Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee was featured on Indian Country Today discussing the need for federal funding to support Native American economies. Akee co-authored a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin along with a report about the need for CARES Act funding to support tribes during the pandemic. While Congress has allocated $8 billion in relief aid, about half of it was tied up in litigation because of the use of the word “tribe.” Akee also noted that “having to spend the money by the end of the actual year 2020 and document all of those expenses in a way that is only tied to COVID-19 seems like a bit of an extra burden for tribal governments that are already strained.”
Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee spoke to ABC News about the risk of underrepresentation of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in the 2020 census. Government attempts to count smaller populations of ethnic minorities, including Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, in the United States have historically been inaccurate because of unwillingness or inability to participate in the census. Profound distrust of the government and language barriers have also contributed to inaccurate census results. Experts worry that the added challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic may exacerbate inaccuracies in the 2020 census, which could result in small ethnic minorities being denied public funds and resources. “I’ve seen most clearly in the last two to three months the vital importance of as accurate as possible population counts, especially for small populations like NHPI,” Akee said. “Because without that, it may potentially throw off our public health figures.”
Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee wrote an article for EconoFact about the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on indigenous populations and other disadvantaged communities. He explained that historical inequities in public funding have made indigenous peoples and African American and Latinx households more likely than white households to lack access to complete plumbing. New research indicates that “COVID-19 cases are more likely to occur in tribal communities with a higher proportion of homes lacking indoor plumbing.” He also noted that “COVID-19 cases were less likely to occur in tribal communities where households spoke English only,” suggesting that “access to relevant public health information in indigenous languages may play a key role in the spread of COVID-19 in some tribal communities.” Akee recommended developing better-targeted, context-specific policies for indigenous communities, including effective communication of public health warnings and provision of water supplies.
Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee was featured in an article on Turtle Talk about his research on the infection rates of COVID-19 on American Indian reservations. Akee joined a team of researchers to investigate the relationship between community and household characteristics and the rate of COVID-19 spread on tribal lands. They found that the rate of COVID-19 cases per 1,000 people was more than four times higher for populations residing on reservations than for the U.S. as a whole. Furthermore, they discovered that COVID-19 cases were more likely to occur in tribal communities with a higher proportion of homes lacking indoor plumbing and less likely to occur in tribal communities where households spoke English only. Akee’s team recommended government action to “strengthen tribal public health and household infrastructure and provide potable water and culturally relevant information” to protect American Indian communities from COVID-19 and future pandemics.
Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee spoke to CNN about a proposal to send economic stimulus checks to Americans to help them weather the financial impact of COVID-19. As part of a broader economic stabilization plan, the direct government payments to millions of people are seen as a move that could provide quick relief, if not full insulation from the economic shock of the coronavirus. Akee said the payments are especially urgent in households struggling to buy groceries, pay rent and cover car payments, to provide stability until the crisis is over and Americans can return to work. “There are household expenses that people are very concerned about,” he said. “That’s why this cash payment is crucial.”
Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee was featured in a New Republic article on the impact that universal basic income has on families. The Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED) project is providing $500 a month to a group of Stockton residents for 18 months to better understand the effectiveness of universal basic income. Preliminary data show that recipients spend a majority of the money on daily expenses. Many also report having more breathing room and more free time to spend with their children. A similar experiment that gave a portion of casino revenue to every tribal citizen in the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina found improvements in relationships between parents and children. Akee explained that “extra money allows for more consistency and covering of basic living expenses, and people aren’t perhaps nearly as stressed with each other.” He said reducing a family’s stress “may have an intergenerational impact on the kids.”
Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee spoke to Digital Trends about the impact that “differential privacy” protections used by the U.S. Census Bureau could have on small Native populations. Increased concerns about compromising anonymity in its datasets have prompted the bureau to implement greater privacy measures. These include differential privacy, a data science method that involves introducing error, or “noise,” to protect individual records. The bureau hopes that its commitment to increased security will make people more willing to participate in the 2020 Census. However, some researchers worry that it is putting a higher value on privacy than access to reliable data. Akee spoke about the impact of privacy loss for smaller populations, like Alaska Natives. Tribal governments will have to decide their own level of comfort with potential release of information about their populations, he said.
The New York Times featured a study conducted by Randall Akee, associate professor of public policy and American Indian studies, in an opinion piece about the 2020 Census. The Census Bureau is testing an algorithm that scrambles the final population count to preserve the confidentiality of individual data records. A test run using records from the last census showed that the algorithm may produce wildly inaccurate numbers for rural areas and minority populations. Akee’s study found this to be true for Native American reservations. On reservations where the population fell below 5,000 people, the algorithm reduced the count of indigenous people by an average of 34%, the study found.
Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee’s views on the lack of diversity in the economics profession were featured in the Economist after the annual American Economic Association conference in San Diego. Conference attendees expressed concern that the lack of racial and gender diversity within the profession has limited the field by excluding certain perspectives. At the conference, Akee joined a panel on “How Can Economics Save Its Race Problem?” to speak about the pressures to be taken seriously as a scholar, not merely a race scholar. He explained his decision to postpone the research he wanted to do on indigenous people and work instead on other subjects, in order to be taken seriously as an economist. Akee argues that race should occupy a more central space within the portfolio of economic research. Despite efforts to increase diversity within the profession, many economists worry that this movement will stall before achieving long-term change.