RSF-Funded Research on the COVID-19 Pandemic

In spring 2020, RSF announced new research priorities focused on the many effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on social, political, or economic conditions in the U.S. Between 2021 and 2022, RSF funded 50 grants on the COVID-19 pandemic across all RSF program areas, about 31% of all projects funded during that period. Eight grants were co-funded by the JPB foundation (marked with an * before the PI’s name) and the five Pipeline Grants were funded in collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Grantees include economists, education scholars, historians, law scholars, political scientists, psychologists, public policy scholars, and sociologists. 

Grantees have examined the effects of the pandemic on financial wellbeing; the effectiveness of government initiatives; the consequences for social and economic inequalities; residential mobility patterns; the labor market; employment trends and the unemployment insurance system; the wellbeing of racial/ethnic minorities and immigrants; civic and political engagement; educational opportunities and engagement; as well as disparities in pandemic aid distribution, among other effects.

As the first grants began in December 2020, most are still ongoing and have no yet produced publications. To date, the grantees have produced seven journal articles, two journal submissions under review, several working papers and other reports, and one forthcoming book.

Below we present these grant details: authors, titles, program, grant period, amount, abstract, and publications and work in progress, when available. Grants are presented in reverse chronological order.

Jeremy Reynolds, Purdue University. Gig Work and the Pandemic: Were Bad Jobs Good During the COVID-19 Crisis? (Program: Future of Work; Grant Period: 7/1/2022-6/30/2023; $29,135)
Abstract: In the COVID-19 pandemic, millions lost their jobs, but some forms of gig work thrived. Did gig work help people avoid financial hardship when wage and salary work disappeared? We will examine this issue using a panel survey that tracked a sample of workers on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform (MTurk) through February, March, and April of 2020. We will examine the “pandemic pivot”: changes in the number hours MTurk workers spent on gig, wage-salary, and other work. We will also examine if gig work on this large platform provided people with extra financial security. By focusing on differences by gender, education, and other axes of inequality, the project will examine how emerging technologies, alternative work arrangements, and the interplay of market and non-market forces shape worker well being. It will also examine the consequences of COVID-19 for labor markets and inequality.

*Hilary Hoynes and Jesse Rothstein, University of California, Berkeley. Measuring the disparate effects of using the tax system to distribute pandemic aid (Program: Social, Political, and Economic Inequality; Grant Period: 1/1/2022-12/31/2023; $174,443)
Abstract: Policymakers relied heavily on the tax system to distribute direct payments, in the form of anti-poverty tax credits, as a response to COVID-19. These credits lifted millions out of poverty but can only do so if families actually receive them by filing their taxes. Very low-income families may not receive these benefits because they are not required to file taxes. We will examine whether reliance on the tax system to distribute aid during the pandemic may have perpetuated existing economic inequalities. We will use the only known person-level linkage social safety net enrollment and tax filing administrative data to analyze disparities in receipt by race, ethnicity, immigration status, and income in California. We will also use administrative data to measure who was lifted out of poverty due to anti-poverty tax credits prior to and during the pandemic, along with shifts in poverty disparities among subgroups.

William Bianco, Indiana University, Bloomington, Rachel Blum, University of Oklahoma, and Joshua McCrain, Michigan State University. Representation, Responsiveness, and COVID-19 (Program: Social, Political, and Economic Inequality; Grant Period: 1/1/2022- 12/31/2023; $138,832)
Abstract: This study, resting on original data and a multilevel modeling strategy, brings together broad literatures on legislative strategies and member-constituent linkages to understand how models of responsiveness and accountability are shaped by the political crisis of polarization, preexisting inequalities, and the economic and health crises wrought by the COVID pandemic. Our work paints a more complex and nuanced picture of the politics of the federal response to this national crisis. First, this analysis will show if partisan divisions mask broader variation in district constituencies. Second, we show the variation in aid across relief packages, demonstrate how different legislative instruments directed relief toward different social groups, and determine whether different packages generated significant and unanticipated variation in benefits delivery within parties and across communities.

*Daisy Reyes, University of California, Merced. How College-Graduate Latinx MillennialsAre Faring After the COVID-19 Pandemic (Program: Social, Political, and Economic Inequality; Grant Period: 1/1/2022-12/31/2023; $47,574)
Abstract: First-generation college-going millennial Latinx students from low and middle-income families continued to attend college and graduate in hopes of achieving mobility by following the promised path of attaining a college-degree during and after the Great Recession. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit also disproportionately affecting Latinx communities that had a higher death rate, residents more likely to work essential jobs, and more likely to face unemployment than other groups. How has the pandemic affected the mobility trajectories of these Latinx millennials who were already struggling with student loan burdens, rising costs of housing, and providing monetary transfers to their parents? To investigate this, I will conduct follow up interviews with 61 Latinx millennial college graduates to explore how their tenuous economic mobility was affected by the pandemic.

Supreet Kaur and Mahesh Srinivasan, University of California, Berkeley. Poverty and Parental Engagement (Program: Social, Political, and Economic Inequality; Grant Period: 1/1/2022-12/31/2023; $34,675)
Abstract: Differences in academic achievement between high and low socioeconomic status (SES) children arise at a very early age. We test the idea that the psychological experience of poverty leads parents to engage less with their young children, hampering early child development. We focus on parent-child verbal interaction, which differ markedly by SES in observational data, and are the most prominent proxy for parental engagement. We use a cash transfer intervention among households in Oakland, CA and apply natural language processing to detailed three week-long audio recording data from inside the household—providing novel insight into the black box of family dynamics. We also test and validate measurement tools for psychological pathways (e.g., rumination, stress, and affect). The pilot will involve 100 low-income, predominantly minority households — populations whose financial strain has been elevated by the economic fallout of the COVID-19 recession.

