Preparing for a Changing Future

  • November 02, 2018
  • by Rebecca W. Rimel

Editor’s Recommendation

More Notes from the President

August 1, 2018

Preparing for the future has always been a guiding principle for Pew—driving us to seek deeper understanding of the world’s challenges and concerns and respond creatively to new opportunities.

Optimism, adaptability, and anticipating change were central to the philosophy of the founders of The Pew Charitable Trusts—and to the organization they created. Having lived through the tumultuous early years of the 20th century, J. Howard, Mary Ethel, J.N., and Mabel Pew knew they could not predict the many challenges the world would face decades down the road. In their work, their volunteer activities, and their philanthropy, they welcomed the use of new approaches to solve emerging problems in service of the public good.

Seventy years later, we are guided by those principles as well as the adage credited to the ultimate change agent, Benjamin Franklin: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” All of Pew’s projects begin with sound planning and rigorous design—and strategies that can garner broad and diverse coalitions. Each initiative is built with discipline and focus, with an emphasis on projects that can produce consequential outcomes, foster new partnerships, avoid partisanship, and achieve measurable results that address key challenges and opportunities. 

Franklin’s astute observation is more than just a good starting place for our work; it is also enduring wisdom that can help every individual and every family successfully navigate uncertainty. Saving for retirement, for example, is essential to preparing for the future. But how people achieve those financial goals has changed dramatically over the past few decades. Some older workers and retirees are still able to rely on pensions, with a guaranteed source of income for life. But over the past three decades, many employers have shifted from these plans to offering 401(k)s and other savings programs that require action by employees. A recent Pew report notes that Millennials are the first generation to rely on these “defined contribution” plans as their main means of saving for retirement.

Analyses by Pew’s retirement savings project also suggest that Millennials are stepping up to the challenge. Among the key findings: Young workers had higher savings than members of the previous generation did at the same age. Because Millennials are now the largest generation of Americans, their ability—and willingness—to save for retirement will have a profound impact for decades. You’ll learn more about how Millennials are preparing for retirement in this issue of Trust.

Another generational change now unfolding is how we view God and our spirituality. Majorities of adults in the U.S. believe in God or a higher power, but young adults are less likely than those who are older to say they believe in God as described in the Bible. Two new surveys from the Pew Research Center drill down on these attitudes and uncover data from Americans and Western Europeans that help answer the question, “When people say they believe in God, what do they mean?” We explore these fascinating trends in our cover story.

This year also marks the 15th anniversary of the Pew Research Center’s “State of the News Media” report. That period coincides with the end of the golden age of print newspapers and the rise of digital news sources. These annual reports have documented troubling trends for journalism, with fewer reporters and greater financial constraints on traditional news organizations. Through this regular analysis, the center has documented the changes that legacy news organizations have made, and sometimes failed to make, to prepare for evolving news consumption habits. This issue highlights the center’s record of keeping the public informed about the health and vitality of the media, and what lies ahead for this indispensable guardian of democracy.

Benjamin Franklin understood the importance of a free press. He was, after all, a journalist, publisher, and printer. But while journalism is often called the first draft of history, wisdom has a much longer shelf life. That’s why preparing for the future has always been a guiding principle for Pew—driving us to seek deeper understanding of the world’s challenges and concerns and respond creatively to new opportunities. As we continue to learn from our research and our partners, we can more effectively serve the public—and advance unwaveringly on our journey toward an ever-changing and inspiring future.