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RSF Review

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 Poverty would be somewhat lower today if fewer low-skilled men had withdrawn from the labor market and if marriage rates had not declined so much and if there had been less immigration of workers with little education.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.”

Is Unemployment Insurance Good for Workers?

January 24, 2014

At the close of 2013, Republicans in Congress blocked the renewal of Emergency Unemployment Insurance, a measure that has allowed long-term unemployed Americans to continue to receive unemployment insurance benefits beyond the maximum 26-week benefit period. The failure to renew this extension ended benefits for 1.3 million Americans. Unemployment insurance has long been at the center of fierce debates over the nature of the U.S. social safety net. Conservatives claim that such benefits create a disincentive for the unemployed to seek work, while progressives argue that they are a crucial source of income for those who have lost jobs, especially during periods during and after recessions, when the labor market is at its most competitive and jobs remain scarce.

A new volume from the Russell Sage Foundation assesses the effectiveness of unemployment insurance alongside other policy measures designed to aid workers. What Works for Workers?, edited by Stephanie Luce, Jennifer Luff, Joseph A. McCartin, and Ruth Milkman, provides a comprehensive analysis of policies focused on low-wage workers and the expanding income gap in the U.S. Featuring contributions from an eminent group of social scientists, What Works for Workers? evaluates the most high-profile strategies for poverty reduction, including innovative “living wage” ordinances, education programs for African American youth, and better regulation of labor laws pertaining to immigrants. The contributors delve into an extensive body of scholarship on low-wage work to reveal a number of surprising findings.

RSF Author Catherine Lee Discusses the Role of Families in U.S. Immigration Policies, Past and Present

January 16, 2014

Today, roughly 70 percent of all visas for legal immigration are reserved for family members of permanent residents or American citizens. Family reunification—policies that seek to preserve family unity during or following migration—is a central pillar of current immigration law, but it has existed in some form in American statutes since at least the mid-nineteenth century. In her 2013 RSF book, Fictive Kinship: Family Reunification and the Meaning of Race and Nation in American Immigration, sociologist Catherine Lee delves into the fascinating history of family reunification to examine how and why our conceptions of family have shaped immigration, the meaning of race, and the way we see ourselves as a country.

In a new interview with the Foundation, Lee discusses some of the groundbreaking research from her book and offers recommendations for future immigration policies. To learn more about Fictive Kinship or to purchase a copy, click here.

Q. As you point out in your book, family reunification has long been a guiding theme of U.S. immigration policy and has significantly influenced the changing demographics of the country. Can you give some examples of how family reunification policies have shaped the way we think about race and ethnicity in the U.S. today?

New Spring 2014 Books from RSF

January 14, 2014

Below is an early look at new and forthcoming books from the Foundation for Spring 2014. The list includes a major new study on the role of private equity firms in today’s economy, an in-depth analysis of how Obama’s 2008 campaign has changed racial attitudes in the U.S., and a volume examining what we know about policies to help low-wage workers. To request a hard copy of the full catalog, please contact Bruce Thongsack at, or click here to visit our publications page.

RSF Visiting Scholars Jane Waldfogel and Miles Corak at Social Mobility Summit

January 10, 2014

On Monday, January 13, 2014, RSF Visiting Scholars Jane Waldfogel (Columbia University) and Miles Corak (University of Ottawa) will lead a working session at the Social Mobility Summit hosted by the Brookings Institution’s Center on Children and Families. With Bruce Bradbury (University of New South Wales) and Elizabeth Washbrook (University of Bristol), Waldfogel and Corak are currently part of an RSF working group investigating educational inequality in four countries.

Monday’s Social Mobility Summit will open with a public keynote address from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in the morning and close with a public keynote address from Congressman Paul Ryan. Senator Gillibrand and Representative Ryan will each lay out their personal vision for how we can promote social mobility in the U.S. today. During the day, the Center on Children and Families will hold a series of private working sessions with leading scholars. Each session will address a critical life stage for the promotion of social mobility: family formation, the early years, K-12 education, college education, and transitions into work. Click here to register to attend this event, or sign up to join the live webcast.

A Chance for Immigration Reform in the New Year

January 10, 2014

In a move that could signal the end of the deadlock on immigration reform that stifled Congress for the better part of 2013, Speaker of the House John Boehner has indicated his willingness to address immigration laws. As the New York Times reports, though Boehner continues to voice reservations about a single, comprehensive bill to create additional pathways to U.S. citizenship, he also condemned the hardline stance of conservative Tea Party groups opposed to any immigration compromises.