Anastassia Fedyk, University of California, Berkeley. Understanding and Mitigating the Impact of Pandemics on Jobs: Is COVID-19 Speeding up Automation? (Program: Future of Work; Grant Period: 12/1/2021-11/30/2022; $48,986)
Abstract: Will COVID-19 have lasting implications for the future of work? Using comprehensive data on job postings and hundreds of millions of individual resumes, we will explore how the systemic shock from the COVID-19 pandemic is interacting with longer-term trends in technology adoption and automation. As social distancing prompts large-scale layoffs at otherwise healthy firms, automation and AI can help sustain operations in struggling firms. But will this translate into long-term adverse effects on employment? A core question is whether firms are maintaining similar teams/skills or re-evaluating how the work itself is achieved leading to increased automation, more efficient modern processes, yet potentially long-lasting job losses. Our research team is ideally positioned to address this question due to our unique data, as well as our past and ongoing work developing methods for identifying granular patterns of automation across the full landscape of public and private firms.

*Chandra Muller, University of Texas at Austin, and April Sutton, University of California, San Diego. Education and Financial Vulnerability across the Adult Life Course during the COVID-19 Pandemic (Program: Social, Political, and Economic Inequality; Grant Period: 9/1/2021-8/31/2023; $158,819)
Abstract: This project investigates the effects of education on the financial health of women and men across life stages during the COVID-19 crisis. Data are from four panel studies of Secondary Longitudinal Studies Program (SLSP) (N~=90,000), which include survey data from high school to early adulthood and high school and college transcripts, linked to monthly Experian indicators of consumer credit behavior before and during the pandemic. We will investigate the extent to which educational attainment, cognitive skills, and stratified educational pathways predict men’s and women’s financial health before and during the COVID-19 crisis. In addition, we will analyze whether modifications to mortgage and student loan payments mitigated financial distress across education levels and life stages. This research has potential implications for policies on loan forbearance during economic disruptions and for educational policy by pinpointing which education resources mattered most during the crisis.

*Breno Braga and Signe-Mary McKernan, Urban Institute. Consequences of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Financial Well-Being Disparities and the Effectiveness of State Initiatives to Protect Vulnerable Communities (Program: Social, Political, and Economic Inequality; Grant Period: 9/1/2021-8/31/2023; $149,601)
Abstract: In 2019, 68 million Americans had debt in collections, with a much higher share in financial distress living in communities of color. The number of people unable to fulfill their financial obligations is expected to increase in the wake of the pandemic, with the most vulnerable populations suffering the most. To protect the most disadvantaged, many states have implemented emergency measures, such as suspensions on foreclosures and limitations on collection activities. Using unique credit record data, we aim to answer two questions: 1) How have disparities in financial well-being changed in the wake of the pandemic? 2) To what extent have state policies protected vulnerable communities during the pandemic or exacerbated pre-COVID inequities? To answer these questions, we will use 9 waves of credit bureau data on about 5.5 million adults. We investigate how disparities in financial well-being changed post-COVID and across states that implemented or not protective measures.

Lawrence Berger and J. Michael Collins, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Meta Brown, Rachel Dwyer and Stephanie Moulton, Ohio State University, and Jason Houle, Dartmouth College. Inequalities in Financial Coping During the COVID-19 Crisis: New Insights from Linked Credit Report, Alternative Financial Service, and State Administrative Data (Program: Social, Political, and Economic Inequality; Grant Period: 9/1/2021-8/31/2023; $170,575)
Abstract: The COVID-19 epidemic and ensuing economic crisis have exacerbated economic vulnerabilities. While research has focused on employment and income loss, attention to financial coping, access to credit, and consumer debt has been scant. Yet, income losses may lead to borrowing, potentially through high-cost mechanisms. We will build a longitudinal ‘big data’ system to study inequalities in financial coping strategies by linking a national sample of consumer credit profiles, alternative financial services use data, and state social welfare policy data for the nation, as well as linking credit and alternative financial services data to individual level administrative data for the populations of Wisconsin and Ohio. We will then examine trends in inequalities in financial coping strategies in the wake of the pandemic and how unemployment and other social welfare benefits, financial market regulations, and lender practices may buffer or exacerbate indebtedness for low-income families.

Patricia Cortes, Boston University, Jessica Pan, National University of Singapore, Basit Zafar, University of Michigan, and Gizem Kosar, Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Unintended Benefits of COVID-19? Impacts on Job Flexibility and the Gender Pay Gap (Program: Future of Work; Grant Period: 8/1/2021-7/31/2023; $151,559)
Abstract: This project proposes to study the extent and mechanisms through which the COVID-19 shock results in sustained changes in workplace flexibility in the labor market in the short to medium-term (one to three years after the pandemic) using specially designed surveys and experiments conducted during and after the pandemic. The specific questions that we seek to answer include: (a) To what extent did COVID-19 lead to an increase in the prevalence of working from home and hours flexibility in the workplace in the short/medium-term? How did the effects vary across workers of different skill-levels and across occupations? (b) What are the mechanisms underlying the effect of COVID-19 on the incidence of workplace flexibility in the labor market? How did it affect worker’s preferences for telecommuting and hours flexibility and do these effects vary by gender in the short to medium-term?

Charissa Cheah and Shuyan Sun, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and Cixin Wang and Janelle S. Wong, University of Maryland. Racial Discrimination, Identity, Socialization and Civic Engagement among Asian American Families during COVID-19 (Program: Race, Ethnicity, Immigration; Grant Period: 8/1/2021-7/31/2023; $175,000)
Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered intensified discrimination targeting racial-ethnic minority Asian American families overlaying an enduring context of historical and systemic racism, and created a unique and urgent need to understand key developmental, social-psychological, and sociopolitical processes. We aim to examine the shared and unique impacts of the racialization of this virus through the effects of COVID-19 racial discrimination on Chinese, Korean, and Filipino American parents and adolescents dyads (N=300 per group) and its consequences for their identity, and civic attitudes and behaviors at two time points across two years. The protective role of parents’ engagement in civic engagement socialization practices with their adolescents will also be assessed. A convergent mixed-method longitudinal design will be used to examine these complex bidirectional processes through surveys (total N = 900 dyads) and interviews (N = 120 adolescents).

Alexandrea Ravenelle, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Work in the Time of COVID-19, A Panel Study on Precarious Workers (Program: Future of Work; Grant Period: 8/1/2021-7/31/2023; $49,940)
Abstract: Americans with fewer resources are not able to prepare well for natural disasters and are less able to recover from them, yet little is known about the impact of a worldwide pandemic, followed by a severe recession, on precarious workers. The proposed project is the third phase of a mixed-methods panel study that utilizes in-depth interviews and surveys with 200 precarious and gig workers in New York City. This project examines the impact of the coronavirus pandemic in exacerbating the existing vulnerability of precarious workers and provides a unique opportunity to study the social, physical, and economic impact of the pandemic on precarious workers during the outbreak, and their experiences with the economic fallout in real-time.

