Noteworthy

  • October 11, 2019

Editor’s Recommendation

Multiracial Nation

by Ashley Halsey III

Fall 2015

Virtual reality headsets, like the one on this woodland visitor, are one of several new ideas for generating revenue that could help defray rising maintenance costs in our national parks.

Innovative Ideas Could Help Fund U.S. National Parks

By Demetra Aposporos

From the highest U.S. mountain peak in Alaska’s Denali National Park and Preserve to the jagged and thunderous inlets of Acadia National Park in Maine, the National Park System protects treasures from coast to coast.

However, the park system is suffering from years of deferred maintenance—to the tune of about $11.9 billion. This has resulted in crumbling roads, roofs, and bridges, overgrown trails, damaged visitor centers, and more. The Pew Charitable Trusts is urging Congress to make a significant investment to help the National Park Service (NPS) address this maintenance backlog by enacting legislation that would direct $6.5 billion over five years to address priority deferred maintenance projects.

At the same time, Pew’s restore America’s parks project is exploring new ways to keep the backlog from compounding over time. What if park visitors—there were 318 million of them in 2018—had the opportunity to pay for cutting-edge, technology-enhanced experiences that made their trips more memorable? Could fees from such innovations help NPS offset some of these maintenance costs in the future, and maybe even keep things running more cost-effectively in the decades to come?  The restore America’s parks project explored this idea, among others, in a recent report, “Protecting Our Parks,” undertaken with the engineering, design, and project management firm AECOM.

The research, published in May, focused on three strategies to diminish future costs: transferring or eliminating deferred maintenance, generating new streams of revenue, and increasing the resilience of assets. The innovative ideas have the potential to draw down future maintenance costs by $3.7 billion over the next decade. 

Handing over the management of some park assets to other entities could help—for instance, transferring the responsibility for plowing and patching roads to municipalities that are connected by park roads. Demolishing nonessential or underutilized nonhistoric buildings could eliminate future maintenance costs, and allowing rarely used unpaved roads and trails to return to nature could do the same.

Pew’s restore America’s parks project is exploring new ways to keep the backlog from compounding over time.


Smart technology could make some park assets more resilient, thus reducing their maintenance costs: Sensors on a roof that signal the first sign of a leak could initiate the installation of a simple patch before a gaping hole forms, requiring a more costly repair. Restroom sensors could alert NPS staff to bathrooms that need attention or waste cans that need emptying, freeing up staff to devote time to other work.

In looking at ways to potentially generate income, the report examined ways to use modern technology. Offering visitors customized virtual-reality experiences—3-D or 360-degree headsets—that capture the sights and sounds of historic moments, or offer a selection of in-depth historic tours from virtual park rangers, could boost NPS coffers.

“The strategies in the ‘Protecting Our Parks’ report shouldn’t supplant a robust investment in the park backlog from Congress, but the ideas are worth considering as we think about how to keep park repairs from escalating in the future,” says Marcia Argust, who directs Pew’s parks project.

Philadelphia’s High Commuting Costs, Examined

In Philadelphia, nearly a quarter of all people who commute to work use public transportation, the third-highest percentage among the ten U.S. cities with more than 1 million people. During weekdays, Philly commuters take about 819,000 trips on the buses, trolleys, and rail lines of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s (SEPTA’s) City Transit Division. Many of these riders must transfer from one line to another to reach their destinations—and doing so can make their commutes among the most expensive in the country.

To be sure, the base fares in Philadelphia are low compared with those in most of the other cities. But total fares for trips to work vary substantially within Philadelphia, depending on payment method, the type of public transit, and whether the rider must transfer. These findings appeared in the Pew Philadelphia research initiative’s July report, “The Cost of Commuting for Philadelphians,” which compared SEPTA’s fares with those in the seven other cities with the highest number of public transit riders: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, Boston, and Seattle.

The report found that commuters who live outside the city’s center and away from the rail and trolley lines—and those who travel to jobs located outside central Philly—often wind up paying higher fares. That’s because of SEPTA’s transfer fees, which riders must pay unless they can afford to purchase weekly or monthly passes in advance. And the jobs outside the city center tend to be those paying less than $40,000 a year.

All of these factors point to lower-income workers paying, on average, higher fares. “Low-paying jobs are dispersed throughout the Philadelphia region,” says Larry Eichel, who directs the research initiative. “Because of this, many lower-income riders must make one or more transfers or use Regional Rail to get to work—paying more for their commute than trips that don’t require transfers.”

—Carol Kaufmann

Americans Have Complicated Views on Diversity in the U.S.

