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RSF Review

RSF Review

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.

Working Paper: Immigrant Assimilation into U.S. Prisons, 1900-1930

June 6, 2013

With the Foundation's support, Carolyn Moehling and Anne Morrison Piehl have released a working paper on historical patterns of immigrant incarceration. Here is the abstract:

The analysis of a new dataset on state prisoners in the 1900 to 1930 censuses reveals that immigrants rapidly assimilated to native incarceration patterns. One feature of these data is that the second generation can be identified, allowing direct analysis of this group and allowing their exclusion from calculations of comparison rates for the “native” population. Although adult new arrivals were less likely than natives to be incarcerated, this likelihood was increasing with their years in the U.S. The foreign born who arrived as children and second generation immigrants had slightly higher rates of incarceration than natives of native parentage, but these differences disappear after controlling for nativity differences in urbanicity and occupational status. Finally, while the incarceration rates of new arrivals differ significantly by source country, patterns of assimilation are very similar.

Unauthorized Mexican Migration and the Socioeconomic Integration of Mexican Americans

June 5, 2013

Our U.S. 2010 project has published a new report that documents the origins, extent, and consequences of unauthorized migration status for the offspring of Mexican immigrants in the United States. In particular, it also assess the implications of unauthorized status for educational attainment, among both the migrants themselves and their children (including those born in the United States) and grandchildren. You can read the full report below.

Unauthorized Mexican Migration and the Socioeconomic Integration of Mexican Americans by Russell Sage Foundation

The Decline of Bipartisan Campaign Contributions Among Elite Individual Donors

Jen Heerwig , New York University
May 30, 2013

One of the most pressing questions facing social scientists is how rising material inequality has manifested itself in the political process. In contrast to other rich democracies, the United States lacks a system of public financing for its federal elections. Thus, the system of campaign finance is one of the most significant ways that material inequalities affect our democracy. Wealthy individual and organized interests continually 'vote with dollars' before most Americans make it to the ballot box. As the cost of American elections has escalated, candidates for office have become ever more dependent on these donors.

At the same time as money has grown to play a bigger role in our elections, the policy positions of the two major political parties have diverged dramatically. Political scientists Nolan McCarty, Keith Poole, and Howard Rosenthal have developed a standardized measure of how far apart the two major political parties are based on the roll call histories of members of Congress. These scores show that, since the early 1980s, the parties have moved apart rapidly. In fact, the two parties are now farther apart from each other than at any other time since Reconstruction when the nation struggled to unify in the wake of the Civil War. The distance between the parties has been driven, in large part, by the sharp rightward shift of the Republican Party. You can see the overall trend toward polarization in the figure below, which plots the distance measures since 1879.

What explains this dramatic shift in American politics? Many observers of American politics have pointed to the system of campaign finance and the role of corporations—and their fundraising organizations called corporate political action committees (PACs)—as playing a crucial part in this transformation. But, in fact, the available evidence on corporate PACs suggests that they have largely continued to support both political parties through their campaign contributions, rather than lining up behind one party to advance an agenda. Corporate PACs, in sum, have remained what social scientists have broadly referred to as “pragmatic” contributors—they continue to donate to secure access to important members of Congress, rather than to pursue ideological goals.

New Census Research on a Changing America

May 23, 2013

Over the past four years, the Russell Sage Foundation's U.S. 2010 project has sponsored high-quality, peer-reviewed research on key social and economic trends in American life revealed by the 2010 census and related national surveys. The results of this initiative are now available on our U.S. 2010 website, which includes two main resources:

This chart, taken from Edward N. Wolff's report on Americans' personal wealth, shows that the median net worth fell a staggering 47 percent between 2007 and 2010. It is an example of the rich variety of indicators and research available on the U.S. 2010 website.

Lotteries and the Poor

May 20, 2013

Someone in a small Florida town has the winning ticket for the largest Powerball jackpot in history—nearly $600 million. The prize has reignited the debate over lotteries, which produce much-needed revenue for state governments by encouraging, as critics argue, a form of gambling. At ThinkProgress, Bryce Covert argues that lotteries amount to a regressive tax, as poor people are more likely to purchase tickets than wealthier citizens:

[Poor people] spend a larger percentage of their income on the lottery, and many studies of state lotteries have found that low-income Americans account for most of the sales and that sales are highest in the poorest areas. One study found that a reason for this is that “lotteries set off a vicious cycle that not only exploits low-income individuals’ desires to escape poverty but also directly prevents them from improving upon their financial situations.” The loss in income of buying tickets that provide no reward is harder to bear on a slim budget.

Covert offers the standard explanation for lottery ticket purchases among the poor -- the cost of the ticket seems to be a small price to pay for the possible chance to "escape poverty." In a chapter for our book, Insufficient Funds, however, economists Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir suggest that the reality may be more complicated: