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RSF Review

A New Model for Talking About Race at Work

March 14, 2014

Since the 1960s, the dominant model for fostering diversity and inclusion in the United States has been the “color blind” approach, which emphasizes similarity and assimilation and insists that people should be understood as individuals, not as members of racial or cultural groups. This approach is especially prevalent in the workplace, where discussions about race and ethnicity are considered taboo. Yet, as widespread as “color blindness” has become, many studies show that the practice has damaging repercussions, including reinforcing the existing racial hierarchy by ignoring the significance of racism and discrimination.

How might we implement alternative models for addressing the sensitive issue of race in the workplace? In their new RSF book, The Color Bind, authors Erica Foldy and Tamara Buckley offer a theory of “color cognizance” to describe a more effective method of confronting issues related to race and ethnicity. Color cognizance, as they define it, is the practice of recognizing and openly discussing the profound impact of race and ethnicity on life experiences (including acknowledging histories of discrimination) while also affirming the importance of racial diversity for society. Based on an intensive two-and-a-half-year study of employees at a child welfare agency, The Color Bind outlines how color cognizance is successfully deployed in a workplace setting, using three work teams in particular to illustrate the factors that enable color cognizance to flourish.

Upcoming Event with RSF Authors Greg Duncan and Richard Murnane

March 11, 2014

In their landmark 2011 volume, Whither Opportunity?, co-published by the Russell Sage Foundation and the Spencer Foundation, Greg J. Duncan and Richard J. Murnane traced the contours of deepening educational inequality in the U.S. Now, in their recent follow-up volume, Restoring Opportunity, the authors present a thoroughly researched and hopeful education agenda. Co-published by Harvard Education Press and the Russell Sage Foundation, Restoring Opportunity provides extensive information about how to improve schools so that students from poor families can boost their learning and increase their chances of going to college or attaining vocational skills.

Combating Implicit Racial Bias

March 7, 2014

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

Though by many accounts the U.S. is becoming a more egalitarian society in terms of racial attitudes, unconscious biases still linger. Though people may be less likely to admit to these biases in public, the persistence of racial prejudice continues to shape not only our interpersonal interactions, but also the way in which resources are distributed in society. Stacey Sinclair, Associate Professor of Psychology & African American Studies at Princeton and a current RSF Visiting Scholar, studies the connections between people’s implicit prejudices and their interpersonal interactions, and maps out how these interactions on the micro level translate to larger societal attitudes about race and ethnicity.

In a new interview with the Foundation, Sinclair discussed some of her recent research on implicit prejudice and offered solutions for rectifying some of the inequalities caused by these unconscious biases. To read more about her work during her time in residence, click here.

Q. Your current research investigates implicit prejudice, specifically implicit racial prejudice. What is implicit prejudice and how is it measured in a lab setting?

Local Alternatives to Raising the Federal Minimum Wage

February 28, 2014

A report released in February 2014 by the Congressional Budget Office contains both hopeful and sobering news related to a possible increase of the federal minimum wage. The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013, championed by President Obama in his State of the Union address in January, aims to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10. The CBO predicts that this initiative would lift 900,000 families out of poverty and increase the incomes of 16.5 million low-wage workers in an average week. However, their report also warns that the increase could also reduce total employment by as many as 500,000 workers by the second half of 2016.

According to Stephanie Luce, a professor of labor studies at the Murphy Institute at CUNY and a contributor to the new RSF book What Works for Workers?, the idea that raising the minimum wage will lead to job losses has persisted since the 1970s. While some research has indicated that a minimum wage increase could potentially lead to job losses for teenagers, Luce points out that the vast majority of workers who hold minimum-wage jobs are over twenty, and likely to benefit from a federal increase. As Luce notes, over 650 economists (including five Nobel Prize winners) have signed a letter calling for a federal increase in the minimum wage.

RSF Authors Greg Duncan and Richard Murnane Discuss Education Gaps in the U.S.

Rohan Mascarenhas, Harvard Kennedy School
February 20, 2014

As a follow up to their landmark volume, Whither Opportunity?, Greg Duncan and Richard Murnane have written a new book that shows how—in a time of spiraling inequality—strategically targeted interventions and supports can help schools significantly improve the life chances of low-income children. Co-published by the Russell Sage Foundation and the Harvard Education Press, Restoring Opportunity presents a deeply researched and hopeful education agenda that can counteract the corrosive effects of unequal family resources, disadvantaged neighborhoods, and worsening school conditions on American schools.

