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New York Times and TIME Magazine Discuss New RSF Research

July 29, 2014

The New York Times and TIME magazine recently covered a new study by Fabian T. Pfeffer, Sheldon Danziger, and Robert Schoeni, released as part of the Russell Sage Foundation’s Recession Trends collaboration with the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality. In the study, the authors explore the extent to which the Great Recession altered the level and distribution of American families’ wealth. Their research concludes that for typical American households, net worth fell by about a third between 2003 and 2013. Yet, as Anna Bernasek notes in the NYT, “The Russell Sage study also examined net worth at the 95th percentile. (For households at that level, 95 percent of the population had less wealth.) It found that for this well-do-do slice of the population, household net worth increased 14 percent over the same 10 years.” In other words, the study uncovers not just the losses sustained by American households during the Recession, but also the troubling and still-growing increase in wealth inequality in the U.S.

The New York Times also recently highlighted new research by Andrew Cherlin, a former Visiting Scholar and the author of Labor’s Love Lost (to be published by the Russell Sage Foundation in December 2014). In his forthcoming book, Cherlin offers a new historical assessment of the rise and fall of working-class families in America, demonstrating how momentous social and economic transformations have contributed to the collapse of this once-stable social class and what this seismic cultural shift means for the nation’s future. As Cherlin explained to the Times, in the 50s and 60, most working class families were sustained by a male breadwinner. But the collapse of industrial blue-collar jobs and the increase in the number of women in the workforce have eroded this family structure.

Legacies of the War on Poverty Panel at ASA

July 28, 2014

A panel session at the upcoming American Sociological Association (ASA) will feature a discussion of the 2014 Russell Sage Foundation publication, Legacies of the War on Poverty, co-edited by RSF president Sheldon Danziger and Martha J. Bailey (University of Michigan). The book—published on the fiftieth anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s declaration of an unconditional war on poverty—evaluates the success of the anti-poverty programs established during Johnson’s administration, many of which still form the basis of the social safety net in the U.S. today.

While some accounts portray the War on Poverty as a costly experiment that failed, the contributors featured in Legacies draw from fifty years of empirical evidence to show that this view is too simplistic and document many ways that War on Poverty programs improved the educational attainment, incomes and health of the poor and the elderly.

The panelists at the upcoming ASA talk are Legacies co-editor Sheldon Danziger and contributors Kathleen McGarry (UCLA) and Harry Holzer (Georgetown), in conversation with David B. Grusky (Stanford).

The Long Shadow in the News

July 1, 2014

In The Long Shadow, a new book published by the Russell Sage Foundation, sociologists Karl Alexander, Doris Entwisle, and Linda Olsen present new and sobering findings on the life opportunities of low-income children in west Baltimore. For 25 years, the authors tracked the life progress of a group of almost 800 predominantly low-income Baltimore school children through the Beginning School Study Youth Panel (BSSYP). The study monitored the children’s transitions to young adulthood with special attention to how opportunities available to them as early as first grade shaped their socioeconomic status as adults.

Several new articles on inequality in the U.S. cite Alexander, Entwisle, and Olsen’s original research. At Colorlines, Kai Wright’s comprehensive overview of unemployment and African American men uses the authors’ Baltimore study to explore the shortcomings of education as the sole path out of poverty. As The Long Shadow finds, education primarily enhanced the privileges of those who were already middle-class, rather than boosting up poor children. While many low-income youth profiled in the Baltimore study pursued higher education, only 4% had earned a bachelor’s degree by age 28, due to barriers such as the cost of college and family obligations. As Wright notes, The Long Shadow further shows that black men in the study were penalized more for “problem behaviors”—including dropping out of school and getting arrested—than their white counterparts. In other words, race and class interact closely to limit poor Baltimoreans’ life opportunities.

Neighborhood Segregation and the Concentration of Poverty

June 17, 2014

A new book from the Foundation, Choosing Homes, Choosing Schools (2014), examines the complex relationships between schools, neighborhood social networks, and larger patterns of inequality in order to offer new perspectives on the way that residential segregation continues to affect access to education.

In his chapter, “Segregation, Neighborhoods, and Schools,” public policy scholar Paul Jargowsky (Rutgers University-Camden) traces shifts in residential segregation over the last four decades, along both class and racial lines. He assesses the extent to which race drives class segregation, and vice versa, and finds that though a small amount of racial segregation is due to poverty status—and a larger amount of segregation by class is due to race—both largely work independently of each other to shape residential segregation.

