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RSF Review

RSF Review

RSF President Sheldon Danziger on the Release of the Annual U.S. Poverty Statistics

Sheldon Danziger, Russell Sage Foundation
September 17, 2013

The Annual Census Bureau report released today (September 17, 2013) shows no meaningful changes in poverty, earnings, or median household income. This is because between 2011 and 2012 the unemployment rate fell only slightly and there was no significant growth in weekly earnings (as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics).
 
Poverty is higher today than it was in 2000 and household incomes are lower. The “lost decade” is likely to turn into “two lost decades,” because poverty will fall substantially in the next 5 years only if two factors are at work. First, the economy must continue to expand and the unemployment rate must fall to 5 percent. Second, government policies must do more to help those among the poor and near-poor who have been left behind by economic growth in recent decades.
 
If safety net programs are targeted to balance the budget, as House Republicans have proposed, poverty will increase. Even if the safety net is not cut back, the prospects for reducing poverty are dim. The only bright spot is that private sector employment has been increasing, but it is not that bright since many of the new jobs pay low wages.
 
In addition, government has contributed to increased poverty. The federal sequestration, the end of extended unemployment insurance benefits and the failure to expand spending on early education programs or infrastructure projects has reduced demand. And, state and local governments have increased poverty by laying off teachers, police and other workers.
 
Even if poverty should start falling in the coming year as the economy grows, it is likely to take more than 5 years just to reach the rate achieved in the late 1990s. Given the status quo in the economy and in public policy, we will continue to get disappointing news about the poverty rate from the Census Bureau each September.

Announcing the 2013-2014 RSF Scholars

September 12, 2013

This month the Foundation welcomes nineteen new scholars into our building to spend the academic year. During their time in residence, these scholars will pursue research and writing projects that reflect the Foundation’s commitment to strengthening the social sciences and applying research more effectively to important social problems.

This year’s class of scholars, who have arrived from institutions across the globe, includes a working group on economic inequality that will analyze differences in school achievement among children of different socioeconomic status in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Other researchers will undertake projects ranging from investigations into restrictions on immigrants’ access to social welfare, to psychology research on self-control, to analyses of community violence across three different countries. Working within one of the Foundation’s core programs on Social Inequality, Immigration, and Cultural Contact—or performing independent research—our 2013-2014 scholars will investigate diverse sections of the social sciences in ways that promise to impact policy decisions and social life in the US.

RSF at ASA 2013

July 17, 2013

The 108th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA) will take place in New York City, from August 10 to 13, 2013. The theme this year, “Interrogating Inequality: Linking Micro and Macro,” asks: What is inequality, why is it, how does it come about, and what can we do to change it? ASA President Cecilia Ridgeway and the 2013 Program Committee have put together an exciting program that will include more than 600 individual sessions on everything from the latest and greatest books in the field, section roundtables, and countless other topics.

Among the twelve books that will be discussed at the Author Meets Critics Sessions are three Russell Sage publications:

  • American Memories: Atrocities and the Law (Rose Series in Sociology, 2011), by Joachim Savelsberg and Ryan King
    Scheduled Time: Sun Aug 11 2013, 2:30 to 4:10pm
    American Memories rigorously examines how the United States remembers its own and others’ atrocities and how institutional responses to such crimes, including trials and tribunals, may help shape memories and perhaps impede future violence. For more information on this session, click here.
  • Social Movements in the World System: The Politics of Crisis and Transformation (2012), by Jackie Smith and Dawn Wiest
    Scheduled Time: Mon Aug 12 2013, 10:30 to 12:10pm
    In Social Movements in the World-System, Smith and Wiest show how transnational activism since the end of the Cold War, including United Nations global conferences and more recently at World Trade Organization meetings, has shaped the ways groups organize. For more information on this session, click here.
  • Counted Out: Same-Sex Relations and American's Definitions of Family (2010), by Brian Powell, Catherine Bolzendahl, Claudia Geist, and Lala Carr Steelman
  • Scheduled Time: Tue Aug 13 2013, 10:30 to 12:10pm
    Counted Out demonstrates that American definitions of family are becoming more expansive, but finds that the standard bearer for public conceptions of family continues to be a married, heterosexual couple with children. For more information on this session, click here.

