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Latest Inequality & Social Policy In the News

How America Lost its Mojo

How America Lost its Mojo

May 27, 2016

The AtlanticAmericans are less likely to switch jobs, move to another state, or create new companies than they were 30 years ago (or 100 years ago). What’s going on? Cites research by Raven Molloy (Ph.D. '06, now a senior economist with the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System) and colleagues (See their BPEA paper). Also cites research by Peter Ganong and Daniel Shoag (Ph.D. '11, now Assistant Professor, HKS) linking rising housing prices in wealthy areas to declining income convergence (See their paper).

Chicago's Murder Problem

Chicago's Murder Problem

May 27, 2016

The New York Times | Why homicide rates in Chicago outpace those in New York, with insights from Robert Sampson, Henry Ford II Professor of the Social Sciences.

Prosperity and Equality

Prosperity and Equality

May 27, 2016

Harvard Magazine | Dean  Douglas Elmendorf of  the Harvard Kennedy School and Claudia Goldin, Harvard's Henry Lee Professor of Economics, were among the participants in "Building an Economy for Prosperity and Equality," the opening symposium of Radcliffe Day, which honored  Janet Yellen, Federal Reserve Chair, with this year's Radcliffe Medal. Harvard Magazine writes that the panel, which also included economists David Autor of MIT, Louise Sheiner of the Brookings Institution, and Celia Rouse of Princeton University as moderator, "featured some of the most interesting researchers addressing these problems...in a searching, intelligent exchange of the sort that rarely occurred in the debates televised during the primary season."
View the discussion [85 minutes] ▶

Janet Yellen Talks Policy and Inequality at Radcliffe Day Celebration

Janet Yellen Talks Policy and Inequality at Radcliffe Day Celebration

May 27, 2016

Harvard Magazine | Harvard's Commencement week concluded with a a program "honoring Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen, the recipient of this year’s Radcliffe Medal and one of today’s most publicly vocal advocates of shared prosperity." Harvard Magazine notes that "Yellen has been unapologetic in her view that promoting broadly shared prosperity is inherent in the Fed’s mandate, a role which has cemented her leadership in the public conversation on inequality."
View event video ▶

Janet Yellen to receive Radcliffe Medal

Janet Yellen to receive Radcliffe Medal

May 26, 2016

Harvard Gazette | Dean Douglas Elmendorf of  Harvard Kennedy School and Claudia Goldin, Henry Lee Professor of Economics at Harvard, are among the participants in a Radcliffe Day event on May 27 honoring Janet Yellen, Federal Reserve Chair and this year's Radcliffe Medalist. The day will open with the panel "Building an Economy for Prosperity and Equality," featuring Elmendorf and Goldin. Other Radcliffe Day participants include former Fed Chair Ben S. Bernanke; economics professor Gregory Mankiw of Harvard; Cecilia Rouse, Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of International and Public Affairs at Princeton University; economics professor David Autor of MIT, and Louise Sheiner of the Brookings Institution. The day's events will be webcast live beginning at 10:30 am.

Inside the Eviction Epidemic

Inside the Eviction Epidemic

May 26, 2016

WNET Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America | Matthew Desmond, John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences, provides a firsthand look at the harsh realities of living in a trailer park [video segment: 8:27 minutes]. See the full documentary, The Last Trailer Park, which includes Desmond's interview [26:47 minutes].

Bringing Back Labor, Without the Unions

Bringing Back Labor, Without the Unions

May 24, 2016

Bloomberg View | Cites study by Bruce Western (Professor of Sociology and Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice) and Jake Rosenfeld (Washington University in St. Louis), which found that the decline of organized labor between 1973 and 2007 explains one-third of the rise in wage inequality among men during this time (See their ASR article), and by Richard Freeman (Herbert Ascherman Professor of Economics) and colleagues, which finds a "strong, though not necessarily causal link between unions, the middle class, and intergenerational mobility." (See Freeman et. al. study)

Fewer Americans Strike Out for New Jobs, Crimping the Recovery

Fewer Americans Strike Out for New Jobs, Crimping the Recovery

May 24, 2016

The New York Times | Discusses new analysis co-authored by Raven Molloy (Ph.D. '05), now a senior economist with the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, which documents a clear trend of declining fluidity in the labor market and examines possible explanations. The paper, forthcoming in Brookings Papers in Economic Activity, is co-authored by Christopher L. Smith, Riccardo Trezzi, and Abigail Wozniak. (View the paper)

Not Leaving, Just Changing Jobs

Not Leaving, Just Changing Jobs

May 23, 2016

Education Next | By Paul E. Peterson, Henry Lee Shattuck Professor of Government. With this issue, Peterson passes leadership of the journal Education Next to Martin West (Ph.D. 06), Associate Professor of Education, who will now serve as editor-in-chief. Peterson will continue to serve as senior editor for the publication, which he and collaborators launched 17-years ago.

Neighborhoods Can Shape Success—Down to the Level of a City Block

Neighborhoods Can Shape Success—Down to the Level of a City Block

May 23, 2016

The Atlantic | A small but intriguing study done in West Philadelphia points to the importance of what researchers call microenvironments.  Features Laura Tach (Ph. '10) of Cornell University, lead author of the study. Also cites work of  Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren and Lawrence Katz.

Researchers Find Surprising Results After Testing A New Way To Measure Poverty

Researchers Find Surprising Results After Testing A New Way To Measure Poverty

May 19, 2016

NPR Morning Edition | Christopher Wimer (Ph.D. '07), Co-Director of the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University, is working with colleagues on a better way to measure poverty in New York City. Visit the interactive website to learn more about the Robin Hood Poverty Tracker. Scott Winship (Ph.D. '09), Walter B. Wriston Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, agrees that the research reveals some useful findings but expresses reservations about the measures, arguing that they may misdirect attention and public resources from those who really are struggling.

The Complex Relationship between Data and Cities

The Complex Relationship between Data and Cities

May 18, 2016

The Atlantic CityLab |Checking in on the latest advancements, and the challenges that remain. Highlights work by faculty affiliate Robert Sampson and Jackelyn Hwang (Ph.D. '15, now a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Princeton University), and a recent NBER paper by faculty affiliates Edward L. Glaeser and Michael Luca (with colleagues Scott Duke Kominers and Nikhil Naik), which uses computer visioning to better understand geographic differences in income and housing prices.