Spencer Headworth, Purdue University. The Repo Pandemic: Cars, Collections, and the Socioeconomic Fallout of COVID-19 (Program: Social, Political, and Economic Inequality; Grant Period: 7/1/2021-6/30/2022; $21,500)
Abstract: Repossessions are the formal mechanism through which creditors seize private automobiles. Vehicles typically constitute households’ most valuable movable property, and in most parts of the country, they are essential to households’ income-earning capacity. This constitutes a paradox: when people do not pay their bills, their vehicles are repossessed, which in turn creates a new obstacle to financial solvency. The proposed project draws on ethnographic observations of repossession agents at work and interviews with both repossession agents and repossession targets. It addresses these questions: (1) How are new technologies shaping repossession? (2) How does repossession affect present and future socioeconomic disadvantage? (3) What can vehicle repossession teach us about the socioeconomic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, and how can those findings inform our preparations for and responses to future crises?

Marci Ybarra, Angela Garcia, and Yanilda Gonzalez, University of Chicago. Before and After COVID-19: The Well-Being of Racialized and Immigrant Chicagoans (Program: Race, Ethnicity, Immigration; Grant Period: 7/1/2021-6/30/2022; $34,736)
Abstract: We seek to analyze two waves of interviews with 196 marginalized Chicagoans, including undocumented immigrants and low-income Black and Latinx citizens. A Presidential Authority Award will support analysis of these interviews and dissemination of our findings, allowing us to provide evidence to key stakeholders on the impact of the pandemic among the most affected groups, offer critical and timely guidance to stem the spread of COVID-19, and identify interventions to address the Pandemic’s adverse socioeconomic effects.

Jack DeWaard, University of Minnesota. COVID-19 and U.S. internal migration across the urban-rural continuum. (Program: Future of Work; Grant Period: 7/1/2021-6/30/2023; $31,290)
Abstract: There is an emerging and growing interest in patterns of internal migration during COVID-19. However, there is a dearth of suitable data on and analyses of these migration patterns. This project will use the Federal Reserve System/Equifax Consumer Credit Panel to study internal migration in near real time up to the most recent month. These data will be used to answer six research questions on: 1) levels of and changes in migration during COVID-19, 2) spatial heterogeneity in out-migration across the urban-rural continuum (URC), 3) variation in migration flows across places of origin and destination in the URC, 4) variation in migration flows across places of origin and destination, cross-classified by geographic distance, in the URC, 5) return migration, and 6) further cross-classification of the above by income and race.

*Alford Young, Jr. and Earl Lewis, University of Michigan. The Dignity of Fragile Essential Work in a Pandemic: Perspectives of African American Employees on Race, Respect, and Relations at Work (Program: Future of Work; Grant Period: 6/1/2021-5/31/2023; $121,402)
Abstract: Our aim is to conduct an empirical study of lower-tier workers in the following employment sectors (food service workers, gig drivers, grocery and retail workers, and health care assistants). Our focus is on employees who were identified in the state of Michigan as essential workers, but who lack the credentials, certifications, and educational backgrounds of essential workers who maintain white-collar professional status. These individuals hold jobs that are classified as minimally-skilled. We aspire to explore and assess their value orientation to the kind of work that they do. Included here is attention to what they consider to be the social utility of their work in what is becoming a vastly more technologically inclined world of work. This project involves a preliminary subjective exploration of the meaning attached to forms of work that increasingly fall below the bar of what is considered to be higher-tier employment in the modern age.

Elora Raymond, Georgia Institute of Technology, Lauren Sudeall, Georgia State University, and Phil Garboden, University of Hawai’i. Preserving Rental Housing Stability during Disasters: An Examination of Eviction Moratoria during the COVID19 Pandemic (Program: Social, Political, and Economic Inequality; Grant Period: 6/1/2021-5/31/2023; $167,194)
Abstract: When housing systems are affected by disasters, these disruptions can prolong recovery and exacerbate existing racial and spatial inequalities. We seek to examine the impact of COVID19 emergency eviction moratoria and emergency rental assistance on housing stability, and on the disparate burden of housing instability by race and ethnicity. We are interested in examining how differences in policy design affect the formal evictions and racial and ethnic disparities in eviction and housing stability. We create two novel datasets in this project, including a survey of county court processing of eviction cases, and case-level eviction data joined with parcel-level data on land ownership, land use, and mortgage/foreclosure characteristics. In addition to our quasi-experimental quantitative analysis, we propose to examine potential mechanisms through semi-structured interviews with rental property managers.

Jonathan Nagler, Joshua A. Tucker, and Richard Bonneau, New York University. The Impact of Covid-19 Pronouncements and Policies on Attitudes towards Policies and Political Actors (Program: Social, Political, and Economic Inequality; Grant Period: 6/1/2021-5/31/2023; $138,288)
Abstract: We propose examining how the public updates their opinions of the seriousness of COVID-19, as well as their opinions on the efficacy of restrictions on social and economic activity, based on pronouncements from three sources: President Trump, their state’s governor, and media outlets. We consider how those responses are contingent on partisan or ideological alignment with the source of information. We also examine their views of inequalities arising or made evident by the Pandemic. Taking advantage of a unique dataset—SMaPP’s panel of tweets by a set of 1.4 million random respondents in the United States—we will be able to trace the evolution of opinion on the crisis for different individuals over time. This data allows us to draw conclusions about human behavior that would be impossible by other means. The data is granular, allowing us to exploit moment-to-moment variation in elite communication and mass response that would be prohibitively expensive with a traditional panel survey.

