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How Survey Non-Responses Affect U.S. Poverty Rates and Understandings of Inequality

November 20, 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.

This fall, the U.S. Census Bureau reported the official national poverty rate as 14.8%, a number virtually unchanged from the year prior. Many poverty scholars, including RSF president Sheldon Danziger, have long debated the accuracy of this official measure, pointing out that it does not take into account non-cash benefits such as food stamps and housing subsidies, and therefore fails to reflect the importance of the social safety net for low-income families.

Current RSF Visiting Scholar James Ziliak (University of Kentucky) has identified yet another factor that affects the Census Bureau’s official poverty measure, which is calculated based on responses to earnings questions on the Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC). In his ongoing research, Ziliak has observed a non-response rate to ASEC earnings questions of over 30%. These missing figures present a significant obstacle to our understanding of poverty and inequality—if, for example, a significant percentage of ASEC non-respondents are low-income, the national poverty rate would be much higher than the Census Bureau’s current estimate.

While the Census has in place a process for accounting for ASEC non-responses, Ziliak has also identified shortcomings with their approach. To obtain more accurate income data for non-respondents, Ziliak instead links the Current Population Survey to tax records. In a new interview with the Foundation, Ziliak discussed his work and its ramifications for the way we measure and understand poverty.

Q. Your research at the Foundation examines the rise of non-responses to earnings questions in the Current Population Survey and its effect on our understanding of poverty in the US. How does the Census Bureau currently account for non-respondents? What are the shortcomings of their approach?

Fall 2015 Presidential Authority Awards

November 19, 2015

The Russell Sage Foundation has recently approved the following Presidential Authority awards in three of its program areas—Future of Work, Social Inequality, and Behavioral Economics—as well as three conferences for upcoming issues of the RSF journal.

RSF Journal Conferences:

The Coleman Report at 50: Its Legacy and Enduring Value
Karl Alexander and Stephen Morgan (Johns Hopkins University)

For an upcoming issue of RSF, Karl Alexander and Stephen Morgan organized a symposium featuring fourteen invited articles for the fiftieth anniversary of the quality of the 1966 Educational Opportunity Report, or “Coleman Report,” which assessed the lack of equal educational opportunities for minority children in the U.S. The issue will examine the Report’s methods and its substantive conclusions through the lens of advances over the past half century across several social science disciplines.

Undocumented Immigration
Roberto G. Gonzales (Harvard University) and Steven Raphael (University of California, Berkeley)

For an upcoming issue of RSF, Roberto Gonzales and Steven Raphael organized a symposium featuring nine articles that examine the effects of federal, state, and local policy on immigrants’ experience of living undocumented and explore how undocumented status affects social mobility and civic participation.

Wealth Inequality
Fabian Pfeffer and Robert Schoeni (University of Michigan)

For an upcoming issue of the RSF, Fabian Pfeffer and Robert Schoeni organized a symposium featuring nine articles that examine the determinants of high and rising levels of wealth inequality, its economic and social consequences, and potential policy responses.

Announcing the Launch of RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences

November 17, 2015

The Russell Sage Foundation is pleased to announce the publication of its new social science journal, RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences. RSF will promote cross-disciplinary collaborations on timely topics of interest to social scientists and other academic researchers, policymakers, and the public at large.

Of the new journal RSF president Sheldon Danziger says, "RSF builds upon the foundation's long history of publishing and disseminating rigorously evaluated social science research. As a peer-reviewed, open-access publication, RSF provides a prestigious outlet for original empirical research by both established and emerging scholars."

The inaugural double issue of RSF, edited by sociologist Matthew Desmond (Harvard University), focuses on families experiencing "severe deprivation," or acute, compounded, and persistent economic hardship. In this issue, a distinguished roster of poverty scholars from multiple disciplines examine how the Great Recession, plus factors such as rising housing costs, welfare reform, mass incarceration, suppressed wages, and pervasive joblessness have contributed to deepening poverty in America. Click here to read the full open-access issue online.

A number of issues of RSF are scheduled for publication, including "The Elementary and Secondary Education Act at Fifty and Beyond," edited by David A. Gamson (Pennsylvania State University), Kathryn A. McDermott (University of Massachusetts, Amherst), and Douglas S. Reed (Georgetown University), which will be released in December.

RSF Announces Spring 2016 Visiting Journalists

November 16, 2015

The Foundation has named Carole A. Carmichael and Eyal Press as Visiting Journalists for Spring 2016. Carmichael, who is Assistant Managing Editor at The Seattle Times, will investigate the outcomes of black and Hispanic recipients of a 1968 scholarship to New York University, tracing how this educational opportunity has affected recipients’ economic and social capital over more than four decades. Press, a contributor to the New Yorker, the Atlantic, the New York Review of Books, and other publications, will complete 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.

Visiting Journalists work at RSF on projects related to the Foundation's core programs for a period of 1-3 months alongside resident Visiting Scholars. The next deadline for applications is May 2, 2016 for residency in the fall of 2016.

RSF Announces Spring 2016 Visiting Researchers

November 16, 2015

The Foundation has selected two Visiting Researchers who will be in residence in Spring 2016. Ajay Chaudry (New York University) will work on a book that analyzes policy frameworks to provide early childhood services to children and families. He will also extend the research from his 2004 RSF book Putting Children First and explore the challenges faced by low-income single mothers when their children were growing up. Daniel S. Nagin (Carnegie Mellon University) will research how the experience of imprisonment affects rates of recidivism among offenders, using new methods to analyze merged data from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and the Pennsylvania State Police.

