Academy Article
February 21, 2024

New York Times Essay Features Academy Work


Insights into how Americans Experience the Economy

A guest essay in the New York Times on February 21 highlighted the original work and unique insights of the Academy's Commission on Reimagining Our Economy. The essay, coauthored by Katherine J. Cramer (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and Jonathan D. Cohen (American Academy), helps answer a pressing question: why are standard economic indicators—including unemployment, GDP growth, and retail sales—positive while the sentiment of Americans about the economy is negative?  The authors drew on what was learned from 31 listening sessions conducted for the Academy's Commission on Reimagining the Economy, which Cramer cochairs with Ann Fudge (Young & Rubicam Brands) and Nicholas Lemann (Columbia Journalism School). Cohen, the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Senior Program Officer for American Institutions, Society, and the Public Good, is the staff lead for the Commission.  

The interdisciplinary Commission brought together scholars, journalists, artists, and leaders from various sectors and with varying ideologies. For all their differences, the members of the Commission shared the goals of understanding how Americans experience the economy and developing recommendations that could enhance Americans’ well-being. Political scientist Cramer applied her innovative approach to understanding public opinion to listening sessions convened by the Academy across the country. The small discussions ensured that the Commission heard directly from Americans, including service, care, and airport workers; tribal leaders; teachers; small business owners; students attending community college; and people experiencing homelessness and health challenges. The session recordings will be archived at the Library of Congress later this year. (A selection of audio clips are online now.)

People from all walks of life were asked how they were faring economically, what values they felt drove the economy, and what stood in the way of wellbeing for themselves and their communities. The New York Times essay features multiple quotations from the listening sessions that help explain the "disconnect between the macroeconomic story and the micro-American experience." Themes of uncertainty, precarity, and power imbalances emerged in the listening sessions, explaining some of the dissonance defining the conversation around American politics and the American economy in 2024. 

The voices and views helped the Commission reach consensus on 15 recommendations rooted in shared values of security, mobility and opportunity, and democracy. The proposals point the way toward a system that works for the people who make it work. A recommendation from the Commission's final report is featured in the guest essay: address the benefit cliffs that can render a family suddenly ineligible for healthcare, childcare, housing or food assistance. Allowing Americans the opportunity to receive state aid while saving to ensure greater stability would increase the well-being of more Americans.  

As Cramer and Cohen write, The Americans we listened to want resiliency so they can feel like they are in control of their lives and that they have a say in the direction of their community and their nation. They want a system focused less on how the economy is doing and instead on how Americans are doing. As one Houston man observed: 'We’re so far down on the economic chain that we don’t have nothing. It seems like our voices don’t matter.' But they do matter. The rest of us just need to listen.

After conducting these listening sessions, the Commission issued a final report with 15 recommendations, a new nationwide county-level data set, and a photo journal, all of which are online at

Learn more about the Commission on Reimagining Our Economy



Commission on Reimagining Our Economy

Katherine J. Cramer, Ann M. Fudge, and Nicholas B. Lemann