Nuria Rodriguez-Planas and Rafael de Balanzo Joue, Queens College, CUNY. Emergency Relief Fund for Undocumented and Low-Income Students: Evidence from CUNY, the Public University System in New York City (Program: Immigration and Immigrant Integration; Grant Period: 5/1/2021-4/30/2023; $169,756)
Abstract: This project analyzes the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on two vulnerable student populations: (1) students who were pursuing their studies at the City University of New York (CUNY), the public university system at NYC; and (2) 25,000 CUNY students who qualified to receive the Chancellor’s Emergency Relief (CER) grant, a $500 lottery-based grant targeted to undocumented or low-income students. First, we document the financial and personal burdens faced by these students during the pandemic and trace the medium-run consequences of the pandemic on their economic well-being and academic performance. Second, we evaluate the causal impact of the CER grant. Third, using resilience theory, we explore how the pandemic has transformed students’ perceptions of the challenges their communities face and identify bottom-up visions for city-policy analysis.

*Nathan Kelly and Jana Morgan, University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Racial Inequality, Pandemic, and Democracy: COVID-19 and Unequal Citizenship in Times of Crisis (Program: Social, Political, and Economic Inequality; Grant Period: 5/1/2021-10/31/2022; $37,630)
Abstract: The core questions motivating this study are: 1) How does encountering structural inequality influence the ways people across the hierarchy think about the democratic system, the processes, and outcomes it produces, and their place in it? 2) To what extent do government actions that combat or reproduce these inequalities operate as antidote or accelerant to the consequences of marginalization? The pandemic represents a context in which structural inequalities are concrete and readily perceived. Recognizing the relevance of structural disparities in the pandemic, the project utilizes a new survey experiment to gain insight into the ways that exposure to structural inequalities and the policy response to these inequalities affect how people think about democratic processes and their outcomes, both for those situated at the bottom of entrenched hierarchies and across society as a whole.

Matthew Desmond, Princeton University, and Peter Hepburn, Rutgers University. Eviction in the Aftermath of COVID-19 (Program: Social, Political, and Economic Inequality; Grant Period: 4/1/2021-3/31/2022; $124,812)
Abstract: COVID-19 has the potential to exacerbate an ongoing housing crisis in the United States. The nation’s most severe public health emergency in a century could lead to a massive surge in eviction, displacement, and homelessness. This, in turn, will only deepen the current public health crisis both in the short-term, by denying people the ability to shelter in place, and the long-term, as inadequate and unstable housing is a leading social determinant of poor health. In this project we pursue two goals: (1) expand and maintain the Eviction Tracking System, a novel tool that we have developed for monitoring eviction filings across the country, and (2) carry out two research projects that will offer critical insights into the extent of housing insecurity and the efficacy of policy responses aimed at protecting renters.

Dan Ariely, Duke University and Ashley Whillans, Harvard University. Applying Behavioral Science to Improve Remote Working (Program: Future of Work; Grant Period: 4/1/2021-3/31/2022; $117,604)
Abstract: Employment has been drastically altered by COVID-19. It is imperative that those are able continue working remotely even as post-pandemic reintegration begins. In the future, successful models of remote working can be adopted permanently, leading to geographic expansion of employment opportunities outside of unaffordable urban centers and a reduction in commuting. The research team will partner with a large employer in Los Angeles County to design and conduct an RCT aimed at using behavioral principals to increase productivity and well-being among remote working employees. Employees will be randomized to control or treatment groups (who will receive a series of prompts and associated resources to employ one of four interventions). Productivity data (Microsoft Analytics), absenteeism, and well-being (as indicated through validated scales) will be measured. Mediating factors such as demographics, home characteristics, and personality measures will be controlled in the analysis.

*Andra Gillespie, Emory University. Surveys at the Intersection of COVID and Police Protests (Program: Social, Political, and Economic Inequality; Grant Period: 4/1/2021-3/31/2022; $50,000)
Abstract: I will pursue survey research related to the twin pandemics of racism and COVID-19. I propose five survey projects which use random assignment to test the relationship between attitudes toward protests and other mass rallies on attitudes toward COVID mitigation, mask style on respondent willingness to wear masks, linked fate on minority citizen's attitudes toward mask wearing and data literacy and attitudes toward public health policies intended to mitigate COVID-19.

*John Mollenkopf, The Graduate Center, CUNY. Civic and Political Engagement in a Time of Crisis: The Case of New York City (Program: Race, Ethnicity, Immigration; Grant Period: 4/1/2021-3/31/2022; $42,824)
Abstract: The proposed research seeks to build on a unique set of linked survey, behavioral, and contextual data to examine how the current employment and health crisis is affecting New York City’s voters and explore how they are responding. It will examine how patterns of political engagement (including voting), volunteering and organizational involvement, commitments to community and city, assessments of political leadership, and participation in the 2021 city elections are evolving in the face of new challenges in health status, work, income, and family obligations.

Leah Ruppanner, University of Melbourne, Caitlyn Collins, Washington University in St. Louis, William Scarborough, University of North Texas, and Liana Christin Landivar, University of Maryland. COVID-19 and Elementary School Operating Status: The Impact on Mothers’ Employment (Program: Social, Political, and Economic Inequality; Grant Period: 4/1/2021-3/31/2022; $49,909)
Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the deep connection between our systems of health, care, and economy. Nowhere is this more visible than with school reopenings and parental employment, especially mothers’, as families struggle to navigate uncertainty. This project will evaluate the variation in school reopening and assess its social and financial consequences. We will collect data on school reopening status at the elementary school level for 9,000 elementary school districts at two points in the school year to measure: (1) physical reopening status; and (2) online structure if physical reopening is partial. Merging these original data onto school districts in the Current Population Survey, American Community Survey, and Small Income and Poverty Estimates, our study will uncover how school policy structures mothers’ employment. We explore these patterns across marital status, race, and social class to assess how social conditions moderate outcomes across these groups.

Publications (and work in progress):

  • “Research Note: School Reopenings During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Implications for Gender and Racial Equity,” Demography, vol.59, no.1, 2022: 1-12.
  • “The Gendered Consequences of a Weak Infrastructure of Care: School Reopening Plans and Parents’ Employment During the COVID-19 Pandemic” Gender & Society. 2021;35(2):180-193.