The Destructive Legacy of Housing Segregation

The Destructive Legacy of Housing Segregation

May 17, 2016

The Atlantic | By Patrick Sharkey (Ph.D. '07), New York University. Less visible than the rise of economic inequality is the way it has altered America's urban neighborhoods. Two books—Evicted by Harvard's Matthew Desmond and Ghetto by Mitchell Duneier (Princeton)—should help change that, writes Sharkey.

Women in Elite Jobs Face Stubborn Pay Gap

Women in Elite Jobs Face Stubborn Pay Gap

May 17, 2016

Wall Street Journal | With insights from Claudia Goldin, Henry Lee Professor of Economics. Article includes interactive data visualization showing pay gaps by occupation.

Latest commentary and analysis

How To Teach Ethics To Algorithms

How To Teach Ethics To Algorithms

May 10, 2016

Radio Boston | Michael Luca, Assistant Professor at Harvard Business School, argues algorithms need managers. He joins Radio Boston to explain how and why. [Audio: 10 minutes]

Forum: What Is Education For?

Forum: What Is Education For?

May 9, 2016

Boston Review | By Danielle Allen, Professor of Government and of Education. Reducing inequality, Allen argues, requires more than the dissemination of technical skills. "The civic conception of education...begins with the recognition that fair economic outcomes are aided by a robust democratic process and, therefore, by genuine political equality." We should aspire to "educate for civic participation, and not merely work."

The Rehabilitation Paradox

The Rehabilitation Paradox

May 9, 2016

The New Yorker | By Bruce Western, Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice Policy and Professor of Sociology. A new study reveals the struggles of prisoners who want to turn their lives around, but are too mentally and physically troubled to do so.

The worrisome return of a racist form of home lending

The worrisome return of a racist form of home lending

May 5, 2016

Urban Institute | By Steven Brown, Ph.D. candidate in Sociology. How and why "contract for deed" is making a comeback and what it means for economic mobility and wealth accumulation for minority families.

Is the American Party System About to Crack Up?

Is the American Party System About to Crack Up?

May 5, 2016

The Nation | By Danielle Allen of Harvard, Rick Perlstein, and Daniel Schlozman (Ph.D. '11) of Johns Hopkins University. Three scholars of American politics and history consider whether we're on the verge of a fundamental realignment. 

No room for the urban poor? 'Eviction' author explains

No room for the urban poor? 'Eviction' author explains

May 5, 2016

The Christian Science Monitor | Interview with Matthew Desmond, John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences, who explains why eviction must be central to any comprehensive anti-poverty discussion and why he chose to document the perspectives of landlords as well.

Mexico's Battle Against Corruption

Mexico's Battle Against Corruption

April 27, 2016

Wilson Center | Interview with Viridiana Rios (Ph.D. '13), a Mexico Institute Global Fellow at the Wilson Center, who discusses a shifting focus in Mexico from a war on drug to a battle against corruption.

How contraception can boost social mobility

How contraception can boost social mobility

April 26, 2016

Brookings Institution—Social Mobility Memos | By Adam Thomas (Ph.D. 07, Visiting Associate Professor at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy) and Quentin Karpilow (Child Trends).

American Ghetto

American Ghetto

April 24, 2016

The Chronicle Review | By Mario L. Small, Grafstein Family Professor of Sociology. Review of Mitchell Duneier's Ghetto: The Invention of a Place, the History of an Idea. "The heart of book," writes Small, "is three detailed studies of black scholars who in the 1940s, ’60s, and ’80s wrote definitive texts on urban conditions among African-Americans," with William Julius Wilson, Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor, and The Truly Disadvantaged (1987) the focus of the third.

Latest books—By doctoral fellows and alumni

Early start : preschool politics in the United States
Karch, Andrew. 2013. Early start : preschool politics in the United States. The University of Michigan Press.Abstract

A political history of the debate over preschool education policy in the United States. In the United States, preschool education is characterized by the dominance of a variegated private sector and patchy, uncoordinated oversight of the public sector. Tracing the history of the American debate over preschool education, the author argues that the current state of decentralization and fragmentation is the consequence of a chain of reactions and counterreactions to policy decisions dating from the late 1960s and early 1970s, when preschool advocates did not achieve their vision for a comprehensive national program but did manage to foster initiatives at both the state and national levels. Over time, beneficiaries of these initiatives and officials with jurisdiction over preschool education have become ardent defenders of the status quo. Today, advocates of greater government involvement must take on a diverse and entrenched set of constituencies resistant to policy change. In his close analysis of the politics of preschool education, the author demonstrates how to apply the concepts of policy feedback, critical junctures, and venue shopping to the study of social policy. – From book jacket.

The Democratic Foundations of policy diffusion : how health, family and employment laws spread across countries
Linos, Katerina. 2013. The Democratic Foundations of policy diffusion : how health, family and employment laws spread across countries. Oxford University Press.Abstract

"Why do law reforms spread around the world in waves? Leading theories argue that international networks of technocratic elites develop orthodox solutions that they singlehandedly transplant across countries. But, in modern democracies, elites alone cannot press for legislative reforms without winning the support of politicians, voters, and interest groups. As Katerina Linos shows in The Democratic Foundations of Policy Diffusion, international models can help politicians generate domestic enthusiasm for far-reaching proposals. By pointing to models from abroad, policitians can persuade voters that their ideas are not radical, ill-thought out experiments, but mainstream, tried-and-true solutions. Through the ingenious use of experimental and cross-national evidence, Linos documents voters' response to international models and demonstrates that governments follow international organization templates and imitate the policy choices of countries heavily covered in national media and familiar to voters. Empirically rich and theoretically sophisticated, The Democratic Foundations of Policy Diffusion provides the fullest account to date of this increasingly pervasive phenomenon."–page [4] of cover.

