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RSF Review

Visiting Journalist Eyal Press Wins June Sidney Award

June 24, 2016

Eyal Press, a 2016 Visiting Journalist at RSF, has received the June 2016 Sidney Award from the Sidney Hillman Foundation for his New Yorker article “Madness,” which uncovered a pattern of abuse of mentally ill inmates at the Dade Correctional Institution in Florida. The Sidney is awarded monthly to an outstanding piece of journalism that appeared in the prior month.

Press is the author of Absolute Convictions (2006) and Beautiful Souls (2012). He has contributed to the New Yorker, the New York Times, the New York Review of Books, and other publications. During his time at RSF, he is working on a book which explores “society’s most thankless, morally compromising jobs,” including immigrants working in meatpacking plants, maximum-security prison guards, and military drone operators.

Spotlight on Poverty Interviews RSF Author Stefanie DeLuca

June 21, 2016

Stefanie DeLuca (Johns Hopkins University), co-author of the recent RSF book Coming of Age in the Other America, sat down this month with Jodie Levin-Epstein to discuss some of the book’s findings in a new video interview for Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity.

In Coming of Age in the Other America, authors Stefanie DeLuca, Susan Clampet-Lundquist, and Kathryn Edin explore how some disadvantaged urban youth manage to achieve upward mobility despite overwhelming odds. Based on over a decade of the authors’ original fieldwork with parents and children in Baltimore, the book illuminates the profound effects of neighborhoods on impoverished families and shows how the right public policies can help break the cycle of disadvantage.

Video: Former Visiting Scholar Rucker Johnson Gives Spencer Lecture

June 15, 2016

Earlier this spring, former RSF Visiting Scholar Rucker Johnson (University of California, Berkeley) delivered the annual Spencer Foundation Lecture. Titled “Winning with the Power of Mass Equality: School Funding, Integration, and Access for Later-Life Success,” Johnson’s talk focused on the long-term benefits of public school desegregation.

During his time as a Visiting Scholar at the foundation, Johnson studied the consequences of school desegregation and school quality on adult educational attainment, earnings, incarceration, and health status. He also evaluated the impact of War on Poverty policies that were designed to improve school resources for minority and poor children. His research will be published in a forthcoming RSF book.

The full video of Johnson’s Spencer Lecture is available below.

New RSF Book: A Pound of Flesh

June 14, 2016

Over seven million Americans are either incarcerated, on probation, or on parole, with their criminal records often following them for life and affecting access to higher education, jobs, and housing. Court-ordered monetary sanctions that compel criminal defendants to pay fines, fees, surcharges, and restitution further inhibit their ability to reenter society.

A new book from the Russell Sage Foundation, A Pound of Flesh: Monetary Sanctions as Punishment for the Poor, analyzes the rise of monetary sanctions in the criminal justice system and shows how they permanently marginalize the poor. Author Alexes Harris exposes the damaging effects of a little-understood component of criminal sentencing and shows how it further perpetuates racial and economic inequality.

Harris, who investigated court practices in Washington state for over eight years, reveals how fees for public defenders and other processing charges—known as legal financial obligations (LFOs) in the court system—penalize low-income defendants. Until these debts are paid in full, individuals remain under judicial supervision, subject to court summons, warrants, and jail stays. As a result of interest and surcharges that accumulate on unpaid financial penalties, these monetary sanctions often become insurmountable legal debts which many offenders carry for the remainder of their lives.

In her research, Harris shows that because Washington charges 12% interest and an annual $100 collection fee, legal debts continue to build even when defendants make regular payments. As the graph below shows, an individual making the minimum monthly payment ($5) on the average LFO amount sentenced in Washington ($1,347) would accumulate an additional debt of nearly $500 after five years.


RSF Books Win ASA Section Awards

June 9, 2016

Three books published by the Russell Sage Foundation in 2015 have received American Sociological Association (ASA) Section Awards. ASA sections represent different areas of interest within sociology and grant awards annually to recognize achievements in their respective areas of academic expertise.

The Asian American Achievement Paradox, by Jennifer Lee and Min Zhou, received the 2016 Pierre Bourdieu Award for Outstanding Book from the Sociology of Education Section. In their book, Lee and Zhou correct the long-standing myth that the success of the children of Asian immigrants is due to unique cultural values. They show that a combination of immigration laws, institutions, and culture interact to foster high achievement among certain Asian American groups.

Parents Without Papers: The Progress and Pitfalls of Mexican American Integration by Frank D. Bean, Susan K. Brown, and James D. Bachmeier, received the 2016 Otis Dudley Duncan Book Award from the Sociology of Population Section. The book explores how the “membership exclusion” experienced by unauthorized Mexican immigrants—that is, their fear of deportation, lack of civil rights, and poor access to good jobs—inflicts multiple hardships not just on the immigrants themselves, but also on their children and grandchildren, even those who are U.S.-born.

Carla Shedd’s book Unequal City: Race, Schools, and Perceptions of Injustice received the 2016 Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship Book Award from the Race, Gender and Class Section. Unequal City investigates how disadvantaged youth in Chicago navigate their neighborhoods, life opportunities, and encounters with the law, focusing in particular on how schools either reinforce or ameliorate the social inequalities that shape the worlds of these adolescents.

Hungry Not Homeless: Event with RSF Trustee Kathryn Edin

May 27, 2016

On Tuesday, June 7, RSF trustee Kathryn Edin (Johns Hopkins University) will speak at the Brooklyn Historical Society about her book, $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America. In the book, Edin and co-author Luke Shaefer investigate the rise of households surviving on virtually no cash income and find that the number of American families living on $2.00 per person, per day, has skyrocketed to one and a half million American households, including about three million children. Through in-depth interviews with struggling families, the authors discover a low-wage labor market that increasingly fails to deliver a living wage, and a growing but hidden landscape of survival strategies among America’s extreme poor.

At the Brooklyn Historical Society, Edin will discuss poverty and hunger with Barbara J. Turk, Director of Food Policy for New York City. The talk, which is offered in connection with the exhibition “Hidden in Plain Sight: Portraits of Hunger in NYC,” is open to the public and free to Brooklyn Historical Society members.

New RSF Book Engines of Anxiety in the News

May 23, 2016

Each spring the U.S. News & World Report releases its law school rankings to the media and the public. These rankings of over 200 law schools allow prospective students and the public to assess and compare differences in the quality of law schools. However, Engines of Anxiety: Academic Rankings, Reputation, and Accountability, just published by the foundation, shows that the increasing reliance on these rankings has negative consequences for students and educators and has implications for all educational programs that are ranked using similar methods.

Based on a wealth of observational data and over 200 in-depth interviews with law students, university deans, and other administrators, authors Wendy Espeland (Northwestern University) and Michael Sauder (University of Iowa) show how the scramble for high rankings has affected the missions and practices of many law schools. For instance, admissions officers face pressure to admit applicants with high test scores over lower-scoring candidates who possess other favorable credentials in order to boost their school’s ranking. As a new profile of Engines of Anxiety in Inside Higher Ed puts it, “The authors found an overwhelming focus on LSAT scores—above everything else and sometimes regardless of other indications of whether an applicant would be a good or bad law student or lawyer.”

Strengthening the Safety Net to Mitigate the Effect of Future Recessions

May 10, 2016

On Monday, May 23, 2016, RSF president Sheldon Danziger and several RSF grantees and scholars will participate in a policy forum on strengthening the social safety net, hosted by the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. The event will focus on three new papers released by the Hamilton Project that explore the effects of the 2008 fiscal stimulus designed to combat the Great Recession. Forum participants will discuss whether the stimulus contained the correct mix of tax cuts and targeted government spending, and whether it optimally utilized income support programs—notably TANF and SNAP—to stabilize the economy and protect millions of households from falling into poverty.

The first panel in the forum will discuss a proposal to strengthen the safety net through improvements to SNAP by RSF Visiting Scholar James P. Ziliak (University of Kentucky), and a proposal to make TANF more effective in serving needy families during economic downturns by incoming RSF Visiting Scholar Hilary Hoynes (UC Berkeley) and Marianne Bitler (UC Davis). RSF president Sheldon Danziger will speak on the panel along with Congressman Jim McGovern (Massachusetts) and Robert Greenstein (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities). The discussion will be moderated by RSF grantee Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach (Hamilton Project).

The second panel will focus on a new proposal by RSF author and former trustee Alan S. Blinder (Princeton University) that examines how to better leverage fiscal policy to mitigate the effects of future recessions. Blinder will be joined by panelists Cecilia Muñoz (White House Domestic Policy Council), Marc H. Morial (National Urban League), Alice M. Rivlin (Brookings Institution), and moderator Roger C. Altman (Evercore).

New RSF-Funded Report Examines Challenges Facing Unemployment Insurance

May 9, 2016

In October 2015, the National Academy of Social Insurance hosted a roundtable, "Rethinking Unemployment Insurance," with support from the Russell Sage Foundation. The event convened a group of experts from academia, government, and public policy institutions to discuss challenges facing unemployment insurance (UI) in the wake of the Great Recession. Participants considered strategies for how to promote reemployment through the UI system, how to redesign the program’s financing, and how to reshape the overall system. Attendees also discussed agendas for future work on UI, both from within government administration and in the policy-research fields.

A new report highlighting the roundtable’s findings, “The Current State of Unemployment Insurance: Challenges and Prospects,” is now available from the Academy. The summary states:

As the crisis of the Great Recession gives way to economic recovery, the federal-state Unemployment Insurance (UI) system that helped sustain the country during the height of unemployment continues its essential function in the American economy. The program that made headlines during each successive wave of extraordinary unemployment compensation extensions continues its fundamental work of providing income replacement to workers laid off from a job. The present period, when the demands on the system are relatively low, is precisely the time to have reasoned conversations about reforming it – before the next high-stress period of sustained and widespread use.

This need for timely reform inspired the National Academy of Social Insurance to convene a roundtable discussion on “Rethinking Unemployment Insurance.” This brief presents the issues, problems, and proposals for reform that were identified at the roundtable, and represents an up-to-date accounting of some of the most pressing issues facing the UI system as articulated by leading experts on the program.

Orville Gilbert Brim, 1923-2016

May 2, 2016

The Russell Sage Foundation is saddened to report the passing of Orville Gilbert Brim, Jr., known as Bert, who served as president of the foundation from 1964 to 1972. During his tenure at RSF, Brim established the Visiting Scholars program and expanded new areas of research, including lifespan development and aging, mental testing and human resource management, and techniques for evaluating social programs.

Brim earned his B.A. in 1947 and his Ph.D. in Sociology in 1951 from Yale. After teaching at the University of Wisconsin, he joined the Russell Sage Foundation and co-authored Experiences and Attitudes of American Adults Concerning Standardized Intelligence Tests (1965), American Beliefs and Attitudes About Intelligence (1969), and co-edited The Dying Patient (1969), among other publications.

Following his time at the foundation, Brim went on to serve as president of the Foundation for Child Development. He was also board chairman of the American Institutes for Research in the Behavioral Sciences, a longtime member of the board of the William T. Grant Foundation, and led the Research Network on Successful Midlife Development for the John D. and Catherine MacArthur Foundation.