Republicans have increasingly struggled to find a balance between appeasing their conservative constituents while also attempting to court Latino voters. According to the New York Times, Romney won only 27% of the Latino vote in the 2012 presidential election due to his views on immigration. But the Democratic Party has also suffered for its failure to implement significant immigration reform. A September 2013 Pew study showed that the Obama administration deported more immigrants annually than the George W. Bush administration, and that 59% of Latinos disapproved of Obama’s handling of deportations.

The 2013 RSF book Immigration, Poverty and Socioeconomic Inequality, co-edited by David Card and Steven Raphael, explores the rapid rise in immigration to the U.S. since the 1960s and analyzes the economic and political shifts that have occurred as a result of this increase—including changes in the national poverty rate, labor market fluctuations, and the evolution of immigration policies. In his chapter, “Immigration Enforcement as a Race-Making Institution,” sociologist Douglas Massey traces the surge in deportations, border patrol budgets, and border enforcement agents over the last several decades:

Legacies of the War on Poverty Co-Editor Martha J. Bailey Wins IZA Young Labor Economist Award

January 6, 2014

At the annual meeting of the Allied Social Science Associates in Philadelphia, the University of Michigan’s Martha J. Bailey, co-editor of the 2013 Russell Sage Foundation book Legacies of the War on Poverty, received the 2013 IZA Young Labor Economist Award for her paper “The Opt In Revolution,” co-authored with Brad Hershbein (Upjohn Institute) and Amalia Miller (University of Virginia). The paper examines the role of the birth control pill in increasing women’s human capital investments and, ultimately, wages. It concludes the Pill can account for 10 percent of the convergence of the gender wage gap in the 1980s and 30 percent in the 1990s.

The IZA Young Labor Economist Award, awarded annually since 2002, recognizes one outstanding paper each year in labor economics by an author or authors younger than 40 years of age. The recipients are awarded €5,000 between them for their research.

Robert Solow, RSF Robert K. Merton Scholar, Takes on Greenspan

December 20, 2013

On Monday, December 16, the Federal Reserve celebrated its centennial. Among those who delivered speeches were current Fed chairman Ben Bernanke and former chairmen Paul Volcker and Alan Greenspan. Greenspan focused his remarks on the stock market crash of October 19, 1987, which marked the steepest one-day drop in stock prices in U.S. history. At the time Greenspan was credited with successfully diverting the economy from a deeper financial crisis, but his role in the financial crash that would occur 20 years later proved less positive.

In a new review of Greenspan’s book, The Map and the Territory: Risk, Human Nature, and the Future of Forecasting, RSF Robert K. Merton Scholar Robert Solow assesses Greenspan’s theory of how people can better predict the economic future. “Greenspan’s new book is obviously intended to show that his errors were only partial and that he has found useful ways to correct them, and thus to refurbish his reputation as oracle-in-chief,” Solow writes. “It fails.”

Solow elucidates the shortcomings of Greenspan’s “Iron Law,” or the claim that whenever the U.S. adds money to programs such as Social Security or Medicare, it also forces a reduction in family and business savings, or an increase in government deficits. Solow points out that many of the linear regressions Greenspan offers in his book are too general to provide solid proof for the claims of his theory. As Solow puts it, “Greenspan’s Iron Law is built not so much on evidence as on ideology.” That ideology is the argument that an unregulated or only lightly regulated market is the solution to the failures of the economy.

Visiting Scholar Kathleen Vohs Receives Anneliese Maier Research Award

December 19, 2013

On Wednesday, December 18, 2013, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation announced the eight winners of their 2014 Anneliese Maier Research Award, including Kathleen Vohs, a current RSF Visiting Scholar and Land O'Lakes Professor of Excellence in Marketing at the University of Minnesota. The award funds research collaboration between humanities and social science scholars in Germany and candidates from other countries, who are nominated by their colleagues at German universities and research institutions. Each award recipient is granted €250,000 to pursue their research interests.

Vohs was nominated by the Institute of Psychology at the University of Heidelberg for her influential research on self-regulation and experimental consumer psychology. In her time at the Russell Sage Foundation, Vohs is working in collaboration with Roy Baumeister to further develop a model of self-control as a limited resource. The two scholars are also researching the self-sufficiency theory of money, or the idea that money is a source of independence for people that has both negative and positive effects on their behavior.