My year on this project team was a great experience. Not only did I learn a ton about social spending in the United States, I also gained research, problem-solving, and presentation skills that I know will be extremely useful as I explore future research opportunities.
My research focused specifically on tax system spending on child care. Our task to break down total program spending to only account for young children and then divide into income quintiles seemed daunting at first, especially since there had never been a project exactly like it, and the type of data that we needed didn’t always exist. I had to learn to be ok with developing our own methods, getting creative, and making assumptions, as often needs to be done with research. The guidance of professors Ananat and Gassman-Pines was also vital in this process, and made me feel more confident and empowered in our work.
The final stages of drawing conclusions and presenting our work were perhaps some of the most interesting for me personally. We can do great research, but if we aren’t able to reach our target audience in an effective way, little may come of it. The sessions with the data visualization experts and our collaboration in making various drafts of the final report taught me more about translating our data and making it more accessible to the public.
It’s incredible that, following this project, we can now say with much more certainty that certain federal expenditures on children do disproportionately benefit the rich, including tax expenditures on child care. Although there may not be general agreement about what our spending priorities should be, this data makes it easier to analyze our current spending patterns, and possibly support arguments to provide much-needed funds for some of these resources for lower income children. I hope to continue exploring similar problems in future research.