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RSF Review

RSF Review

New Report: The Deserving Poor, the Family, and the U.S. Welfare System

July 29, 2015

A new report by RSF grantee Robert A. Moffitt in the most recent issue of Demography journal explores the changes to the welfare system across the last several decades. Moffitt argues that although the system as a whole has expanded, financial support has evolved very differently for different demographic and economic groups, which may reflect long-held societal notions of which of the poor are "deserving" of aid and which are not. The report's abstract states:

Contrary to the popular view that the U.S. welfare system has been in a contractionary phase after the expansions of the welfare state in the 1960s, welfare spending resumed steady growth after a pause in the 1970s. However, although aggregate spending is higher than ever, there have been redistributions away from non-elderly and nondisabled families to families with older adults and to families with recipients of disability programs; from non-elderly, nondisabled single-parent families to married-parent families; and from the poorest families to those with higher incomes. These redistributions likely reflect long-standing, and perhaps increasing, conceptualizations by U.S. society of which poor are deserving and which are not.

New RSF/Pew Report Shows Social Mobility Is Limited in the U.S.

July 23, 2015

New research co-funded by the Russell Sage Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts contains sobering new evidence on the lack of social mobility in the United States. In their report, authors David Grusky and Pablo Mitnik (Stanford University) note that approximately half of parental income advantages in the United States are passed on to children, which is among the lowest estimates of economic mobility yet produced.

The study, "Economic Mobility in the United States," provides the most comprehensive assessment to date of the intergenerational transmission of economic advantage. The report draws on a new data set from tax returns and other administrative sources to overcome limitations that hampered previous studies. These findings make clear that children raised in families that are far apart on the income ladder can expect markedly different economic futures. As Joe Pinsker writes about the report in the Atlantic, “This means that the amount of money one makes can be roughly predicted by how much money one’s parents made, and that only gets truer as one moves along the earnings spectrum.”

RSF president Sheldon Danziger stated, “The report documents that public policies must do more to level the playing field so that children from low-income families have greater opportunities to compete in the 21st century economy. Over recent decades, the rising income and wealth of affluent parents have allowed them to increase investments in their children, from day care through college. At the same time, wages have stagnated for most workers and low-income families have struggled to pay for routine expenses.”

This report utilizes the intergenerational elasticity (IGE) to measure the share of economic advantage that is passed on to children. The IGE is typically between zero and one, with an IGE of zero implying that children from families of different socioeconomic status have the same expected income as one another, with no inherited income advantage or disadvantage. An IGE of one, on the other hand, implies that parental advantages are fully passed on.

RSF Launches New Visiting Journalist Fellowship Program

July 16, 2015

The Russell Sage Foundation is pleased to announce the establishment of a Visiting Journalist Fellowship for projects related to the Foundation's mission of the "improvement of social and living conditions in the United States." The growth of economic inequality and its consequences, inequities in educational achievement and attainment, the social, political and economic impacts of immigration, and recent racial tensions over urban policing, are all examples of topics addressed by journalists that are central to RSF’s core programs.

Visiting Journalists will have an opportunity to work in residence at the Foundation for a period of 1-3 months and to interact with resident Visiting Scholars who might help inform the development of their projects.

The Foundation is now accepting Visiting Journalist applications for the 2016-17 year, with a deadline of September 1, 2015 at 11:59pm EST.

RSF Author Jennifer Lee Interviewed by U.S. Embassy in New Zealand

July 14, 2015

RSF author and former Visiting Scholar Jennifer Lee (University of California, Irvine) recently visited New Zealand to deliver a keynote address at the Population Association of New Zealand conference. During her time in Wellington, she participated in an interview at the U.S. Embassy and discussed diversity and population trends in America.

The Complex History of Public Education in the U.S.

July 10, 2015

This feature is part of an ongoing RSF blog series, Work in Progress, which highlights some of the research of our current class of Visiting Scholars.

During her time in residence at the Foundation, Elizabeth Shermer (Loyola) has worked on a book that examines the origins of the contemporary crisis in public higher education. She argues that contrary to popular belief, state universities have always been subject to market forces. Shermer finds that there was never enough government funding to create a geographically-uniform system of mass higher education, and that as a result, public universities have long been influenced by private sector interests.

In a new interview with the Foundation, Shermer discussed the complex history of the rise of public education in the U.S. and recommended policies for expanding access to higher education for low-income students.

Q. Your current research challenges the popular myth of a "golden era" of public higher education by demonstrating how, from the very beginning, state schools experienced a number of funding problems and relied on different public-private partnerships to grow. Can you briefly flesh out the history of one state school to illustrate how public higher education's growth always required ties to a variety of different businesses and institutions?

New Research Collaboration with Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

July 8, 2015

The Russell Sage Foundation has partnered with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation on an initiative that explores the social, economic and political effects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Research funded through this collaboration will address important questions about the consequences of health care reform in the U.S.—from financial security and family economic well-being, to labor supply and demand, participation in other public programs, family and children’s outcomes, differential effects by race/ethnicity/nativity or disability status, and politics and views of government.

RSF president Sheldon Danziger remarked: “I am very pleased that the Russell Sage Foundation is collaborating with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation on this important new research venture. Our partnership with the RWJ Foundation will allow us to greatly expand our support for research in this area, extending the program into 2017.”