Learning More About Trust

July 16, 2013

In the July 2013 issue of Contemporary Sociology, Jessica L. Collett reviews our book, Whom Can We Trust? (2009). Edited by Karen S. Cook, Margaret Levi, and Russell Hardin, the volume was published as part of the Foundation's series on trust, which aimed to improve our understanding of the role of trust and trustworthiness in establishing cooperative behavior in a variety of settings. Collett praises the volume for "generating an interdisciplinary dialogue" on this crucial subject:

The editors do a wonderful job setting the stage for the cross-disciplinary exploration of trust and trustworthiness in the introduction.They highlight the rich history of trust and its multidisciplinary roots and set forth the current collection's thesis: social scientists and policymakers must step back from touting the virtues of trust and try to better understand the sources and corollaries of such trust and trust's implications across social contexts.

[...]

With contributions from sociologists, economists, political scientists, psychologists, and others, this collection illustrates the expansive hold that trust has taken across social science disciplines. It accomplishes the main goal the authors set forth, to add nuance to our understanding of trust and to consider the contextual nature of both trust and trustworthiness. It also highlights the need for more interdisciplinarity in research. While there is a bit of cross-disciplinary dialogue in this volume, there could be more, and there certainly should be in future research. Cook, Levi, and Hardin paved the way for such endeavors.

How the Great Recession Had (At Least Some) Positive Effects on Young People

Jean M. Twenge, San Diego State University
July 11, 2013

With support from our Great Recession initiative, Jean M. Twenge and Patricia Greenfield have examined whether and how young Americans' values and behaviors have changed in response to the recession. In this blog post, Professor Twenge discusses some of the main findings of their research project.

Amid the massive unemployment, widespread foreclosures, and economic pain of the Great Recession is a possible upside: More young people looking outside themselves.

In her previous research and theorizing, my co-author Patricia M. Greenfield of UCLA found that greater economic resources lead to focusing on the individual self, whereas more modest economic means lead to focusing on the community and the society as a whole. Thus, the widespread economic deprivation of the Great Recession was a natural experiment to test this theory. Dr. Greenfield’s graduate student, Heejung Park, took the lead on the project. We drew from a nationally representative sample of about half a million high school seniors – known as Monitoring the Future (MtF) – conducted annually since 1976.

For an initial look, we compared high school students’ values and behaviors in three eras: 1976-1978 (the earliest three years of the MtF survey), 2004-2006 (the recent, pre-recession era), and 2008-2010 (the recession era.) Previous research had shown that concern for others (for example, thinking about social problems and contributing to an international relief fund) and environmental concern (making an effort to save energy and help the environment) declined between the 1970s and the 2000s.

But then, during the recession years, concern for others and environmentalism increased, reversing the previous trend. Although these community-oriented views and behaviors did not return to where they were in the 1970s, just a few years of a severe recession turned around trends that had built for decades. For example, 36% of recession-era students said they were willing to take a bike or mass transit instead of driving, compared to 28% in 2004-2006 and 49% in 1976-78. Sixty-three percent of recession-era youth said they made an effort to turn the heat down at home in order to save energy, compared to 55% before the recession. Thirty percent of recession-era students said they thought about social problems quite often, up from 26% before the recession, and 43% of recession-era students said they thought it was important to “correct social and economic inequalities,” compared to 38% before the recession.