Cleaning Up - How Hospital Outsourcing Is Hurting Workers and Endangering Patients
Zuberi, Dan. 2013. Cleaning Up - How Hospital Outsourcing Is Hurting Workers and Endangering Patients.Abstract

To cut costs and maximize profits, hospitals in the United States and many other countries are outsourcing such tasks as cleaning and food preparation to private contractors. In, the first book to examine this transformation in the healthcare industry, Dan Zuberi looks at the consequences of outsourcing from two perspectives: its impact on patient safety and its role in increasing socioeconomic inequality. Drawing on years of field research in Vancouver, Canada as well as data from hospitals in the U.S. and Europe, he argues that outsourcing has been disastrous for the cleanliness of hospitals-leading to an increased risk of hospital-acquired infections, a leading cause of severe illness and death-as well as for the effective delivery of other hospital services and the workers themselves.

The allure of order : high hopes, dashed expectations, and the troubled quest to remake American schooling
Mehta, Jal. 2013. The allure of order : high hopes, dashed expectations, and the troubled quest to remake American schooling. Oxford University Press.Abstract

"Ted Kennedy and George W. Bush agreed on little, but united behind the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Passed in late 2001, it was hailed as a dramatic new departure in school reform. It would make the states set high standards, measure student progress, and hold failing schools accountable. A decade later, NCLB has been repudiated on both sides of the aisle. According to Jal Mehta, we should have seen it coming. Far from new, it was the same approach to school reform that Americans have tried before. In The Allure of Order, Mehta recounts a century of attempts at revitalizing public education, and puts forward a truly new agenda to reach this elusive goal. Not once, not twice, but three separate times-in the Progressive Era, the 1960s and '70s, and NCLB-reformers have hit upon the same idea for remaking schools.

The Tea Party and the remaking of Republican conservatism
Skocpol, Theda, and Vanessa Williamson. 2012. The Tea Party and the remaking of Republican conservatism. New York: Oxford University Press.Abstract

On February 19, 2009, CNBC commentator Rick Santelli delivered a dramatic rant against Obama administration programs to shore up the plunging housing market. Invoking the Founding Fathers and ridiculing "losers" who could not pay their mortgages, Santelli called for "Tea Party" protests. Over the next two years, conservative activists took to the streets and airways, built hundreds of local Tea Party groups, and weighed in with votes and money to help right-wing Republicans win electoral victories in 2010. In this study, the author, a political scientists, and co-author go beyond the inevitable photos of protesters in Colonial costumes and tricorn hats and knee breeches to provide a nuanced portrait of the Tea Party. What they find is sometimes surprising. Drawing on grassroots interviews and visits to local meetings in several regions, they find that older, middle-class Tea Partiers mostly approve of Social Security, Medicare, and generous benefits for military veterans. Their opposition to "big government" entails reluctance to pay taxes to help people viewed as undeserving "freeloaders" including immigrants, lower income earners, and the young. At the national level, Tea Party elites and funders leverage grassroots energy to further longstanding goals such as tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulation of business, and privatization of the very same Social Security and Medicare programs on which many grassroots Tea Partiers depend. Elites and grassroots are nevertheless united in hatred of Barack Obama and determination to push the Republican Party sharply to the right. This book combines portraits of local Tea Party members and chapters with an overarching analysis of the movement's rise, impact, and likely fate. The paperback edition will be updated to bring the discussion up to the present, including the Republican Presidential primary race in early 2012.

Three worlds of relief : race, immigration, and the American welfare state from the Progressive Era to the New Deal
Fox, Cybelle. 2012. Three worlds of relief : race, immigration, and the American welfare state from the Progressive Era to the New Deal. Princeton [N.J.]: Princeton University Press.Abstract

This book examines the role of race and immigration in the development of the American social welfare system by comparing how blacks, Mexicans, and European immigrants were treated by welfare policies during the Progressive Era and the New Deal. Taking readers from the turn of the twentieth century to the dark days of the Depression, the author finds that, despite rampant nativism, European immigrants received generous access to social welfare programs. The communities in which they lived invested heavily in relief. Social workers protected them from snooping immigration agents, and ensured that noncitizenship and illegal status did not prevent them from receiving the assistance they needed. But that same helping hand was not extended to Mexicans and blacks. The author reveals, for example, how blacks were relegated to racist and degrading public assistance programs, while Mexicans who asked for assistance were deported with the help of the very social workers they turned to for aid. Drawing on archival evidence, the author paints a portrait of how race, labor, and politics combined to create three starkly different worlds of relief. She debunks the myth that white America's immigrant ancestors pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, unlike immigrants and minorities today. This book challenges us to reconsider not only the historical record but also the implications of our past on contemporary debates about race, immigration, and the American welfare state.

The Great Recession
Grusky, David B, Bruce Western, and Christopher Wimer, ed. 2011. The Great Recession. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Abstract

The consequences of the great recession / David B. Grusky, Bruce Western, and Christopher Wimer -- The roots of thegreat recession / Neil Fligstein and Adam Goldstein -- Job loss and unemployment / Michael Hout, Asaf Levanon, and Erin Cumberworth -- Poverty and income inequality in the early stages of the great recession / Timothy M. Smeeding, ... [et al.] -- How much wealth was destroyed in the great recession? / Edward N. Wolff, Lindsay A. Owens, and Esra Burak -- An analysis of trends, perceptions, and distributional effects in consumption / Ivaylo D. Petev, Luigi Pistaferri, and Itay Saporta-Eksten -- The surprisingly weak effects of recessions on public opinion / Lane Kenworthy and Lindsay A. Owens -- The great recession's influence on fertility, marriage, divorce, and cohabitation / S. Philip Morgan, Erin Cumberworth, and Christopher Wimer -- The federal stimulus programs and their effects / Gary Burtless and Tracy Gordon -- Has the great recession made Americans stingier? / Rob Reich,... [et al.].

