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RSF Author Karl Alexander Discusses Racial and Socioeconomic Inequality in Baltimore

May 1, 2015

The death of 25-year-old Baltimore resident Freddie Gray in police custody has drawn renewed scrutiny to the ongoing problem of the excessive use of force by police in African American communities across the U.S. Gray’s death from spinal damage—likely caused in the back of the police van in which he was detained—led to days of protests in Baltimore, with repeated clashes between demonstrators and the police. Recently, Baltimore lead prosecutor Marilyn J. Mosby announced that the city would be pursuing homicide charges against the officers who had unlawfully arrested Gray.

Tensions between community members and the police have simmered for decades in West Baltimore, where Gray was stopped. An area with high rates of poverty, low life expectancies, and limited educational opportunities, West Baltimore was the site of a 25-year study on the persistence of racial and socioeconomic inequality conducted by Karl Alexander, Doris Entwisle, and Linda Olson. Their findings, presented in the RSF book The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth, and the Transition to Adulthood (2014), offer a detailed examination of the complex connections between socioeconomic origins and socioeconomic destinations of city residents. In their study, the authors traced the outcomes of almost 800 predominantly low-income Baltimore school children, and 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.

RSF Author Becky Pettit on the 1.5 Million “Missing” Black Men

April 22, 2015

A sobering new report in the New York Times reveals the disproportionate number of black men “missing” from their communities due to incarceration or early deaths. The Times found that black women between the ages of 25 to 54 who are not incarcerated outnumber black men in that category by 1.5 million. Furthermore, about 900,000 fewer black men than women are alive today due to high mortality rates caused by homicide, heart disease, and respiratory disease—conditions that afflict black men more than any other demographic group.

Topping the list of places with the highest proportion of these “missing” black men was Ferguson, Missouri, the site of the racially charged police shooting of Michael Brown last November. As the authors of the article put it, “More than one out of every six black men who today should be between 25 and 54 years old have disappeared from daily life.”

The Times quoted Russell Sage Foundation author Becky Pettit (University of Texas-Austin), who stated, “The numbers are staggering.” Her book Invisible Men: Mass Incarceration and the Myth of Black Progress, published in 2012 by the Russell Sage Foundation, explores the extent to which mass incarceration has excluded scores of black men from national surveys, thereby concealing decades of racial inequality. As Pettit shows, because prison inmates are not included in most survey data, statistics that seem to indicate a narrowing black-white racial gap—on educational attainment, work force participation, and earnings—instead fail to capture persistent racial, economic, and social disadvantage among African Americans.

New Reviews of RSF Books Unequal Time and The Long Shadow

February 25, 2015

Unequal Time, a 2014 RSF book by Dan Clawson and Naomi Gerstel, was recently reviewed by Matthew M. Piszczek in ILR Review: The Journal of Work and Policy. Piszczek praised the book as “an interesting and much-needed expansion on the conceptualization of work schedules that aptly recognizes the limitations of more typical perspectives.” In Unequal Time, Clawson and Gerstel the ways in which social inequalities permeate the workplace, reverberating through a web of time in which the schedules of one person shape the schedules of others in ways that exemplify and often exacerbate gender and class differences. Focusing on four occupations in the health sector—doctors, nurses, EMTs, and nursing assistants—the authors show how all of these workers experience the effects of schedule uncertainty but do so in very distinct ways, largely shaped by the intersection of gender and class.

As Piszcek points out in his review, the book deftly demonstrates how workplace scheduling is a collective, rather than individual, affair. He concludes, “I recommend this book for anyone interested in the broad area of gender and class in the workplace, but especially for those interested in moving forward the work schedule and working-time research domains.”

New Spring 2015 Books from RSF

February 5, 2015

Below is a first look at new and forthcoming books from the Foundation for Spring 2015. The list includes Beyond Obamacare, a major new analysis of how to reorient the broken health care system in the U.S.; The Asian American Achievement Paradox, an investigation of the “model minority” stereotype and why certain immigrant groups succeed; Too Many Children Left Behind, a comparative study across four countries of the socioeconomic achievement gap among grade-school children; and Gender and International Migration, a historical evaluation of the changes in gendered migration patterns over several centuries.

To request a printed copy of our Spring 2015 catalog, please contact Bruce Thongsack at bruce@rsage.org, or view the complete list of RSF books on our publications page.

RSF Research Backs Obama’s “Middle-Class Economics”

January 30, 2015

In his State of the Union address on January 20, President Obama introduced the idea of “middle-class economics.” Recounting the story of the Erlers, a Minneapolis family struggling to pay off student loans and recover from a stint of unemployment, Obama stressed the need to “restore the link between hard work and growing opportunity for every American.” Middle-class economics would entail more aid for working families such as a higher minimum wage, quality child care, access to higher education, and paid sick leave. These policies, he concluded, would support “the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, everyone plays by the same set of rules.”

A new article in the New York Times confirms that America’s middle class has, indeed, been floundering. Though most Americans continue to identify as middle class—and 60% of those believe that it is still possible for them to become rich—incomes have stagnated, leaving more and more families struggling to get by. The Times article cites RSF trustee Lawrence Katz, who observed that while those at the top of the income ladder have benefited from the economy’s slow recovery from the Great Recession, most middle-class workers have seen few economic gains. He noted, “You’ve got an iPhone now and a better TV, but your median income hasn’t changed. What’s really changed is the penthouse has become supernice.”