Americans have complicated—even contradictory—views about diversity at a time when the United States is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse, and companies and organizations grapple with how to build workforces that reflect these changing demographics.

A Pew Research Center survey released in May found that most people say it’s good that the country has a diverse population, but many also say that this brings challenges in society. A majority values workplace diversity, but few endorse the idea of taking race or ethnicity into consideration in hiring and promotions.

Specifically, the survey found that three-fourths of Americans say it is very or somewhat important for companies and organizations to promote racial and ethnic diversity in their workplace. But the survey showed that an equal percentage also said that in hiring and promotions, companies should only consider an individual’s qualifications—even if it resulted in
less diversity.

The findings come from a survey of 6,637 adults conducted in English and Spanish from Jan. 22 to Feb. 5. The survey also found that two-thirds of U.S. adults (66 percent)—including a majority of those living in neighborhoods with little diversity—are satisfied with the racial mix in their community. A majority (54 percent) said children should go to local schools, even if that made the schools less diverse, while 42 percent said children should go to racially and ethnically mixed schools even if that meant students go to classes outside their local community.

Overall, whites, blacks, and Hispanics said about equally that it was good that the U.S. population is racially and ethnically mixed, and majorities said that this had a positive impact on U.S. culture. Black Americans placed more value on workplace diversity and school integration than did whites and Hispanics.

Overall, whites, blacks, and Hispanics said about equally that it was good that the U.S. population is racially and ethnically mixed, and majorities said that this had a positive impact on U.S. culture.


Opinions on these issues vary considerably along political party lines, with Democrats and those who lean to the Democratic Party more likely than Republicans and Republican leaners to express positive views of the importance and impact of racial and ethnic diversity. This is the case even after taking into account the differences in the racial composition of the two parties.

“Across several questions in the survey, on diversity in particular and on other issues related to race relations and racial inequality, views divide more sharply along partisan lines than across racial or ethnic groups or other demographic characteristics,” says author Juliana Menasce Horowitz. “This is consistent with what we’ve seen recently with other topics—including views on gender and the state of higher education—we study.”

—Daniel LeDuc

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams Speaks About Opioid Crisis at Pew

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams speaks at Pew’s Washington offices on June 26 about combating the opioid epidemic, in an event that was open to the public. 

To U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams, the 2.1 million Americans with opioid use disorder represent more than a pressing national health crisis. It’s a personal one, too.

Adams’ younger brother, Phillip, struggled with untreated mental illness for years and eventually turned to substances to self-medicate, the surgeon general said at a June 26 event at The Pew Charitable Trusts in Washington.

Phillip Adams began using tobacco and alcohol, then marijuana, until “one day at a party someone gave him a pill,” a prescription opioid, the surgeon general said. Phillip is now serving a 10-year prison sentence for stealing $200 to support his addiction.

Adams says he tells his brother’s story to combat what he calls “the biggest killer” in the country: stigma. “Stigma keeps people in the shadows, keeps people from asking for help, and keeps people like my brother from recognizing that he has a problem,” he said. “We have to share stories to turn around the crisis that we’re in.”

Almost 48,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses in 2017—an average of 130 lives lost each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But these deaths do not tell the full story about substance use disorder. Individuals who misuse drugs or alcohol are more likely to develop chronic health conditions, experience poorer health outcomes, and have contact with the criminal justice system. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that illicit drug and alcohol misuse accounts for more than $400 billion in annual spending related to health care, lost productivity at work, and crime.

To help reduce the number of people suffering and dying from opioid addiction, Adams advocates forming partnerships with law enforcement, the military, the medical and business communities, faith leaders, and local officials.

Getting individuals into treatment is key to combating the crisis, Adams said, citing the need to pair them with peer recovery coaches and medication-assisted treatment—a combination of behavioral therapies and FDA-approved drugs—to put them on the path to long-term recovery.

Pew’s substance use prevention and treatment initiative develops and supports state and federal policies to prevent substance misuse and improve treatment options for people with substance use disorder, and also encourages states to expand access to medication-assisted treatment.

“We’re not going to turn around the opioid overdose epidemic unless more people are willing to carry naloxone,” Adams also told the audience at Pew.

In April 2018, the surgeon general issued an advisory urging more Americans to carry the Food and Drug Administration-approved medication that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. Since then, more than 2.7 million double doses of naloxone have been distributed.

The medication is the first step to getting individuals struggling with opioid use disorder into critical care, Adams said. “A person dies every 11 minutes of opioid addiction. They’re not dying in alleys—they’re dying in homes, bathrooms, in kitchens,” he said. “We’re not going to overturn the opioid epidemic unless more people carry naloxone. We can’t get people into recovery if they’re dead.”