During a forum at the Harvard Graduate School of Education earlier this month, Murnane and Duncan summarized the worrying gaps in education that have emerged as inequality has increased. One problem is the different amounts that families spend on their children’s education: high-income families now spend around $9,000 a year on “enrichment activities,” such as books, computers, and summer camps, while poorer families in the bottom 20 percent of the income distribution manage only $1,300. "That’s a huge gap,” Duncan said, "and it leads to a huge difference at the point of school entry.” Another issue is the rise in income residential segregation, which has concentrated the number of low-income children in particular neighborhoods. “Think about the kind of burdens that places on schools,” Duncan said. “It concentrates behavior problems. It makes it more difficult to attract high quality teachers.”

How the Party of Lincoln Became the Party of the South

February 18, 2014

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

For decades in U.S. politics, the South has loomed as a GOP stronghold. But according to Doug McAdam, a current RSF Visiting Scholar and Professor of Sociology at Stanford University, it took a complicated set of political shifts in order to transform what was once the party of Lincoln to the party of Dixie. Though today Democrats and Republicans in Congress are more politically polarized than ever before, McAdam notes that prior to the 60s, the two parties were far more similar, with Republicans consistently showing liberal voting records on issues related to race. What, then, accounts for the GOP’s modern incarnation as a right-leaning party with conservative views on race?

New RSF Research Examines the Effect of the Recession on State Tax Revenues

February 13, 2014

New research funded by the Russell Sage Foundation sheds important light on the impact of economic downturns on state tax revenues. In 2007, on the eve of the recession, 49 percent of state tax revenues came from consumption taxes, and 32 percent from income taxes. Conventional wisdom has held that since consumption is more likely to remain stable than income during economic recessions, revenue from consumption taxes will similarly be less volatile than revenue from income taxes.

RSF Research and Obama’s Agenda to Tackle Inequality

February 6, 2014

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, January 28, President Obama focused a significant portion of his speech on the issue of inequality in the U.S. Citing the expiration of unemployment insurance and a stagnant minimum wage as two major roadblocks to economic security for many Americans, the president outlined an ambitious plan to alleviate financial distress for low-income individuals, including raising the minimum wage. “Today the federal minimum wage is worth about twenty percent less than it was when Ronald Reagan first stood here,” Obama stated, introducing a bill to fix that would lift the minimum wage to $10.10. He continued, “This will help families. It will give businesses customers with more money to spend. It does not involve any new bureaucratic program.”

Newly published research from the Russell Sage Foundation sheds important new light on Obama’s plan of poverty relief. A new book, What Works for Workers?, examines the public policies that have already been developed to aid to low-income workers. In their chapter, “Low-Wage Workers and Paid Family Leave: The California Experience,” contributors Ruth Milkman and Eileen Appelbaum offer an analysis of California’s paid family leave program, a policy designed to benefit the working poor, who have few resources that allow them to take time off work to care for children or ill family members. Despite initial opposition, the paid leave program proved more acceptable than expected among employers and provided a much-needed system of wage replacement for low-income workers. In the wake of its success, the initiative has emerged as a useful blueprint for paid leave programs in other states. Though Obama did not propose a specific initiative for implementing paid leave for mothers, he acknowledged the importance of such programs, stating, “[Mothers] deserve to have a baby without sacrificing her job. A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship.”

Statement by RSF President Sheldon Danziger on Poverty and Inequality in the U.S.

January 29, 2014

In his State of the Union address last night, President Obama spoke at length about increased economic disparities in the United States and announced a series of presidential initiatives to make sure that the benefits of economic growth are shared widely. My analysis of our experience since President Johnson declared War on Poverty in his State of the Union Address fifty years ago is that poverty will fall substantially and inequality will decline only if two factors are operating at the same time. First, the economy must be expanding and the unemployment rate must be below 5 percent. Second, government policies must stay focused on helping those among the poor and near-poor who are left behind by economic growth. The problem is that since the early 1970s, during most of the years when the economy was expanding, economic growth was not trickling down to the poor or even to the middle class, and government policies were not doing enough to help those not sharing in the economy’s increased productivity.

The relationship between economic growth and poverty in recent years refutes the view that poverty remains high because the government provides too much aid for the poor, and thus encourages idleness and other dysfunctional behaviors. Poverty would be somewhat lower today if fewer low-skilled men had withdrawn from the labor market and if marriage rates had not declined so much and if there had been less immigration of workers with little education. However, these effects are small compared to the poverty-increasing effects of a labor market that shifted from a quarter century of rapid economic growth following the end of World War II in which a rising tide lifted all boats to almost forty years of slower growth and rising inequality.

New RSF Book Reviews in Contemporary Sociology

January 28, 2014

Two Russell Sage Foundation books were recently reviewed in the January 2014 issue of Contemporary Sociology. Whither Opportunity?: Rising Inequality, Schools, and Children’s Life Chances (2012), a volume edited by Greg Duncan and Richard Murnane, received glowing praise from reviewer Linda Renzulli of the University of Georgia, who called the book “a must read for scholars in education, family, and labor markets.”