminishing the effectiveness of the U.S. research enterprise and recommended the creation of a public-private Research Policy Board to streamline research policies going forward. In December 2016, the 21st Century Cures Act was signed into law and included the creation of the Research Policy Board.
The Academies’ study was funded by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institutes of Health.
Understanding Science Literacy
Science literacy is desirable not only for individuals but also for the health and well-being of communities and society. More than just basic knowledge of science facts, definitions of science literacy have expanded to include understanding of scientific processes and practices, familiarity with how science and scientists work, a capacity to weigh and evaluate the products of science, and an ability to engage in civic decisions about the value of science.
U.S. adults perform comparably to adults in other developed countries on most measures of science knowledge, and they support science in general, says Science Literacy: Concepts, Contexts, and Consequences. However, attitudes toward some specific issues, such as climate change or genetic engineering, may be shaped by factors such as values and beliefs, rather than knowledge of the science alone.
Studies show a small, positive relationship between science literacy and attitudes toward and support for science in general, the report says. However, available research does not substantiate the claim that increasing science literacy will lead to appreciably greater support for science.
While science literacy has historically focused on individual competence, communities can also develop and use science literacy, leveraging the varying knowledge and skills possessed by different individuals to achieve their collective goals, the report notes. For example, a group of families in Woburn, Massachusetts, identified high rates of leukemia in their community and developed the scientific knowledge to link the increased cancer rates to industrial pollution in the local water supply.
The report recommends further research aimed at better understanding aspects of science literacy, such the relationship between science knowledge and attitudes toward science, the role of science literacy for citizens as decision-makers, and the features and structures of communities that make it possible for them to engage collectively with science.
The Academies’ study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.
Barriers to Achieving STEM Degrees
Interest in pursuing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees continues to grow among high school graduates who plan to continue their education, but six-year completion rates for STEM degrees remain low — around 40 percent. Barriers and Opportunities for 2-Year and 4-Year STEM Degrees: Systemic Change to Support Students’ Diverse Pathways examines the obstacles that prevent students from earning STEM degrees and identifies ways to promote completion of these programs.
Contrary to the image of a linear route to a bachelor’s degree in STEM, the report finds a complex array of pathways leading to a varied set of undergraduate credentials in these fields. Students use two-year and four-year institutions in ways likely not envisioned by educators and policymakers, with frequent transfers, concurrent enrollment at multiple institutions, and multiple points of entry, exit, and re-entry. Institutional, state, and national education policies have not been developed to support these varied pathways, the report says. For example, transfer and articulation policies — or lack of them — often slow students’ progress, deter them from transferring, and increase the cost of their education.
Data collection systems should be adjusted to help institutions better understand the nature of the student populations they serve and the paths they follow, the report says. State and federal agencies and accrediting bodies together should explore the efficacy and trade-offs of different articulation agreements and transfer policies. And institutions, states, and federal policymakers should better align educational policies with the range of education goals of students. Policies should account for the fact that many students take more than six years to graduate and should reward two-year and four-year institutions for their contributions to the educational success of their students, which includes not only those who graduate.
The Academies’ study was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, with additional support from the National Academy of Sciences’ Kellogg Fund.