Private Equity at Work: New Book Examines Private Equity’s Role in the U.S. Economy & Labor Market

May 15, 2014

As private equity's largest buyout in history enters bankruptcy proceedings and the SEC investigates questionable industry practices, the Russell Sage Foundation announces the publication of Private Equity at Work: When Wall Street Manages Main Street. This book is the first comprehensive examination of the private equity industry and its effect on the U.S. economy. Co-authored by economist Eileen Appelbaum of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and professor Rosemary Batt of Cornell University, Private Equity at Work explores the history, economic performance, and positive and negative consequences of private equity leveraged buyouts.

The book offers a new, original analysis of how private equity firms are affecting jobs and the sustainability of companies in a slow economic recovery. It also draws on extensive research to explain how the private equity business model creates incentives for excessive use of debt, putting healthy companies and their workers at risk. While demonstrating the constructive effects that some private equity firms have had, the book's research debunks commonly held myths about the industry and provides a nuanced analysis of private equity's contribution to economic inequality and unemployment. It also offers critical insights into policies that improve transparency, increase accountability and curb the negative effects of private equity.

Fairness and Punishment Across Human Societies

May 6, 2014

Experimenting with Social Norms, edited by Jean Ensminger and Joseph Henrich, compiles and synthesizes a rich combination of experimental and ethnographic findings from an international team of anthropologists and economists aimed at investigating the tensions between cooperation and self-interest across diverse human societies. How do societies manage to solve problems collectively, enticing individuals to forego their own narrow short-term economic interests in a way that benefits the whole group, and fosters mutually beneficial exchange? And furthermore, how does the decision to subordinate one’s self-interests for the larger group—or what Ensminger and Henrich call prosocial behavior—vary among different societies based on locally acquired social norms and motivations?

Using experimental economics games, this team examined levels of fairness, cooperation, and norms for punishing those who violate expectations of equality across a diverse swath of societies, from hunter-gatherers in Tanzania to a small town in rural Missouri. The researchers employed the following games to assess each group’s level of prosociality:

Dictator Game
Two players from the same community, interacting anonymously, are given a sum of money equivalent to one day’s wages to split. Player 1, assigned to be the “dictator,” decides how to allocate the money between the two players. Both players receive the actual amounts of money that Player 1 “dictates.” In Europe and the U.S. a fifty-fifty split is considered a “fair” outcome.

Ultimatum Game
This version of the dictator game adds an ultimatum: Though Player 1 decides how to allocate the money, Player 2 may reject the offer—in which case, neither party receives anything. The behavior of Player 1 in this scenario has elements of both fairness and strategy, while the behavior of Player 2 in this game captures the price that people are willing to pay to punish Player 1 for what they perceive to be an unfair offer. The willingness to punish an anonymous partner for unfairness, at a personal monetary cost, can be interpreted as prosocial behavior because this punishment may alter Player 1’s future interactions with other group members.

Third-Party Punishment Game
In this experiment, two people play the Dictator Game with the addition of a third anonymous player— endowed with an amount of money equivalent to half the amount given to the first two players—who has the option of using any part of his or her money to punish Player 1 for making an unfair offer to Player 2. Unlike the Ultimatum Game, in the Third-Party Punishment Game, the person paying a price to do the punishing is not the injured party.

New RSF Book Reviews in March Issue of Contemporary Sociology

March 27, 2014

A number of Russell Sage Foundation publications were featured in the March issue of Contemporary Sociology. Below are synopses of the books reviewed.

Family Consequences of Children’s Disabilities
By Dennis Hogan

The first comprehensive account of families of children with disabilities, Hogan’s book examines the financial and emotional costs of raising a child with a disability. Reviewer Gary Albrecht (University of Illinois at Chicago) states, “This volume sets a standard for accessible, contemporary scholarship which will appeal to researchers, students, and the general public alike.” He notes that “like much research with an edge,” Hogan’s work is informed by his own experiences—in this case, growing up with a disabled sibling. Family Consequences of Children’s Disabilities further employs data culled from seven national surveys and interviews with twenty-four mothers of children with disabilities, asking them questions about their family life, social supports, and how other children in the home were faring. As Albrecht concludes, “This is a thought-provoking book that confirms some common sense notions with data but surprises with analyses of the fine texture of family structure and relationships.”

Click here to read more about the book or purchase a copy.

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.

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.

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