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RSF Review

RSF Review

New York Times and TIME Magazine Discuss New RSF Research

July 29, 2014

The New York Times and TIME magazine recently covered a new study by Fabian T. Pfeffer, Sheldon Danziger, and Robert Schoeni, released as part of the Russell Sage Foundation’s Recession Trends collaboration with the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality. In the study, the authors explore the extent to which the Great Recession altered the level and distribution of American families’ wealth. Their research concludes that for typical American households, net worth fell by about a third between 2003 and 2013. Yet, as Anna Bernasek notes in the NYT, “The Russell Sage study also examined net worth at the 95th percentile. (For households at that level, 95 percent of the population had less wealth.) It found that for this well-do-do slice of the population, household net worth increased 14 percent over the same 10 years.” In other words, the study uncovers not just the losses sustained by American households during the Recession, but also the troubling and still-growing increase in wealth inequality in the U.S.

The New York Times also recently highlighted new research by Andrew Cherlin, a former Visiting Scholar and the author of Labor’s Love Lost (to be published by the Russell Sage Foundation in December 2014). In his forthcoming book, Cherlin offers a new historical assessment of the rise and fall of working-class families in America, demonstrating how momentous social and economic transformations have contributed to the collapse of this once-stable social class and what this seismic cultural shift means for the nation’s future. As Cherlin explained to the Times, in the 50s and 60, most working class families were sustained by a male breadwinner. But the collapse of industrial blue-collar jobs and the increase in the number of women in the workforce have eroded this family structure.

Legacies of the War on Poverty Panel at ASA

July 28, 2014

A panel session at the upcoming American Sociological Association (ASA) will feature a discussion of the 2014 Russell Sage Foundation publication, Legacies of the War on Poverty, co-edited by RSF president Sheldon Danziger and Martha J. Bailey (University of Michigan). The book—published on the fiftieth anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s declaration of an unconditional war on poverty—evaluates the success of the anti-poverty programs established during Johnson’s administration, many of which still form the basis of the social safety net in the U.S. today.

While some accounts portray the War on Poverty as a costly experiment that failed, the contributors featured in Legacies draw from fifty years of empirical evidence to show that this view is too simplistic and document many ways that War on Poverty programs improved the educational attainment, incomes and health of the poor and the elderly.

The panelists at the upcoming ASA talk are Legacies co-editor Sheldon Danziger and contributors Kathleen McGarry (UCLA) and Harry Holzer (Georgetown), in conversation with David B. Grusky (Stanford).

A Letter from RSF President Sheldon Danziger Regarding the Foundation's Visiting Scholars Program

Sheldon Danziger, Russell Sage Foundation
July 17, 2014

Dear Colleagues: I am writing to solicit your personal interest in and your help in identifying outstanding faculty candidates, especially those who are members of groups that may have been under-represented in the social sciences, for the Russell Sage Foundation's Visiting Scholars Program. This competitive program provides a unique opportunity for both junior and senior faculty members from all of the social, economic and behavioral sciences to spend a year in residence at the Foundation pursuing research that is relevant to the Foundation's signature program areas—Behavioral Economics, Cultural Contact, the Future of Work, Immigration Research, and Social Inequality.

The program has operated for almost three decades. Past participants (I was a visiting scholar in 2002-2003) have described the experience as invaluable, productive and stimulating. Each year, we select a class of 16-18 scholars, from some 150 to 200 applicants. The application requires a letter describing the intended project and a current CV. Click here to read more about the program's eligibility requirements.

New Awards Approved in Social Inequality and Future of Work Programs

July 15, 2014

Several new research projects in the Russell Sage Foundation’s Social Inequality and the Future of Work programs were funded at the Foundation’s June meeting of the Board of Trustees.

The Foundation’s Social Inequality program examines the social and political consequences of rising economic inequality. Recently, the program has turned to in-depth examinations of public education and intergenerational social mobility, funding projects that examine access to early education, growing wealth disparities in the U.S., and the effects of household wealth on child development, among others. The following projects were funded under the Social Inequality program:

RSF at the 2014 American Sociological Association Conference

July 9, 2014

The 109th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA) will take place in San Francisco, from August 16 to 19, 2014. The theme this year is "Hard Times: The Impact of Economic Inequality on Families and Individuals." ASA President and former RSF Visiting Scholar and grantee Annette Lareau and the 2014 Program Committee have put together an exciting program, with over 600 sessions highlighting social science research that documents the breadth and depth of economic inequality and its consequences.