Latest academic articles — By doctoral fellows

Predicting Freshman Grade Point Average From College Admissions Test Scores and State High School Test Scores
Koretz, Daniel, Carol Yu, Preeya P. Mbekeani, Meredith Langi, Tasmin Dhaliwal, and David Braslow. 2016. “Predicting Freshman Grade Point Average From College Admissions Test Scores and State High School Test Scores.” AERA Open 2 (4). SAGE Publications: 1-13.Abstract

The current focus on assessing “college and career readiness” raises an empirical question: How do high school tests compare with college admissions tests in predicting performance in college? We explored this using data from the City University of New York and public colleges in Kentucky. These two systems differ in the choice of college admissions test, the stakes for students on the high school test, and demographics. We predicted freshman grade point average (FGPA) from high school GPA and both college admissions and high school tests in mathematics and English. In both systems, the choice of tests had only trivial effects on the aggregate prediction of FGPA. Adding either test to an equation that included the other had only trivial effects on prediction. Although the findings suggest that the choice of test might advantage or disadvantage different students, it had no substantial effect on the over- and underprediction of FGPA for students classified by race-ethnicity or poverty.

The Racial Ecology of Lead Poisoning: Toxic Inequality in Chicago Neighborhoods, 1995-2013
Sampson, Robert J., and Alix S. Winter. 2016. “The Racial Ecology of Lead Poisoning: Toxic Inequality in Chicago Neighborhoods, 1995-2013.” Du Bois Review 13 (2): 1-23.Abstract

This paper examines the racial ecology of lead exposure as a form of environmental inequity, one with both historical and contemporary significance. Drawing on comprehensive data from over one million blood tests administered to Chicago children from 1995-2013 and matched to over 2300 geographic block groups, we address two major questions: (1) What is the nature of the relationship between neighborhood-level racial composition and variability in children’s elevated lead prevalence levels? And (2) what is the nature of the relationship between neighborhood-level racial composition and rates of change in children’s prevalence levels over time within neighborhoods? We further assess an array of structural explanations for observed racial disparities, including socioeconomic status, type and age of housing, proximity to freeways and smelting plants, and systematic observations of housing decay and neighborhood disorder. Overall, our theoretical framework posits lead toxicity as a major environmental pathway through which racial segregation has contributed to the legacy of Black disadvantage in the United States. Our findings support this hypothesis and show alarming racial disparities in toxic exposure, even after accounting for possible structural explanations. At the same time, however, our longitudinal results show the power of public health policies to reduce racial inequities.

Situational Trust: How Disadvantaged Mothers Reconceive Legal Cynicism
Bell, Monica C. 2016. “Situational Trust: How Disadvantaged Mothers Reconceive Legal Cynicism.” Law and Society Review 50 (2): 314-347.Abstract

Research has shown that legal cynicism is pervasive among residents of poor, black neighborhoods. However, controlling for crime rates, these residents call police at higher rates than whites and residents of middle-class neighborhoods, and ethnographic research suggests that mothers in particular sometimes exact social control over partners and children through police notification. Given these findings, how might researchers better understand how legal cynicism and occasional reliance on police fit together? Drawing on interviews with poor African-American mothers in Washington, DC, this article develops an alternative conception of cultural orientations about law: situational trust. This concept emphasizes micro-level dynamism in cultural conceptions of the police, expanding the literature on police trust by emphasizing situational contingency. Mothers deploy at least four alternative strategies that produce moments of trust: officer exceptionalism, domain specificity, therapeutic consequences, and institutional navigation. These strategies shed light on the contextual meanings of safety and legitimacy.

Explaining Durable Business Coalitions in U.S. Politics: Conservatives and Corporate Interests across America's Statehouses
Hertel-Fernandez, Alexander. 2016. “Explaining Durable Business Coalitions in U.S. Politics: Conservatives and Corporate Interests across America's Statehouses.” Studies in American Political Development 30 (1): 1-18.Abstract

Scholars of business mobilization emphasize that national, cross-sector employer associations are difficult to create and maintain in decentralized pluralist polities like the United States. This article considers an unusual case of a U.S. business group—the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)—that has succeeded in creating a durable coalition of diverse firms and conservative political activists. This group has emerged since the 1970s as an important infrastructure for facilitating corporate involvement in the policymaking process across states. Assessing variation within this group over time through both its successes and missteps, I show the importance of organizational strategies for cementing political coalitions between otherwise fractious political activists and corporate executives from diverse industries. A shadow comparison between ALEC and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce further serves to reinforce the importance of organizational structure for business association management. My findings engage with literatures in both American business history and comparative political economy, underscoring the difficulties of forming business coalitions in liberal political economies while also showing how savvy political entrepreneurs can still successfully unite otherwise fragmented corporate interests. These conclusions, in turn, have implications for our understanding of business mobilization and corporate influence in politics.

Parties, Brokers and Voter Mobilization: How Turnout Buying Depends Upon the Party's Capacity to Monitor Brokers
Larreguy, Horacio, John Marshall, and Pablo Querubin. 2016. “Parties, Brokers and Voter Mobilization: How Turnout Buying Depends Upon the Party's Capacity to Monitor Brokers.” American Political Science Review 110 (01): 160-179.Abstract

Despite its prevalence, little is known about when parties buy turnout. We emphasize the problem of parties monitoring local brokers with incentives to shirk. Our model suggests that parties extract greater turnout buying effort from their brokers where they can better monitor broker performance and where favorable voters would not otherwise turn out. Exploiting exogenous variation in the number of polling stations—and thus electoral information about broker performance—in Mexican electoral precincts, we find that greater monitoring capacity increases turnout and votes for the National Action Party (PAN) and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Consistent with our theoretical predictions, the effect of monitoring capacity on PRI votes varies nonlinearly with the distance of voters to the polling station: it first increases because rural voters—facing larger costs of voting—generally favor the PRI, before declining as the cost of incentivizing brokers increases. This nonlinearity is not present for the PAN, who stand to gain less from mobilizing rural voters.