Sanders Korenman, Rosemary T. Hyson, and Dahlia K. Remler, Baruch College, CUNY. The Hidden (and Open) Poverty of the COVID-19 Crisis—How Big are the Holes in the Safety Net? (Program: Social, Political, and Economic Inequality; Grant Period: 4/1/2021-3/31/2022; $32,602)
Abstract: This project examines poverty during the Covid-19 crisis using the Health-Inclusive Poverty Measure (HIPM) that shows the full impact of health benefits on poverty and whether households meet all needs, including health insurance. The HIPM can also assess the overall performance of the safety net in response to the widespread loss of employer health insurance under Covid-19. We will estimate: the increase in HIPM poverty 2019 to 2020, and whether and how the crisis has widened long-standing disparities, including how poverty increases vary by industry, occupation, “gig” worker employment and immigration status; how much state and federal health and social policies, Covid-19 specific and longstanding, reduced poverty; how much poverty increased among job losers and as a result of the loss of employer insurance; and how well the HIPM and other poverty measures correspond to contemporaneously-measured Covid hardships in the new Census Pulse survey.

Angelina Godoy, University of Washington, Seattle. Towards a Data-Driven Understanding of Immigration Detention Capacity and its Consequences (Program: Race, Ethnicity, Immigration; Grant Period: 4/1/2021-3/31/2022; $50,000)
Abstract: This project aims to understand what happens when an immigration detention facility is closed in response to local political decision making. Using data not publicly available until now, we will examine how the availability of detention space impacts both enforcement of immigration law and the setting of immigration bond rates, two elements affecting the wellbeing of immigrant communities. Campaigns to shutter or depopulate detention facilities – especially urgent in light of COVID-19 – are driven by forecasts rooted in anecdotal data. But the national datasets we are in the process of obtaining will permit a rigorous approach, enabling us to better predict the impact of subnational policymaking on local immigrant communities.

Brea Perry, Bernice Pescosolido, and Heather Francis, Indiana University, Bloomington. From social revival to social isolation: Network dynamics during the COVID-19 pandemic and their consequences for social, economic, and health inequalities (Program: Integrating Biology and Social Science; Grant Period: 2/1/2021-1/31/2023; $161,499)
Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating existing social and health inequalities, reflecting societal fault lines, and disproportionately affecting those who already face disadvantages. The proposed project examines the role of personal community networks in mitigating the adverse consequences of the pandemic. We will examine how differences across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups in the structure, functions, accessibility, and resources of personal networks before, during, and after the pandemic attenuate or exacerbate social, economic, and health inequalities. We will leverage an existing probability sample of about 1,600 Indiana residents from an omnibus health study and a follow-up phone survey (March-May 2020) about COVID-19 behaviors, social network changes, economic wellbeing, and social psychological and mental health outcomes. The project will provide unparalleled longitudinal data from the months before, during, and after this unprecedented pandemic.

Publications (and work in progress):

  • “Contact tracing could exacerbate COVID-19 health disparities: The role of economic precarity and stigma,” American Journal of Public Health (2021) 111(5): e1–e4.
  • “Pandemic precarity: COVID-19 is exposing and exacerbating inequalities in the American heartland.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2021) 118(8): e2020685118.
  • “If you build it, will they come? Social, economic, and psychological determinants of COVID-19 testing decisions.” PLOS ONE (2021) 16.7: e0252658.

Ingrid Ellen, New York University. Urban Flight and Avoidance in the 21st Century: Exploring Post-COVID Residential Mobility Patterns in the U.S. (Program: Social, Political, and Economic Inequality; Grant Period: 1/1/2021-12/31/2022; $145,647)
Abstract: The prevalence of the COVID-19 pandemic in urban areas may change people’s perception of health risks of living in cities. It could also erode the benefits of urban living as more companies invite remote work and urban consumption amenities shrink, reducing the residential demand for cites. In this study, we will use a unique consumer reference dataset to examine the degree to which people move away from (or fail to move into) cities during the first two years post COVID, and how mobility patterns vary across cities depending on size, density, prevalence of illness, and policy responses. We will also examine whether there are racial and age differences in mobility responses and consider their implications for the demographic composition and segregation of urban areas. Finally, we will look in-depth at variation in shifts of mobility rates in different types of housing and neighborhoods within the New York City metropolitan area, which was the hardest-hit area.

Yoonsun Choi, University of Chicago, and Bongki Woo, University of South Carolina. COVID-19, Racial Discrimination and Civic Engagement among Asian American Young Adults (Program: Race, Ethnicity, Immigration; Grant Period: 1/1/2021-12/31/2022; $171,255)
Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic has brought out a spike in anti-Asian racial discrimination, explicit racism and hate crimes. Building on a longitudinal sample of Asian American young adults, we investigate the association between discrimination prior to and post COVID-19 and civic engagement. The pandemic and its consequences offer a natural experiment to examine how young Asian Americans cope with stressful life conditions and experiences and whether civic engagement facilitates positive or negative social integration. The proposed study aims to investigate whether different types of discrimination (e.g., explicit vs. implicit or general vs. event-specific) differently influence civic engagement, identify the underlying mechanisms that may mediate those relationships and test whether the relationships vary by ethnic subgroups.

Achyuta Adhvaryu and Anant Nyshadham, University of Michigan. Using AI to Expand the Job Search of Displaced Workers in the Aftermath of the Covid-19 Crisis (Program: Future of Work; Grant Period: 1/1/2021-6/30/2023; $161,368)
Abstract: While most major recessions generate employment shifts across sectors, the current crisis began as a sector-biased one, targeting low-wage, interpersonal service jobs. Millions of displaced workers – particularly those in food, retail, and hospitality sectors – will need to expand their job search to be reintegrated quickly into the economy. The same patience and communication skills needed to succeed as a waiter at a busy restaurant in NYC might also make someone an excellent nursing home orderly, but how does a job seeker know for which other types of vacancies they should apply? Research shows that workers tend to search too narrowly, mostly in sectors in which they have experience. Can AI-assisted algorithmic matching of skill profiles to overlooked vacancies in adjacent sectors improve reemployment prospects? We aim to estimate via an RCT the causal impacts of access to algorithmic matching from prior work on reemployment in the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis.