Among the twenty-one books that will be discussed at the Author Meets Critics Sessions are two Russell Sage publications:

The Long Shadow in the News

July 1, 2014

In The Long Shadow, a new book published by the Russell Sage Foundation, sociologists Karl Alexander, Doris Entwisle, and Linda Olsen present new and sobering findings on the life opportunities of low-income children in west Baltimore. For 25 years, the authors tracked the life progress of a group of almost 800 predominantly low-income Baltimore school children through the Beginning School Study Youth Panel (BSSYP). The study monitored the children’s transitions to young adulthood with special attention to how opportunities available to them as early as first grade shaped their socioeconomic status as adults.

Several new articles on inequality in the U.S. cite Alexander, Entwisle, and Olsen’s original research. At Colorlines, Kai Wright’s comprehensive overview of unemployment and African American men uses the authors’ Baltimore study to explore the shortcomings of education as the sole path out of poverty. As The Long Shadow finds, education primarily enhanced the privileges of those who were already middle-class, rather than boosting up poor children. While many low-income youth profiled in the Baltimore study pursued higher education, only 4% had earned a bachelor’s degree by age 28, due to barriers such as the cost of college and family obligations. As Wright notes, The Long Shadow further shows that black men in the study were penalized more for “problem behaviors”—including dropping out of school and getting arrested—than their white counterparts. In other words, race and class interact closely to limit poor Baltimoreans’ life opportunities.

Nested Silences and the Household Economy

June 27, 2014

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

Visiting Scholar Caitlin Zaloom (New York University) is completing a book on the intimate financial lives of American families. Her research explores how debt, credit, and investment shape Americans’ pursuit of security, prosperity, and stability. She also examines how families discuss the risks and trade-offs involved in using financial tools to pursue better education, housing, and retirement.

In an interview with the Foundation, Zaloom discussed in particular the rise of household budgets, how they relate to the creation of an American middle class, and why the silence around personal finances can have troubling consequences for American families.

Q. As the U.S. struggles to recover from the Great Recession, economics has played a central role in public discourse. Low wages and income inequality continue to generate fierce debate, and the recent excitement around Thomas Piketty’s Capital seems to suggest that the massive wealth gap in the country will remain a topic of concern for a long time. Yet, in your research, you’ve found that individual household economics still tend to remain extremely private. What accounts for this silence around personal finances and why is it such a problem?

Choosing Not to Choose

June 24, 2014

A new working paper by noted behavioral economics scholar Cass Sunstein, titled “Choosing Not to Choose,” is available for download from the Russell Sage Foundation. The abstract states:

Choice can be an extraordinary benefit or an immense burden. In some contexts, people choose not to choose, or would do so if they were asked. For example, many people prefer not to make choices about their health or retirement plans; they want to delegate those choices to a private or public institution that they trust (and may well be willing to pay a considerable amount for such delegations). This point suggests that however well-accepted, the line between active choosing and paternalism is often illusory. When private or public institutions override people’s desire not to choose, and insist on active choosing, they may well be behaving paternalistically, through a form of choice-requiring paternalism. Active choosing can be seen as a form of libertarian paternalism, and a frequently attractive one, if people are permitted to opt out of choosing in favor of a default (and in that sense not to choose); it is a form of nonlibertarian paternalism insofar as people are required to choose. For both ordinary people and private or public institutions, the ultimate judgment in favor of active choosing, or in favor of choosing not to choose, depends largely on the costs of decisions and the costs of errors.

Wealth Levels, Wealth Inequality, and the Great Recession

June 23, 2014

In a new Recession Brief for the Recession Trends initiative, Fabian T. Pfeffer (University of Michigan), RSF president Sheldon Danziger, and Robert F. Schoeni (University of Michigan) explore the extent to which the Great Recession altered the level and distribution of American families’ wealth, looking at the period between 2007 and 2013. While the Recession had a major impact on the net worth of families across the socioeconomic spectrum, it disproportionately affected households at the bottom of the wealth distribution. These households lost the largest share of their total wealth. As a result, wealth inequality in the US has been significantly exacerbated since the onset of the Recession. As of the end of 2013, the authors note that there have been few signs of significant recovery from the downturn.

Neighborhood Segregation and the Concentration of Poverty

June 17, 2014

A new book from the Foundation, Choosing Homes, Choosing Schools (2014), examines the complex relationships between schools, neighborhood social networks, and larger patterns of inequality in order to offer new perspectives on the way that residential segregation continues to affect access to education.

In his chapter, “Segregation, Neighborhoods, and Schools,” public policy scholar Paul Jargowsky (Rutgers University-Camden) traces shifts in residential segregation over the last four decades, along both class and racial lines. He assesses the extent to which race drives class segregation, and vice versa, and finds that though a small amount of racial segregation is due to poverty status—and a larger amount of segregation by class is due to race—both largely work independently of each other to shape residential segregation.