Stand and Deliver: Effects of Boston’s Charter High Schools on College Preparation, Entry, and Choice
Angrist, Joshua D., Sarah R. Cohodes, Susan M. Dynarski, Parag A. Pathak, and Christopher R. Walters. 2016. “Stand and Deliver: Effects of Boston’s Charter High Schools on College Preparation, Entry, and Choice.” Journal of Labor Economics 34 (2). NBER Working Paper 19275.Abstract

We use admissions lotteries to estimate effects of attendance at Boston's charter high schools on college preparation and enrollment. Charter schools increase pass rates on Massachusetts' high-stakes exit exam, with large effects on the likelihood of qualifying for a state-sponsored scholarship. Charter attendance boosts SAT scores sharply, and also increases the likelihood of taking an Advanced Placement (AP) exam, the number of AP exams taken, and AP scores. Charters induce a substantial shift from two- to four-year institutions, though the effect on overall college enrollment is modest. Charter effects on college-related outcomes are strongly correlated with gains on earlier tests.

Putting America to Work, Where? The Limits of Infrastructure Construction as a Locally-Targeted Employment Policy
Garin, Andy. 2016. “Putting America to Work, Where? The Limits of Infrastructure Construction as a Locally-Targeted Employment Policy”.Abstract

Is infrastructure construction an effective way to boost employment in distressed local labor markets? I use new geographically-detailed data on highway construction funded by the American Recovery and Recovery Act to study the relationship between construction work and local employment growth. I show that the method for allocating funds across space facilitates a plausible selection-on-observables strategy. However, I find a precisely-estimated zero effect of spending on road construction employment–or other employment–in the locale of the construction site. Reported data on vendors reveal this is because the majority of contractors–selected by competitive bidding–commute from other local labor markets. I also find no robust effect in the locales of the contractors’ offices, but argue that this source of variation does not capture an economically meaningful local demand shock. I conclude that infrastructure construction is not effective as a way to stimulate local labor markets in the short-run so long as projects are allocated by competitive bidding.

(No) Harm in Asking: Class, Acquired Cultural Capital, and Academic Engagement at an Elite University
Jack, Anthony Abraham. 2016. “(No) Harm in Asking: Class, Acquired Cultural Capital, and Academic Engagement at an Elite University.” Sociology of Education 89 (1): 1-15.Abstract

How do undergraduates engage authority figures in college? Existing explanations predict class-based engagement strategies. Using in-depth interviews with 89 undergraduates at an elite university, I show how undergraduates with disparate precollege experiences differ in their orientations toward and strategies for engaging authority figures in college. Middle-class undergraduates report being at ease in interacting with authority figures and are proactive in doing so. Lower-income undergraduates, however, are split. The privileged poor—lower-income undergraduates who attended boarding, day, and preparatory high schools—enter college primed to engage professors and are proactive in doing so. By contrast, the doubly disadvantaged—lower-income undergraduates who remained tied to their home communities and attended local, typically distressed high schools—are more resistant to engaging authority figures in college and tend to withdraw from them. Through documenting the heterogeneity among lower-income undergraduates, I show how static understandings of individuals’ cultural endowments derived solely from family background homogenize the experiences of lower-income undergraduates. In so doing, I shed new light on the cultural underpinnings of education processes in higher education and extend previous analyses of how informal university practices exacerbate class differences among undergraduates.

Compounded Deprivation in the Transition to Adulthood: The Intersection of Racial and Economic Inequality Among Chicagoans, 1995–2013
Perkins, Kristin L., and Robert J. Sampson. 2015. “Compounded Deprivation in the Transition to Adulthood: The Intersection of Racial and Economic Inequality Among Chicagoans, 1995–2013” 1 (1): 35-54.Abstract

This paper investigates acute, compounded, and persistent deprivation in a representative sample of Chicago adolescents transitioning to young adulthood. Our investigation, based on four waves of longitudinal data from 1995 to 2013, is motivated by three goals. First, we document the prevalence of individual and neighborhood poverty over time, especially among whites, blacks, and Latinos. Second, we explore compounded deprivation, describing the extent to which study participants are simultaneously exposed to individual and contextual forms of deprivation—including material deprivation (such as poverty) and social-organizational deprivation (for example, low collective efficacy)—for multiple phases of the life course from adolescence up to age thirty-two. Third, we isolate the characteristics that predict transitions out of compounded and persistent poverty. The results provide new evidence on the crosscutting adversities that were exacerbated by the Great Recession and on the deep connection of race to persistent and compounded deprivation in the transition to adulthood.

Asymmetric Interest Group Mobilization and Party Coalitions in U.S. Tax Politics
Hertel-Fernandez, Alexander, and Theda Skocpol. 2015. “Asymmetric Interest Group Mobilization and Party Coalitions in U.S. Tax Politics.” Studies in American Political Development 29 (2): 235-249.Abstract

Arguments about national tax policy have taken center stage in U.S. politics in recent times, creating acute dilemmas for Democrats. With Republicans locked into antitax agendas for some time, Democrats have recently begun to push back, arguing for maintaining or even increasing taxes on the very wealthy in the name of deficit reduction and the need to sustain funding for public programs. But the Democratic Party as a whole has not been able to find a consistent voice on tax issues. It experienced key defections when large, upward-tilting tax cuts were enacted under President George W. Bush, and the Democratic Party could not control the agenda on debates over continuing those tax cuts even when it enjoyed unified control in Washington, DC, in 2009 and 2010. To explain these cleavages among Democrats, we examine growing pressures from small business owners, a key antitax constituency. We show that organizations claiming to speak for small business have become more active in tax politics in recent decades, and we track the ways in which constituency pressures have been enhanced by feedbacks from federal tax rules that encourage individuals to pass high incomes through legal preferences for the self-employed. Comparing debates over the inception and renewal of the Bush tax cuts, we show how small business organizations and constituencies have divided Democrats on tax issues. Our findings pinpoint the mechanisms that have propelled tax resistance in contemporary U.S. politics, and our analysis contributes to theoretical understandings of the ways in which political parties are influenced by policy feedbacks and by coalitions of policy-driven organized economic interests.