David Broockman, University of California-Berkeley, Leah Stokes and Matto Mildenberger, University of California-Santa Barbara. How Inequality in Communication to Congress Perpetuates Political Inequality: Evidence from Administrative Data on Contact with Congressional Offices (Program: Social, Political, and Economic Inequality; Grant Period: 1/1/2021-12/31/2022; $158,250)
Abstract: Research warns that the federal government often privileges the preferences of the affluent and businesses, exacerbating inequality. Research also suggests that biases in who contacts politicians may contribute to these biases in representation. Yet, there is little data on who actually contacts politicians, on what issues, and in what direction, leaving this potentially important explanation poorly understood. Our project offers a unique opportunity to open this black box with administrative data representing nearly all communication to a number of Congressional offices in the U.S. House of Representatives. This data will allow us to contribute to theoretical debates over unequal representation by examining the ways that biases in who politicians hear from shape politicians’ perceptions of their constituents and, therefore, their behavior in office. Congressional offices have also responded with enthusiasm about how this project could help them better represent their constituents.

Dmitri Koustas, University of Chicago, and James Parrott, The New School. Insurance in the Gig Economy: Impacts of the COVID shock and take up of new unemployment benefits among NYC’s taxi and rideshare drivers (Program: Future of Work; Grant Period: 12/1/2020-11/30/2022; $134,250)
Abstract: Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), a component of the CARES Act, is intended to aid self-employed and independent contractors not otherwise eligible for existing unemployment insurance. However, little is currently known about the take up of this program. In this study, we will survey medallion taxi and app-based drivers (i.e., Uber, Lyft, and Via) drivers in New York City; this region and these workers have been some of the hardest-hit. Drivers in NYC must register with the City, who maintain contact information like email addresses which will form the basis of our sample frame. Our proposed survey will ask questions about the direct impact of the crisis, take up of new benefits and other safety net programs, adaptation strategies, such as job switching and diversification, health outcomes, and expectations about the future.

Rebecca Ryan and Anna Johnson, Georgetown University, and Anna Gassman-Pines, Duke University. Understanding the Implications of COVID-19 for Socioeconomically Disadvantaged Families’ Food Insecurity and Wellbeing using Daily Diary Data (Program: Social, Political, and Economic Inequality; Grant Period: 12/1/2020-11/30/2022; $164,362)
Abstract: The Power Packs Project (PPP) is a school-based food assistance program serving two counties in rural Pennsylvania. When Pennsylvania closed its public schools and issued a stay at-home order in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, its food distribution was disrupted. The proposed study will provide unique insights into the consequences of those restrictions and disruptions gleaned from daily diary accounts of families’ food insecurity and psychological well-being from January 2020 through Spring 2021. It will identify the implications of COVID-19 for families’ food insecurity and wellbeing, and the immediate and longer-term impact of limiting or losing access to a unique food assistance program. Although the study’s findings will address these specific communities, they will also illuminate the implications of pandemic related restrictions for the many struggling low-income, rural communities.

Publications (and work in progress):

  • “Understanding patterns of food insecurity and family well-being amid the COVID-19 pandemic using daily surveys,” Child Development. 2021;92:e781–e797.

Till von Wachter, University of California, Los Angeles. Impacts of COVID-19 and the Unemployment Insurance System on Workers, Firms, and Inequality (Program: Future of Work; Grant Period: 12/1/2020-11/30/2022; $175,000)
Abstract: Defining features of the COVID-19 crisis were an unprecedented rise in unemployment and reliance on unemployment insurance. Further, a striking number of workers report they expect being recalled or that they are on temporary layoff. Using administrative data on UI claims and receipt, quarterly earnings records, and employer outcomes, we will track the evolution of labor market dynamics during the crisis and their impact on inequality. Our data allow us to study these outcomes for different demographic populations. We extend this analysis by relating these outcomes to characteristics of their employers. Next, we relate these outcomes, by group, to recall expectations. Finally, we conduct a series of causal analyses to understand the impacts of the changes in the UI program in response to COVID-19 for the different groups as well as for different periods of the business cycle.

Leah Schmalzbauer, Amherst College. Disrupted Mobility? An Ethnographic Exploration of COVID-19’s Experiential Impact on Upwardly Mobile Latinx Youth and their Families (Program: Immigration and Immigrant Integration; Grant Period: 12/1/2020-8/31/2022; $50,000)
Abstract: Low-income Latinx families have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19. I am interested in studying the familial implications of Covid-19 for a small, but growing, Latinx demographic who were on a promising path out of poverty before the pandemic: low-income second-generation youth who are studying at, or recently graduated from, highly selective colleges. Through their enrollment in elite higher education, these youths have been positioned to achieve high-status jobs, while their parents work in low-wage, precarious sectors. Drawing from ethnography, interviews, and time diaries, I will explore the familial implications of exceptional individual mobility in the context of Covid-19. How is Covid-19 impacting the mobility pathways of Latinx youth who are attending or have recently graduated from an elite college? How are upwardly mobile Latinx youth navigating the relationship between their individual goals and plans and their responsibilities and roles within their families?

Matthew Baum, Harvard University, David Lazer, Northeastern University, and Katherine Ognyanova, Rutgers University. Multi-Wave 50-State COVID-19 survey: empowering a national response (Program: Social, Political, and Economic Inequality; Grant Period: 12/1/2020-11/30/2021; $50,000)
Abstract: This research has two objectives: (1) producing information that will be useful in improving the national response to COVID-19; and (2) using COVID-19 data to understand how people, especially those in vulnerable communities, adapt to and make sense of a national crisis with immediate ramifications for their daily lives. We will employ a large-scale, rolling national survey, linked to the social media behavior of individuals, to estimate the prevalence of COVID-19 cases, and map individual responses to government policies. We will also analyze the impact of differences in “social distancing” due to individual and government decisions. We will assess differences over time within and between states, by geography, socio-economic status, race, gender, and other dimensions. We will also evaluate the information needs of Americans and the social barriers confronting different communities to obtaining timely and reliable information.

Publications (and work in progress):

  • “Using General Messages to Persuade on a Politicized Scientific Issue,” conditionally accepted in British Journal of Political Science.
  • “Identifying and Measuring Conditional Policy Preferences: The Case of Opening Schools During a Pandemic,” working paper.
  • 58+ reports (starting with report #25) on policy preferences, health behaviors, election fairness and trust in institutions, education during the pandemic, misinformation, etc.