Job Quality in the United States

July 1, 2013

Writing in the journal Social Forces earlier this year, Vicki Smith of University of California, Davis, praised two of our recent books on job polarization trends -- Good Jobs, Bad Jobs (Arne Kalleberg) and Good Jobs America (Paul Osterman and Beth Shulman) -- as important additions to the growing literature on "employment precariousness":

Good Jobs, Bad Jobs methodically traces the causes and consequences of the polarization of jobs into good and bad, and the rise of precariousness across occupations and professions. Seeing the current era of uncertainty as a moment in an ongoing “double movement” (a concept coined by Polanyi) between flexibility (characterized by the dominance of unregulated markets and the subsequent disruption of social life) and security (characterized by the dominance of government interventions that buffer individuals and families from market dynamics) over the course of industrial capitalism, Kalleberg carefully addresses each facet of polarization and precariousness, analyzing data from a wide variety of sources to answer questions that have been debated vigorously by sociologists and economists. His goal is to weave together many different strands of precariousness and polarization (indeed, they are mutually constitutive, in that developments in one domain often exert pressure on another) that have created a deeply worrisome set of employment relationships.

[...]

Osterman and Shulman reveal the flaws in popular myths about the low-wage labor market and about social mobility in the United States. today. Two are striking: adults’ participation in low-wage markets is transient (thus, we shouldn't fuss too much about it as an impediment to long-run social mobility), and they simply need to develop their human capital to ascend from them. Osterman and Shulman argue that the vast majority of people who hold low-wage jobs are stuck there. The jobs are dead-end and offer no opportunity for learning new skills or for vertical mobility. Furthermore, Osterman and Shulman doubt that increasing education or skill levels is sufficient to enable many workers to access “good” jobs. Their goal is straightforward: below-standard jobs must be improved, by paying better wages (not wages that consign people to membership in the working poor), building job ladders that link low-wage positions to better compensated positions at higher levels in and between organizations, and instituting training programs for low-level employees.

Separate but Equal: Asian Nationalities in the U.S.

June 26, 2013

Our latest U.S. 2010 report examines segregation levels and demographic trends among Asian Americans. Here is the abstract and some of the report's main findings:

This report summarizes what we know now about America’s several Asian minorities: their origins and growth, trends in their location within the country, their heterogeneity in social background and economic achievement, and their pattern of neighborhood settlement.

  • The total Asian population more than doubled in two decades, reaching nearly 18 million. It is now almost as large as the Hispanic population was in 1990. The Indian population has grown fastest, now nearly four times its size in 1990.
  • Most Asian nationalities remain predominantly foreign-born, as the pace of immigration keeps up with the growth of second and later generations in the U.S. The exception is Japanese, who are only 40.5% immigrant.
  • Asians’ socioeconomic status was generally on a par with non-Hispanic whites (and therefore higher than Hispanics or African Americans). Indians and Japanese are the more advantaged nationalities, while Vietnamese have the highest unemployment, lowest income, and least education among these groups.
  • Though a majority of Hawaiian residents are Asian, the largest numbers of most Asian groups are found in California (especially the Los Angeles metro and San Francisco Bay Area) and New York. Los Angeles’s Asian population has significantly greater shares of Filipinos, Japanese and Koreans, while New York is tilted toward Chinese and Indians.
  • Although residential segregation of Asians within metropolitan areas has repeatedly been reported to be considerably lower than that of other minorities, the Chinese and Indian levels of segregation are as high as Hispanics and Vietnamese segregation is almost as high as that of African Americans. Segregation of Asian nationalities in Los Angeles and New York is even higher than the national metro average.
  • Despite high segregation, every Asian nationality except Vietnamese lives on average in neighborhoods with higher income and share of college educated residents than do non-Hispanic whites. Vietnamese are nearly on par with the average white’s neighborhood.
  • The Asian neighborhood advantage is most pronounced in the suburbs, supporting the characterization of Asian “ethnoburbs” in metropolitan regions with large Asian minorities.

Research on the Consequences of Counterterrorism

June 17, 2013

During an online chat today with The Guardian, NSA leaker Edward Snowden asked one of the main questions that animates the debate over civil liberties in the post-9/11 era:

How many terrorist attacks were prevented SOLELY by information derived from this suspicionless surveillance that could not be gained via any other source? Then ask how many individual communications were ingested to acheive (sic) that, and ask yourself if it was worth it.

Defenders of the NSA program, which sweeps through Internet-usage data from around the world, argue that it offers useful intelligence that has disrupted terrorist plots. Opponents, such as Snowden, ask whether this justifies the cost to individual privacy.