David Laibson Joins RSF Board of Trustees

November 9, 2015

The Foundation is pleased to announce the appointment of economist David Laibson to the Board of Trustees. Laibson is the Robert I. Goldman Professor of Economics and Chairman of the Department of Economics at Harvard University. He leads Harvard Universityʼs Foundations of Human Behavior Initiative and is the co-organizer of RSF’s Summer Institute in Behavioral Economics. His research focuses on behavioral economics, with emphasis on household finance, macroeconomics, aging, and intertemporal choice.

In addition to serving as a trustee of the Russell Sage Foundation, Laibson also serves on the boards of Harvardʼs Pension Investment Committee, the Social Science Genetics Association Consortium, and the Academic Research Council of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He is a member of the National Bureau of Economic Research, where he co-directs the National Institute of Aging Roybal Center for Behavior Change in Health and Savings, and is a Research Associate in the Aging, Asset Pricing, and Economic Fluctuations Working Groups.

RSF Trustee Nicholas Lemann Joins Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education

November 5, 2015

RSF trustee Nicholas Lemann (Columbia University) has been named a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ new Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education. The commission, whose members include national leaders in education, business, and government, will examine the current state of undergraduate education and project what the nation’s education needs will be by 2035. In support of this three-year initiative, the Academy has received $2.2 million in funding from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

The commission will look at every type of postsecondary institution, including, for example, early college high schools, for-profit institutions, four-year universities, and community colleges. It will offer recommendations for addressing rising costs and for ways of financing postsecondary education that promote wide and equitable access for Americans of every socioeconomic background. Across all its efforts, the commission will pursue a greater understanding of the preparation that Americans will need to lead productive and fulfilling lives that contribute to the health of our country, its economy, culture, and democratic community.

RSF Author Carla Shedd and New RSF Book Unequal City in the News

November 2, 2015

Recently, Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina made headlines when video of a police officer pulling a black teenage student from her desk and throwing her to the ground went viral. The events sparked a national outcry over the use of police force in schools, and prompted the Department of Justice to begin an investigation into the incident.

While the Richland County police department has since fired the officer involved, the future of police presence in public schools remains unclear. RSF author and sociologist Carla Shedd—whose new book Unequal City: Race, Schools, and Perceptions of Injustice explores in detail how marginalized youth navigate their interactions with law enforcement in and around their schools—spoke with several news outlets about the Spring Valley High incident. According to Shedd, schools play a crucial role in either reinforcing or ameliorating the social inequalities experienced by adolescents in city environments. As she told the Wall Street Journal, in many educational settings, black students are treated differently from white students when they act like teenagers. She added, in an interview with the Washington Post, “I talk about what the consequences are when young people are not given that developmental space to mess up, to act out or make mistakes like regular teenagers.”

Visiting Scholar Darity Co-Authors New Article on Reviving Historically Black Colleges and Universities

October 26, 2015

In a new article for the American Prospect, RSF Visiting Scholar William Darity and co-authors Darrick Hamilton, Tressie McMillan Cottom, Alan Aja, and Carolyn Ash examine the challenges faced by historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in the U.S. today.

HBCUs have long played a crucial role in nurturing black scholars, writers, and politicians, with alumni that include Thurgood Marshall, Jesse Jackson, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Yet, today the existence of these schools is threatened by dwindling funds. Several HBCUs have reached out to alumni for increased donations, but Darity and his colleagues believe that alumni donations alone are unlikely to lift these institutions out of crisis. They write, “Do blacks generally have the financial capacity to save HBCUs with their own donations to their respective alma maters? Given the historical, cumulative, and persistent black-white wealth gap in the U.S., this is not only unlikely, but a distraction.”

Darity’s research at RSF focuses on the persistent racial wealth gap in the U.S. As he and his colleagues note in the American Prospect, the vast majority of black wealth is held in home equity, which cannot be tapped for alumni donations. Furthermore, the typical black family holds about $7,113 in net worth whereas the median net worth of white families is over $100,000. Instead, the authors recommend reviving HBCUs through a series of broader public policies that would not only fund education, but also help to build black wealth and income. Such initiatives could include a federal jobs-guarantee program, “baby bonds” that ensure trust funds to children born to families whose net wealth falls below the median, and the expansion of Pell Grants for nonprofit institutions.

RSF President Sheldon Danziger Delivers 2015 Bicknell Lecture on Economic Inequality

October 23, 2015

On October 21, RSF president Sheldon Danziger delivered the 2015 Bicknell Lecture, titled “Poverty, Public Policy and Public Health,” at the Boston University School of Public Health. Danziger, who is co-editor of the 2013 RSF book Legacies of the War on Poverty, has argued that since the early 1970s, economic gains in the U.S. have primarily benefited the elite, while wages for the average worker have remained stagnant.

“The conventional wisdom is that a rising economic tide lifts all boats. But it no longer works that way,” Danziger said in a new interview with BU Today. “The last 40 years have been a period of very slow wage growth and rising inequality.”

These growing disparities in income have led to disparities in health—which, in turn, exacerbate cycles of inequality. As Danziger noted, “Health disparities are tied to poverty rates. Those at the bottom have lower life expectancies, higher unemployment. And the causation goes both ways—people in poor health are less likely to work.”

Danziger’s Bicknell Lecture, which explored the connections between inequality and public health, was followed by a panel discussion with Charles E. Carter (Harvard), Molly Baldwin (Roca Inc.), and Perri Klass (NYU).