Carole Uhlaner, University of California, Irvine. Explaining (In) Action: Relational Goods in Pandemics and Protests (Program: Race, Ethnicity, Immigration; Grant Period: 11/1/2020-4/30/2020; $35,000)
Abstract: Cooperation in collective action is theoretically problematic but empirically widespread. Two current sets of US events not only spotlight this question and make an answer urgent but also provide an unusual opportunity to assess the answer provided by “relational goods.” In the Covid-19 pandemic, people are asked to promote the collective good of public health, such as by wearing masks. Why do some oblige while others object? Second, protesters pursue a collective good yet 2020’s widespread protests, often addressing racial injustice, have drawn strikingly many and diverse participants. Race and ethnicity are closely tied to both sets of issues. Prior work has found “relational goods” highly correlated with political participation, as theory suggests. Via survey items added to the 2020 Collaborative Multiracial Post-Election Survey, this project will assess the contribution of relational goods to explaining when people act for collective ends in protests and pandemics.

Sherry Glied and Ingrid Ellen, New York University. The Emergence of Disparities in Infectious Disease: Comparing the Role of Housing and Social Policy in COVID-19 and Influenza Morbidity and Mortality (Program: Social, Political, and Economic Inequality; Grant Period: 11/1/2020-10/31/2021; $35,000)
Abstract: The emergence of sharp disparities in COVID-19 raises questions about how social, economic, and policy factors affect the diffusion of disease and outcomes for those infected. We propose to examine the relationship of living circumstances to patterns of disparities associated with COVID-19 and with seasonal influenza outbreaks among Medicaid-insured New York State residents. This analysis across diseases allows us to draw inferences both about the role of housing and social policy in generating the preconditions for disparate health outcomes during the pandemic and about how private and public COVID mitigation actions interact with these conditions to generate disparities in the later phases of an epidemic.

Publications (and work in progress):

  • “Not a New Story: Place and Race-Based Disparities in COVID-19 and Influenza Hospitalizations among Medicaid-Insured Adults in New York City,” Journal of Urban Health, 2022 Feb 22:1-13.

William Arnone and Stephen Wandner, National Academy of Social Insurance. How shifting to a national Unemployment Insurance program might reduce poverty for vulnerable Americans and increase program effectiveness, efficiency, and equity (Program: Social, Political, and Economic Inequality; Grant Period: 11/1/2020-10/31/2021; $35,000)
Abstract: The National Academy of Social Insurance will establish an interdisciplinary Task Force to analyze advantages and disadvantages of converting the Unemployment Insurance (UI) program from the current federal-state hybrid system into a federal program. COVID-19 has exposed weaknesses in our social protection infrastructure, which inflict harm on our most vulnerable residents. Does this decentralized federal-state UI system have the capacity to implement emergency provisions? The Task Force will equip policymakers with the framework and evidence needed to explore options and begin needed restructuring. It will enlist the involvement of others with expertise and experience in both UI and Social Security.

Shana Gadarian, Syracuse University, Sara Wallace Goodman, University of California-Irvine, and Thomas Pepinsky, Cornell University. Partisanship, Outgroup Prejudice, and Public Health during the COVID-19 Pandemic (Program: Race, Ethnicity, Immigration; Grant Period: 11/1/2020-10/31/2021; $35,000)
Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic is the largest public health crisis in a century. The political consequences have included delays in state primary elections, resource competition between the states and the federal government, a racialized public health response, and a sharp partisan divide over the seriousness of the threat. We focus on how two main cleavages in American politics, partisanship and race, shape public responses to COVID-19 by asking how (1) partisanship, (2) race, and (3) racial attitudes (i.e., how individuals feel about others, e.g., racial resentment) affect health behaviors and attitudes, experiences with the pandemic, policy preferences and support for democracy.

Publications (and work in progress):

  • Pandemic Politics: The Deadly Toll of Polarization in the Age of COVID. Princeton University Press, forthcoming.
  • “Same-Race/Ethnicity Experts Online Does Not Increase Vaccine Interest or Intention to Vaccinate,” Millbank Quarterly, forthcoming.

Thomas Smith and Louise Hawkley, NORC at the University of Chicago. A Probability-Based, National-Representative Survey of Americans Before, During, and After the Pandemic (Program: Social, Political, and Economic Inequality; Grant Period: 10/1/2020- 9/30/2021; $29,472)
Abstract: NORC, with funding from the National Science Foundation is collecting multiple waves of data from a representative sample of the population that will permit us to conduct a longitudinal and comparative assessment of the evolving social, psychological, and economic impacts of COVID-19 on American society. Given the evolving nature of this pandemic, both in terms of what is understood about the disease, as well as in how policies like ‘social distancing’ are imposed, relaxed, and re-imposed differently, at different times, across regions, we will repeatedly collect measures that examine the effects of this pandemic as they unfold over time and space. Our survey includes measures drawn from the General Social Survey as well as from several national tragedy studies conducted previously.

Publications (and work in progress):

  • “Age differences in mental health from May to August 2020 among U.S. adults: Trajectories and the role of pandemic, lifestyle, and social factors,” under review at Aging & Mental Health.
  • “Self-reported positive effects of the COVID-19 pandemic: Demographic differences and links with mental health,” working paper in progress.

Diana C. Mutz, University of Pennsylvania. Revisiting Hearing the Other Side in an Age of Polarization (Program: Decision Making and Human Behavior in Context; Grant Period: 10/1/2020-9/30/2021; $50,000)
Abstract: Hearing the Other Side: Deliberative Versus Participatory Democracy was based on data I gathered shortly before the 1996 election and highlighted the tension between our need for a highly politically participative mass public, and our desire to maintain social harmony in a diverse society, with the ability to talk to one another and maintain relationships across lines of political difference. Twenty-five years later, in an era of extreme polarization, this theme is more important because these tensions have increased. This project will revisit the data and themes of Hearing the Other Side in order to provide a historical comparison with the past, and to elaborate on how changes in the political communication environment have influenced the prospects for political tolerance, deliberation, and participation. I expect that citizens' social and communicative contexts have changed significantly.