Toward a Multidimensional Understanding of Culture for Health Interventions
Asad, Asad L., and Tamara Kay. 2015. “Toward a Multidimensional Understanding of Culture for Health Interventions.” Social Science & Medicine 144: 79-87. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Although a substantial literature examines the relationship between culture and health in myriad individual contexts, a lack of comparative data across settings has resulted in disparate and imprecise conceptualizations of the concept for scholars and practitioners alike. This article examines scholars and practitioners’ understandings of culture in relation to health interventions. Drawing on 169 interviews with officials from three different nongovernmental organizations working on health issues in multiple countries—Partners in Health, Oxfam America, and Sesame Workshop—we examine how these respondents’ interpretations of culture converge or diverge with recent developments in the study of the concept, as well as how these understandings influence health interventions at three different stages—design, implementation, and evaluation—of a project. Based on these analyses, a tripartite definition of culture is built—as knowledge, practice, and change—and these distinct conceptualizations are linked to the success or failure of a project at each stage of an intervention. In so doing, the study provides a descriptive and analytical starting point for scholars interested in understanding the theoretical and empirical relevance of culture for health interventions, and sets forth concrete recommendations for practitioners working to achieve robust improvements in health outcomes.

How Legislators Respond to Localized Economic Shocks: Evidence from Chinese Import Competition
Feigenbaum, James J., and Andrew B. Hall. 2015. “How Legislators Respond to Localized Economic Shocks: Evidence from Chinese Import Competition.” Journal of Politics 77 (4): 1012-1030.Abstract

We explore the effects of localized economic shocks from trade on roll-call behavior and electoral outcomes in the US House, 1990–2010. We demonstrate that economic shocks from Chinese import competition—first studied by Autor, Dorn, and Hanson—cause legislators to vote in a more protectionist direction on trade bills but cause no change in their voting on all other bills. At the same time, these shocks have no effect on the reelection rates of incumbents, the probability an incumbent faces a primary challenge, or the partisan control of the district. Though changes in economic conditions are likely to cause electoral turnover in many cases, incumbents exposed to negative economic shocks from trade appear able to fend off these effects in equilibrium by taking strategic positions on foreign-trade bills. In line with this view, we find that the effect on roll-call voting is strongest in districts where incumbents are most threatened electorally. Taken together, these results paint a picture of responsive incumbents who tailor their roll-call positions on trade bills to the economic conditions in their districts.

Desmond, Matthew, Carl Gershenson, and Barbara Kiviat. 2015. “Forced Relocation and Residential Instability among Urban Renters.” Social Service Review 89. The University of Chicago Press: pp. 227-262. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Abstract Residential instability often brings about other forms of instability in families, schools, and communities that compromise the life chances of adults and children. Social scientists have found that low-income families move frequently without fully understanding why. Drawing on novel data of more than 1,000 Milwaukee renters, this article explores the relationship between forced relocation and residential instability. It finds that low incomes are associated with higher rates of mobility due to poorer renters’ greater exposure to forced displacement. Not only do higher rates of formal and informal eviction, landlord foreclosure, and building condemnation directly increase the mobility of poorer renters, but forced displacement also increases subsequent unforced mobility. A forced move often compels renters to accept substandard housing, which drives them to soon move again. This article reveals mechanisms of residential mobility among low-income renters, identifies previously undocumented consequences of forced displacement, and develops a more comprehensive model of residential instability and urban inequality.

Racial and Spatial Targeting: Segregation and Subprime Lending within and across Metropolitan Areas
Hwang, Jackelyn, Michael Hankinson, and Kreg Steven Brown. 2015. “Racial and Spatial Targeting: Segregation and Subprime Lending within and across Metropolitan Areas.” Social Forces 93 (3): 1081-1108.Abstract

Recent studies find that high levels of black-white segregation increased rates of foreclosures and subprime lending across US metropolitan areas during the housing crisis. These studies speculate that segregation created distinct geographic markets that enabled subprime lenders and brokers to leverage the spatial proximity of minorities to disproportionately target minority neighborhoods. Yet, the studies do not explicitly test whether the concentration of subprime loans in minority neighborhoods varied by segregation levels. We address this shortcoming by integrating neighborhood-level data and spatial measures of segregation to examine the relationship between segregation and subprime lending across the 100 largest US metropolitan areas. Controlling for alternative explanations of the housing crisis, we find that segregation is strongly associated with higher concentrations of subprime loans in clusters of minority census tracts but find no evidence of unequal lending patterns when we examine minority census tracts in an aspatial way. Moreover, residents of minority census tracts in segregated metropolitan areas had higher likelihoods of receiving subprime loans than their counterparts in less segregated metropolitan areas. Our findings demonstrate that segregation played a pivotal role in the housing crisis by creating relatively larger areas of concentrated minorities into which subprime loans could be efficiently and effectively channeled. These results are consistent with existing but untested theories on the relationship between segregation and the housing crisis in metropolitan areas.

Complex Tax Incentives
Abeler, Johannes, and Simon Jäger. 2015. “Complex Tax Incentives.” American Economic Journal: Economic Policy 7 (3): 1-28. Author's versionAbstract

How does tax complexity affect people’s reaction to tax changes? To answer this question, we conduct an experiment in which subjects work for a piece rate and face taxes. One treatment features a simple, the other a complex tax system. The payoff-maximizing output level and the incentives around this optimum are, however, identical across treatments. We introduce the same sequence of additional taxes in both treatments. Subjects in the complex treatment underreact to new taxes; some ignore new taxes entirely. The underreaction is stronger for subjects with lower cognitive ability. Contrary to predictions from models of rational inattention, subjects are equally likely to ignore large or small incentive changes. 

Creative Destruction and Subjective Wellbeing
Aghion, Philippe, Ufuk Akcigit, Angus Deaton, and Alexandra Roulet. Forthcoming. “Creative Destruction and Subjective Wellbeing.” American Economic Review.Abstract

In this paper we analyze the relationship between turnover-driven growth and subjective wellbeing. Our model of innovation-led growth and unemployment predicts that: (i) the effect of creative destruction on expected individual welfare should be unambiguously positive if we control for unemployment, less so if we do not; (ii) job creation has a positive and job destruction has a negative impact on wellbeing; (iii) job destruction has a less negative impact in US Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) within states with more generous unemployment insurance policies; (iv) job creation has a more positive effect on individuals that are more forward-looking. The empirical analysis using cross-sectional MSA-level and individual-level data provide empirical support to these predictions. 