Dina Okamoto on the Construction of Panethnicity

January 20, 2015

The category “Asian American” currently encompasses more than forty-five Asian-origin groups, from countries ranging from Bangladesh to Vietnam to South Korea. How did one label come to include such a wide range of ethnicities, national origins, and languages, and represent individuals across vastly different social and economic standings? In Redefining Race, a new book from the Russell Sage Foundation, sociologist Dina G. Okamoto traces the complex evolution of “Asian American” as a cohesive identity, emphasizing how it has been a deliberate social achievement negotiated by group members, rather than an organic and inevitable process.

As Okamoto explains, a combination of broad social conditions in the post-Civil Rights era created an environment for Asian American panethnicity to develop. While the expansion of immigration policies in the 1960s allowed greater numbers of Asian immigrants into the U.S., these new immigrant groups were subsequently subject to racial discrimination by the state and larger society. At the same time, movements led by African Americans, women, and students provided Asian groups with models for political organizing and sparked the push for greater political representation among minorities. These conditions laid the groundwork for a collective identity among Asian immigrants of different ethnicities:

Andrew Cherlin on Income Inequality and the Marriage Gap

December 12, 2014

A new RSF book by Johns Hopkins sociologist Andrew Cherlin, Labor’s Love Lost, provides an in-depth historical assessment of the rise and fall of working-class families in America. While industrial occupations were once plentiful and sustained middle-class families, they have all but vanished over the past forty years. As Cherlin shows, in their absence, ever-growing numbers of young adults now hold precarious, low-paid jobs with few fringe benefits. Facing such insecure economic prospects, less-educated young adults are increasingly forgoing marriage and are having children within unstable cohabiting relationships. This has created a large marriage gap between them and their more affluent, college-educated peers.

In a review of Labor’s Love Lost for TIME, Belinda Luscombe notes, “What Cherlin finds that this is not the first time that there has been a wide disparity between the marital fortunes of the rich and the poor: the situation looked similar during the last Gilded Age. Inequality in bank accounts and in marital status go hand in hand.” As the graph below shows, marriage disparities widen in times of significant income inequality:


Source: New York Times

RSF Authors Discuss Obama’s Executive Order on Immigration

November 25, 2014

On November 21, President Obama delivered an historic executive order to protect 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. “Today,” he stated, “our immigration system is broken, and everybody knows it.” Citing the ongoing political deadlock in Congress as a major barrier to the implementation of meaningful immigration reform, the president announced a set of actions designed to grant temporary relief from deportation to undocumented parents of US-born children, high-skilled immigrant workers and graduate students, and others.

Several RSF authors and immigration experts participated in a recent roundtable discussion on The Conversation about the executive order, which has drawn fire from Republican leaders. Katharine Donato, co-author of the forthcoming RSF publication Gender and International Migration (2015), applauded the president for taking “action that many families have desperately needed.” She continued, “Most of us don’t understand how damaging the fear of deportation is. But for the last two decades, many immigrant parents—with children who are US citizens—have lived with this very real fear every day.”

Diversity and Disparities: Residential Segregation by Income

November 6, 2014

Diversity and Disparities, edited by sociologist John Logan, assembles impressive new studies that interpret the population, labor market, and housing market changes in the U.S. over the last decade. The book, now available for free download in its entirety from the Russell Sage Foundation, raises concerns about the extent of socioeconomic immobility in the United States today, showing how the U.S.—while more diverse than ever before—has also witnessed a significant rise in economic inequality. Drawing on detailed data from the decennial census, the American Community Survey, and other sources, the leading social scientists featured in the book chart the deepening disparities among different groups in the U.S.

In their chapter on residential segregation, Kendra Bischoff and Sean F. Reardon explore the rise of class segregation within racial groups as higher-income Americans move away from others into separate and privileged neighborhoods and communities. They find that since the 1970s, black and Hispanic families have lived in increasingly income-segregated communities. As the graph below shows, four decades ago, income segregation among African Americans in metropolitan areas was lower than that of other racial groups. By 2009, it had risen to the highest—65% greater than that of white families:

Unequal Time Featured in NBC News, the Guardian, and Elsewhere

November 3, 2014

A new Russell Sage Foundation book, Unequal Time, has gained significant press coverage over the past few weeks, including profiles in The Nation and Slate, and op-eds by authors Dan Clawson and Naomi Gerstel in The Guardian and The American Prospect. In their book, Clawson and Gerstel illustrate how social inequalities permeate the workplace and exacerbate differences between men and women, the privileged and disadvantaged. They investigate the connected schedules of four health sector occupations: professional doctors and nurses, and working-class EMTs and nursing assistants. Though these workers all experience schedule uncertainty, they do so in distinct ways that vary by gender and class.

In a Q&A with NBC News, Clawson noted, “The thing about health care is that there has to be someone on duty all the time. You can’t have a nurse walk off and have the patients not covered for an hour. That’s uncontroversial, but the way that plays out is unequal by gender and class, and it’s absolutely unsustainable for the lives of low wage workers and women.”

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