Matthew Barreto and Chad Dunn, University of California, Los Angeles. Effect of Rapid Vote By Mail Transition on Communities of Color and Immigrants (Program: Race, Ethnicity, Immigration; Grant Period: 10/1/2020- 3/31/2022; $50,000)
Abstract: The COVID-19 crisis has forced states to postpone their primary elections and/or hold these elections through virtually all mail election schemes. Only five states currently administer all mail elections. All other states have some mail ballot scheme, whether it is to permit any voter to use a mail ballot or only limit those who can use mail ballots. As such, a majority of Americans are not accustomed to voting by mail. The literature suggests that there are barriers to voting by mail for these communities and current data from elections occurring during the pandemic confirm that people of color return their mail ballots at lower rates than their white counterparts. While voting by mail is a safer alternative to in-person voting during the pandemic, it is unclear how a rapid shift to vote by mail will impact communities of color and immigrants and whether barriers that exist change depending on the vote by mail scheme.

Dana R. Fisher and Stella M. Rouse, University of Maryland, College Park, and Michael T. Heaney, University of Glasgow. The Current Mass Mobilization against Systemic Racism: Effects on Democracy and Politics (Program: Social, Political, and Economic Inequality; Grant Period: 8/1/2020-7/31/2022; $49,957)
Abstract: This study investigates the mass mobilizations sparked by the murder of George Floyd as a pivotal moment in organizing against systemic racism. Drawing on original surveys conducted with people engaged in protest before and after Floyd’s death, this research asks whether and how activists changed their views and participation over time. It focuses on issue priorities, tactical approaches, support for political violence, satisfaction with democracy, prioritization of intersectional activism, the changing nature of mass mobilizations, and organizational ties as critical indicators of social movement activities. Analysis of these factors will reveal the extent to which the post-Floyd mobilizations reflect a new phase in racial justice organizing, if at all. The results promise to be informative to theories of social movements, protest, and racial politics, as well as democratic practice at the grassroots level.


Pipeline Grants

Hajar Yazdiha, University of Southern California. “Racism is a Pandemic Too”: Tracing Youth Racial Justice Activism in Los Angeles in the Age of COVID-19 (Grant Period: 6/1/2022-5/31/2023; $30,000)
Abstract: Studies document how social disasters generate a shock that unsettles the political cultural system, generating opportunities for groups mobilizing for systemic change. Yet, studies also show that social disasters amplify existing social inequalities, as in the pandemic’s disproportionate threat to Black and Brown youth who found their life trajectories interrupted. How might these competing perspectives work in tandem? This project combines interviews with student activists and participant observation of two Los Angeles student activist organizations and asks: 1) How do youth activists perceive the pandemic as a threat or opportunity for systemic change and how are perceptions patterned across their social locations? 2) How do perceptions shape their strategic actions? Understanding how the ongoing pandemic impacts student activism is essential as collective action is a critical mode of civic incorporation linked to educational and economic advancement.

Patricia Posey, University of Chicago. Financial Lifelines & a Tale of Two Political Economies: Exploring Racial and Class Consequences During Pandemic Times (Grant Period: 6/1/2022-5/31/2023; $30,000)
Abstract: This study examines the joint context of unprecedented government support and a thriving fringe economy focusing on how they shaped political attitudes about government across racial/ethnic and class groups. I examine the public (federal and state politicians) and private (fringe economy servicers) institutional response to economic need during the COVID-19 pandemic via archival ethnography. I explore how disparate financial access shapes political attitudes and participation of racial minorities, focusing on those using fringe economy services (e.g., payday loans, check cashing outlets) during the pandemic. Findings will provide a robust picture of the safety net created by the government and market actors, and in turn, can address questions about the persistence of racial, economic, and political inequality.

Monnica Chan, University of Massachusetts, Boston. Evaluating the Role of SNAP in Closing Socioeconomic Gaps in Educational Opportunity and Attainment (Grant Period: 6/1/2022-5/31/2023; $29,999)
Abstract: Although many studies have documented high levels of food insecurity among college students, their participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) remains low. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress expanded SNAP eligibility criteria to overlap with certain federal student financial aid programs. In partnership with the Commonwealth of Virginia, we document the characteristics of students participating in SNAP. Then, we use a regression discontinuity design to leverage the new eligibility rules and estimate the causal impact of SNAP participation on college student credit accumulation and persistence during the pandemic. With rich administrative data, we will provide estimates of SNAP participation and be the first to causally estimate how SNAP participation complements student financial aid resources to support student success, thus extending our understanding of how student financial aid interacts with students' basic needs.

Christian Phillips, University of Southern California. Essential Labor: Asian American Women Workers and the Intersectional Politics of Incorporation (Grant Period: 6/1/2021-5/31/2022; $30,000)
Abstract: The lenses through which Americans view the politics of the COVID-19 pandemic are different for individuals required to perform essential work (paid or not), and individuals working in other industries and job types. How have these lenses shaped their political views, engagement, and interest in politics? This study proposes to analyze the political attitudes and behavior of Filipina American women, using a survey with embedded experiments. It is the first phase of a broader project that will eventually include two additional groups of Korean and Indian Americans who are overrepresented among essential workers. Focusing on three groups that encompass a significant proportion of first-generation immigrants will also allow the project to speak to a more expansive, but understudied question: how does work serve as a mechanism for political socialization and incorporation?

Yana Kucheva and Norma Fuentes-Mayorga, The City College of New York, CUNY. Stitching the U.S. Safety Net: Inequality and Social Mobility in Mixed Status Latino Immigrant Families (Grant Period: 6/1/2021-5/31/2022; $29,544)
Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic has unveiled the fragility of Latino families, many of whom are not eligible for assistance from social safety net programs due to their documentation status. We propose a mixed-methods study which follows a sample Latinos in the New York City metropolitan area, living in mixed-status households, from the early days of the pandemic through Fall 2021. We address these questions: 1) How has the social safety net affected schooling, employment, and housing insecurity during the pandemic?; 2) What coping strategies have helped the Latino population secure housing and employment during the pandemic and how do these differ by immigration status?; 3) What are the implications of the pandemic for the educational attainment and future mobility of second-generation Latino youth?


RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal of original empirical research articles by both established and emerging scholars.


The Russell Sage Foundation offers grants and positions in our Visiting Scholars program for research.


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