Unhappy Cities
Glaeser, Edward L., Joshua D. Gottlieb, and Oren Ziv. 2016. “Unhappy Cities.” Journal of Labor Economics 34 (S2).Abstract

There are persistent differences in self-reported subjective well-being across US metropolitan areas, and residents of declining cities appear less happy than others. Yet some people continue to move to these areas, and newer residents appear to be as unhappy as longer-term residents. While historical data on happiness are limited, the available facts suggest that cities that are now declining were also unhappy in their more prosperous past. These facts support the view that individuals do not maximize happiness alone but include it in the utility function along with other arguments. People may trade off happiness against other competing objectives.

Sticker Shock: How Information Affects Citizen Support for Increased Public School Funding
Schueler, Beth, and Martin R West. 2016. “Sticker Shock: How Information Affects Citizen Support for Increased Public School Funding.” Public Opinion Quarterly 80 (1): 90-113.Abstract

This study examines the role of information in shaping public opinion in the context of support for education spending. While there is broad public support for increasing government funding for public schools, Americans tend to underestimate what is currently spent. We embed a series of experiments in a nationally representative survey administered in 2012 (n= 2,993) to examine whether informing citizens about current levels of education spending alters public opinion about whether funding should increase. Providing information on per-pupil spending in a respondent’s local school district reduces the probability that he or she will express support for increasing spending by 22 percentage points on average. Informing respondents about state-average teacher salaries similarly depresses support for salary increases. These effects are larger among respondents who underestimate per-pupil spending and teacher salaries by a greater amount, consistent with the idea that the observed changes in opinion are driven, at least in part, by informational effects, as opposed to priming alone.

Teaching to the Student: Charter School Effectiveness in Spite of Perverse Incentives
Cohodes, Sarah. 2016. “Teaching to the Student: Charter School Effectiveness in Spite of Perverse Incentives.” Education Finance and Policy.Abstract

Recent work has shown that Boston charter schools raise standardized test scores more than their traditional school counterparts. Critics of charter schools argue that charter schools create those achievement gains by focusing exclusively on test preparation, at the expense of deeper learning. In this paper, I test that critique by estimating the impact of charter school attendance on subscales of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System and examining them for evidence of score inflation. If charter schools are teaching to the test to a greater extent than their counterparts, one would expect to see higher scores on commonly tested standards, higher-stakes subjects, and frequently tested topics. Despite incentives to reallocate effort away from less frequently tested content to highly tested content, and to coach to item type, I find no evidence of this type of test preparation. Boston charter middle schools perform consistently across all standardized test subscales.

Collaborating with People Like Me: Ethnic Co-authorship within the US
Freeman, Richard B., and Wei Huang. 2015. “Collaborating with People Like Me: Ethnic Co-authorship within the US.” Journal of Labor Economics 33 (S1): S289-S318.Abstract

By examining the ethnic identity of authors in over 2.5 million scientific papers written by US-based authors from 1985 to 2008, we find that persons of similar ethnicity coauthor together more frequently than predicted by their proportion among authors. The greater homophily is associated with publication in lower-impact journals and with fewer citations. Meanwhile, papers with authors in more locations and with longer reference lists get published in higher-impact journals and receive more citations. These findings suggest that diversity in inputs by author ethnicity, location, and references leads to greater contributions to science as measured by impact factors and citations.

Latest policy, research briefs, and expert testimony

After Piketty: The Agenda for Economics and Inequality

After Piketty: The Agenda for Economics and Inequality

November 15, 2016

 

Harvard University Press | Ellora Derenoncourt, Ph.D. candidate in Economics, is a contributor to After Piketty, forthcoming from Harvard University Press in April 2017. Edited by Heather Boushey, J. Bradford DeLong, and Marshall Steinbaum, the 640-page volume brings together published reviews by Nobel laureates Paul Krugman and Robert Solow and newly-commissioned essays by Suresh Naidu, Laura Tyson, Michael Spence, Heather Boushey, Branko Milanovic, and others. Emmanuel Saez lays out an agenda for future research on inequality, while a variety of essays examine the book's implications for the social sciences more broadly. Piketty replies in a substantial concluding chapter.

Derenoncourt's chapter explores the historical and institutional origins of the wealth and income inequality documented in Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century. Drawing on the framework introduced by Daron Acemoglu, Simon Johnson, and James Robinson of extractive and inclusive institutions, Derenoncourt demonstrates how these institutions influence the distribution of economic outcomes in different countries and regions historically. In particular, she explores these questions in the context of slavery in the US South and European colonization in Africa and the Americas.

Learn more about her work:
Ellora Derenoncourt: Ph.D. fellow page ▶

Chart of the week: Do high taxes motivate star inventors to relocate?

Chart of the week: Do high taxes motivate star inventors to relocate?

November 4, 2016

American Economics Association | Is tax flight by the rich mostly a myth or a serious concern? Discusses new study co-authored by Stefanie Stantcheva, Assistant Professor of Economics, which appears in the October issue of the American Economic Review. The research is co-authored by Ufuk Akcigit, University of Chicago, and Salomé Baslandze, Einaudi Institute for Economics and Finance. 
View AER article (complimentary access)

Research highlight: Are hospitals more like other businesses than we thought?

Research highlight: Are hospitals more like other businesses than we thought?

November 2, 2016

American Economics Association | Delves into new article by Harvard's Amitabh Chandra (Malcolm Wiener Professor of Social Policy), Amy Finkelstein (MIT), Adam Sacarny (Columbia University), and Chad Syverson (Chicago Booth).

"A study published in the August issue of American Economic Review found that hospitals – long thought to be economic islands apart from typical market pressures – are shaped by consumer-driven forces like in other industries. The findings challenge long-held beliefs about health care “exceptionalism” and raise questions for policymakers as they consider reforms to the $3 trillion U.S. health care sector."
View the AER article (complimentary access)

The Importance of Middle Skill Jobs

The Importance of Middle Skill Jobs

October 25, 2016

National Academy of Sciences—Issues in Science and Technology | By Alicia Sasser Modestino (Ph.D. '01). Middle-skill jobs are key for the nation and its workforce. Here is where things stand today and projections for future improvements. 