Over the past decade, the Russell Sage Foundation has published four books that use the tools of social science to examine this debate over the dramatic shifts in counterterrorism and surveillance operations in America since the 9/11 attacks. Are these efforts worth the expense and cost in individual liberties? How has America historically mediated the boundary between the national security state and civil liberties? What do public opinion trends suggest about what Americans think about the post-9/11 counterterrorism measures? Here is a brief description of our research:

counterterrorism The Consequences of Counterterrorism examines the political costs and challenges democratic governments face in confronting terrorism. Using historical and comparative perspectives, the volume presents thematic analyses as well as case studies of Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Japan, and Israel. Contributor John Finn compares post-9/11 antiterrorism legislation in the United States, Europe, Canada, and India to demonstrate the effects of hastily drawn policies on civil liberties and constitutional norms. Chantal de Jonge Oudraat and Jean-Luc Marret assert that terrorist designation lists are more widespread internationally than ever before. The authors examine why governments and international organizations use such lists, how they work, and why they are ineffective tools. Gallya Lahav shows how immigration policy has become inextricably linked to security in the EU and compares the European fear of internal threats to the American fear of external ones.

security-v-liberty In Security v. Liberty, Daniel Farber leads a group of prominent historians and legal experts in exploring the varied ways in which threats to national security have affected civil liberties throughout American history. Security v. Liberty focuses on periods of national emergency in the twentieth century—from World War I through the Vietnam War—to explore how past episodes might bear upon today’s dilemma. Law professor Geoffrey Stone describes how J. Edgar Hoover used domestic surveillance to harass anti-war protestors and civil rights groups throughout the 1960s and early 1970s. Distinguished historian Alan Brinkley shows that during World War I the government targeted vulnerable groups—including socialists, anarchists, and labor leaders—not because of a real threat to the nation, but because it was politically expedient to scapegoat unpopular groups.

Bridging The Gender Education Gap

June 13, 2013

women in educationIn an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, Claudia Buchmann and Thomas DiPrete, authors of The Rise of Women, discuss the gap in educational achievement between men and women. Women generally outperform men academically at all levels of school, and they currently earn 58% of bachelor's degrees and 62% of postsecondary occupational certificates. As concern about educational gains in the U.S. grows, Buchmann and DiPrete argue that policymakers need to focus more on young boys and men in school:

The underinvestment in education by adolescent boys and young men stems in part from out-of-date masculine stereotypes. Such things as a strong attachment to school, a feeling of closeness to teachers, an excessive interest in high academic achievement or a fondness for art or music are viewed by many young men as unmasculine.

In a recent survey of American 15-year-olds, 73% of adolescent girls expected to work in managerial, professional or higher technical jobs, versus only 53% of the boys. Boys were much more likely than girls (9% as opposed to 2%) to expect to make their living as athletes or work in other sports jobs or as musicians. Too many boys expected to be military officers, police officers or firefighters relative to demand, and boys were more likely to respond vaguely or not at all to the question of the job they expected to have at age 30.

A Review of Ellen Reese's RSF Book They Say Cut Back, We Say Fight Back!

June 10, 2013

Writing in the May issue of Contemporary Sociology, Lisa D. Brush calls our book They Say Cut Back, We Say Fight Back! an "informative, persuasive, compulsively readable book that is an essential resource for students, scholars, political junkies, and activists interested in states and social policies." Published in 2011, They Say Cut Back uses in-depth case studies of campaigns in Wisconsin and California to examine how welfare recipients and their allies contested welfare reform from the bottom-up.

In her review, Brush says author Ellen Reese makes two main contributions to current research on social movements and social policies:

First, Reese shows the myriad ways that policy implementation is policymaking, when grassroots activists and advocates who lose federal legislative battles struggle with governors, state legislators, city council members, and street-level bureaucrats over the nitty-gritty of governance...Her comparison of Los Angeles and Milwaukee shows how different institutional, economic, and political contexts--including different systems of state and local governance, racial-ethnic demographics and political culture, and labor market characteristics and labor relations regimes--interact with social movement strategies to produce specific outcomes.