Since 1972, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to identify the most pressing health issues facing America, with the understanding that health and health care are essential to the wellbeing and stability of U.S. society and the vitality of American families and communities. The partnership between RWJ and the Russell Sage Foundation promises to shed new light on the impact of one of the most significant regulatory overhauls of the U.S. health care system in decades.

New Awards Approved in Russell Sage Foundation’s Core Programs

July 8, 2015

Several new research projects in the Russell Sage Foundation’s core programs were funded at the Foundation’s June meeting of the Board of Trustees.

Awards approved in the Behavioral Economics program:

Mental Accounting and Fungibility of Money: Evidence from a Retail Panel
Jesse Shapiro (Harvard University) and Justine Hastings (Brown University)

Jesse Shapiro and Justine Hastings will complete a project that provide new tests of "mental accounting," or how households represent money in their financial decision-making. They will draw from unique panel data on seven years of customer purchases from a large grocery retailer in order to glean new insights into mental accounting through a real-world scenario.

Behavioral Biases and the Design of Student Loan Repayment Schemes
Lesley J. Turner, Kathleen Abraham, Emel Filiz-Ozbay, and Erkut Ozbay (University of Maryland)

Lesley J. Turner and colleagues will investigate the factors that affect students’ loan repayments, including the relationship between students’ expected earnings and their preference for income-based repayment plans, and whether students’ repayment behavior is affected by whether they voluntarily choose income-based plan or are instead assigned to one.

Spring 2015 Presidential Authority Awards

July 6, 2015

The Russell Sage Foundation has recently approved the following Presidential Authority awards in the Future of Work program, the Social Inequality program, and one non-program project.

Awards approved in the Future of Work program:

The Future of the American Worker
Steven Greenhouse, Journalist

Former New York Times labor reporter Steven Greenhouse will write a book investigating the future of the American worker. He will examine broad issues affecting the labor market, including the rise and decline of traditional labor unions and the growth of alternative, non-union worker advocacy groups.

Long-Run Adaptation to Workplace Technological Change
Miguel Morin (University of Cambridge) and Rowena Gray (University of California, Merced)

Economists Miguel Morin and Rowena Gray will analyze the changing structure of American jobs between 1900 and 1940 in response to the spread of electrification. They will produce a comprehensive data series that will shed light on how workers are affected by new technologies.

Visiting Scholar Sean Reardon on “Neighborhood Gap” and Educational Achievement Disparities

June 29, 2015

This feature is part of an ongoing RSF blog series, Work in Progress, which highlights some of the research of our current class of Visiting Scholars.

A recent article in the New York Times highlighted a new study by Visiting Scholar Sean Reardon (Stanford) on the persistence of a “racial neighborhood income gap” in many metropolitan areas in the U.S. As Reardon and his colleagues found, while middle-class whites and Asian Americans in tend to live in neighborhoods where the median income matches or exceeds their own, black middle-class families tend to live in distinctly lower-income places. Because children who grow up in more affluent neighborhoods have been shown to fare better as adults than their counterparts in lower income neighborhoods, this study holds sobering implications for black children in the U.S., even those who belong to middle-class families.

Among the disadvantages associated with residing in a lower income area is lack of access to high quality public education. During his time in residence at the Foundation, Reardon has researched educational achievement gaps in the U.S., looking in particular at racial and socioeconomic inequalities. In a new interview with the Foundation, he discussed the widening of the economic achievement gap and the troubling persistence of racial disparities by neighborhood.

Q. Your current research examines the factors behind racial and economic achievement gaps in US public education. While the racial achievement gap appears to be on the decline, the economic achievement gap has increased over the last few decades. What accounts for this divergence?

Visiting Scholars Discuss the Changing Nature of Racial Identity in the U.S.

June 26, 2015

Several RSF Visiting Scholars recently appeared in the news to discuss the evolution of racial identity in the U.S. In a June op-ed for the New York Times, Visiting Scholar Richard Alba (CUNY Graduate Center) discussed a new report from the Pew Research Center that highlighted the rapid increase of the number of Americans who identify as multiracial. As racial and ethnic diversity has continued to grow due to increased immigration and interracial unions, many have assumed that the U.S. is becoming a “post-racial” society. Yet, Alba cautioned, “We will seem like a majority-white society for much longer than is believed.”

As he explained, while the number of multiracial Americans has indeed grown over the last several decades, race continues to socially constrain many groups. Citing The Diversity Paradox by Jennifer Lee and Frank Bean, Alba noted that while mixed-race individuals of white-Latino or white-Asian backgrounds generally enjoyed freedom in choosing their identities, this was not the case for multiracial individuals with a black parent. As Alba noted, “They experienced racial barriers, showing that visible African ancestry is still the great exception when it comes to the mainstream.”

Visiting Scholar Aliya Saperstein (Stanford) echoed some of these sentiments in an interview with the Washington Post on the new Pew study, for which she was consulted. Though the multiracial population in the U.S. is projected to triple by 2060, Saperstein stated of the latest Pew report, “I don’t think that I would describe the report as saying that we’ve reached a tipping point in seeing ourselves as a nation of multiracial people.”