Alicia Sasser Modestino is Associate Professor of Public Policy and Urban Affairs and Economics at Northeastern University, and Associate Director of the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy.

6 charts showing race gaps within the American middle class

6 charts showing race gaps within the American middle class

October 21, 2016

Brookings Institution | Latest Social Mobility Memo by Richard V. Reeves and Dana Bowen Matthew of the Brookings Institution features findings of new study by Judith-Scott Clayton (Ph.D. '09), Associate Professor of Education and Economics, Teachers College, Columbia University, and Jing-Li, also of Columbia University, revealing large black-white disparities in student loan debt, which more than triples after graduation.

What do financial markets think of the 2016 election?

What do financial markets think of the 2016 election?

October 21, 2016

Brookings Institution | By Justin Wolfers (Ph.D. 01), Professor of Economics and Public Policy at the University of Michigan and a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Eric Zitewitz, Professor of Economics at Darthmouth College.

Black-white disparity in student loan debt more than triples after graduation

Black-white disparity in student loan debt more than triples after graduation

October 20, 2016

Brookings Institution | By Judith Scott Clayton (Ph.D. '09), Associate Professor of Economics and Education, Teachers College, Columbia University, and Jing Li, Research Associate, Teachers College: "While previous work has documented racial disparities in student borrowing, delinquencies, and defaults, in this report we provide new evidence that racial gaps in total debt are far larger than even recent reports have recognized, far larger now than in the past, and correlated with troubling trends in the economy and in the for-profit sector. We conclude with a discussion of policy implications."

Invention, place, and economic inclusion

Invention, place, and economic inclusion

October 20, 2016

Brookings Institution | Delves into research by Inequality fellow Alex Bell (Ph.D. candidate in Economics), Raj Chetty (Stanford University), Xavier Jaravel (now a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford), and John Van Reenen (LSE and MIT) showing that "children of low-income parents are much less likely to become inventors than their higher-income counterparts (as are minorities and women)." Their research explores the sources of differences, and "establishes the importance of 'innovation exposure effects' during childhood," both geographic and parental.
View the research

Recommendations for Federal Budget Policy

Recommendations for Federal Budget Policy

October 7, 2016

Brookings Institution | By Douglas W Elmendorf, Dean of the Harvard Kennedy School. This brief is part of "Election 2016 and America’s Future." a Brookings-wide initiative in which Brookings scholars have identified the biggest issues facing the country this election season and are providing individual ideas for how to address them. Elmendorf was a visiting fellow with Brookings until he became Dean of the Harvard Kennedy School in January 2016.

Seven Facts on Noncognitive Skills from Education to the Labor Market

Seven Facts on Noncognitive Skills from Education to the Labor Market

October 4, 2016

The Hamilton Project | New policy brief  by Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach and colleagues draws from research by Harvard faculty member David Deming, "The Growing Importance of Social Skills in the Labor Market." Deming (Ph.D. '10), Professor of Education and Economics at Harvard Graduate School of Education, first presented this work in the Inequality & Social Policy Seminar Series in fall 2015.
View the latest version of Deming's paper (Aug 2016).

Housing Development Toolkit

Housing Development Toolkit

September 26, 2016

The White House | The Obama administration issued a policy brief that takes aim at accumulated barriers to housing development, zoning and other land-use regulations that the administration argues are jeopardizing housing affordability, increasing income inequality by reducing access to high-wage labor  markets, and stifling economic growth. The report cites Sociology faculty member Matthew Desmond's Evicted, noting the lasting trauma that extreme rent burdens and housing insecurity can pose for families, and draws extensively on research by Peter Ganong and Daniel Shoag (Ph.D. '11 and HKS faculty), Edward Glaeser (Economics), and Raven (Saks) Malloy (Ph.D. '05), now section chief with the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, on the rise and consequences of land-use regulations.

Immigration's Long-Term Impacts on Overall Wages and Employment of Native-Born U.S. Workers Very Small, Although Low-Skilled Workers May Be Affected, New Report Finds

Immigration's Long-Term Impacts on Overall Wages and Employment of Native-Born U.S. Workers Very Small, Although Low-Skilled Workers May Be Affected, New Report Finds

September 21, 2016

National Academy of Sciences | The National Academy of Sciences today released a new report, The Economic and Fiscal Consequences of Immigration, authored by a panel of 14 experts, including George J. Borjas, Robert W. Scrivner Professor of Economics and Social Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. The 508-page report provides "a comprehensive assessment of economic and demographic trends of U.S. immigration over the past 20 years, its impact on the labor market and wages of native-born workers, and its fiscal impact at the national, state, and local levels."
View the report

Hutchins Roundup: Income mobility, labor protection regulations, and more

Hutchins Roundup: Income mobility, labor protection regulations, and more

September 7, 2016

Brookings Institution | The Hutchins Roundup spotlights new study by Alicia Sasser Modestino (Ph.D. '01) of Northeastern University, Daniel Shoag (Ph.D. '11) of the Harvard Kennedy School, and Joshua Ballance of the Boston Fed showing that employer skill requirements have fallen recently recently, reversing the trend observed during the Great Recession.
View the research

New Study: Market Forces Do Affect Health Care Sector

New Study: Market Forces Do Affect Health Care Sector

September 7, 2016

Harvard Kennedy School | Coverage of new research by Amitabh Chandra, Malcolm Wiener Professor of Social Policy, in the American Economic Review, "Health Care Exceptionalism? Performance and Allocation in the US Health Care Sector." The article is co-authored by Amy Finkelstein, MIT; Adam Sacarny, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health; and Chad Syverson, Chicago Booth.
View the research

Understanding employers' responses to for-profit colleges

Understanding employers' responses to for-profit colleges

August 25, 2016

Work in Progress | By Nicole Deterding (Ph.D. '15) and David Pedulla (Stanford University). Deterding is a National Poverty Fellow in the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE), U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, and Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Work in Progress is the American Sociological Association's blog for 'short-form sociology' on the economy, work, and inequality.