Latest Inequality & Social Policy In the News

What Does Immigration Actually Cost Us?

What Does Immigration Actually Cost Us?

September 29, 2016

The New York Times | Columnist Thomas Edsall explores the complexity of core findings contained in a new National Academy of Sciences report, "The Economic and Fiscal Consequences of Immigration." Cites research by George J. Borjas, one of the panel members who contributed to the report, who concludes that immigration produces substantial wage losses for native-born U.S. workers, particularly high school dropouts, as well as Lawrence Katz, whose more recent work with Claudia Goldin has convinced him "that immigration is at most a small contributor to the awful real and relative wage performance of U.S. high school dropouts," whose relative wages "fell by 40 percent compared to college graduates"' from 1980 to the early 2000s."

An Online Education Breakthrough? A Master’s Degree for a Mere $7,000

An Online Education Breakthrough? A Master’s Degree for a Mere $7,000

September 28, 2016

The New York Times | Discusses findings of new study by faculty members Joshua Goodman (Harvard Kennedy School), Julia Melkers (Georgia Tech), and Amanda Pallais (Harvard Economics), which suggest that access to high-quality, low-cost online education could make a real difference in educational options, at least among mid-career Americans.
View the research

A more inclusive Harvard

A more inclusive Harvard

September 28, 2016

Harvard Gazette | An interview with Danielle Allen, Archon Fung, and Meredith Weenick,  co-chairs of the new University-wide Presidential Task Force on Belonging and Inclusion. Danielle Allen is Professor of Government and Education and Director of the Edmond Safra Center for Ethics. Archon Fung is Academic Dean of the Harvard Kennedy School and Ford Foundation Professor of Democracy and Citizenship. 

911 calls fell in black Milwaukee neighborhoods after Jude beating, study finds

911 calls fell in black Milwaukee neighborhoods after Jude beating, study finds

September 28, 2016

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel | Coverage of new study by Harvard's Matthew Desmond, Andrew Papachristos (Yale University), and David Kirk (University of Oxford). "Desmond said he was shocked when he first saw the size of the drop...'Something like the Frank Jude case tears the fabric apart so deeply and delegitimizes the criminal justice system in the eyes of the African-American community that they stop relying on it in significant numbers,' Desmond told the Journal Sentinel in an interview."

Police Brutality Leads to Thousands Fewer Calls to 911

Police Brutality Leads to Thousands Fewer Calls to 911

September 28, 2016

The Atlantic | Examines new study by Harvard's Matthew Desmond (John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences), Andrew Papachristos (Yale University), and David Kirk  (University of Oxford).

The 13th: Inside Ava DuVernay's Netflix prison documentary on racial inequality

The 13th: Inside Ava DuVernay's Netflix prison documentary on racial inequality

September 26, 2016

The Guardian | Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Professor of History, Race, and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, is among the participants to appear in The 13th, Ava DuVernay's new documentary, which traces the history of racism, criminalization, and mass incarceration in the U.S. "The trailer sets up DuVernay’s documentary as a provocative a mix of archival footage and testimonies from activists, politicians and historians, including Michelle Alexander, Bryan Stevenson, Van Jones, Newt Gingrich, Angela Davis, Senator Cory Booker, Grover Norquist, Khalil Muhammad, Craig DeRoche, Shaka Senghor, Malkia Cyril and Henry Louis Gates Jr," reports the Guardian.  The film will open the New York Film Festival on Sept 30, the first documentary to ever do so, and will then release on Netflix and in a limited theater run on Oct 7.  A screening will be coming soon to the Ash Center at the Harvard Kennedy School.
View The 13th - Official trailer

FREOPP Names Scott Winship a Visiting Fellow

FREOPP Names Scott Winship a Visiting Fellow

September 26, 2016

FREOPP | The Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, a newly-created non-profit think tank that will conduct original research on expanding economic opportunity for those  with incomes or wealth below the U.S. median, today named Scott Winship a Visiting Fellow. Winship joins FREOPP from the Manhattan Institute, where he was the Walter B. Wriston Fellow.

It’s Easy for Obamacare Critics to Overlook the Merits of Medicaid Expansion

It’s Easy for Obamacare Critics to Overlook the Merits of Medicaid Expansion

September 26, 2016

The New York Times | Cites research by Sarah Cohodes (Ph.D. '15) and co-authors showing that Medicaid in childhood makes children more likely to finish high school and college. Cohodes is Assistant Professor of Education and Public Policy at Teachers College, Columbia University. The research was subsequently published in the Journal of Human Resources. View it here.

Washington Center for Equitable Growth

Equitable Growth's Inaugural Grantee Conference

September 25, 2016

Washington Center for Equitable Growth | Grantees Ellora Dernoncourt (Ph.D. candidate in Economics), Beth Truesdale (Ph.D. candidate in Sociology), and Vanessa Williamson (Ph.D. '15), now a Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, were among those attending Equitable Growth's inaugural grantee conference. Also participating: Nathaniel Hendren, Assistant Professor of Economics,  and Elisabeth Jacobs (Ph.D. '08), Senior Director for Policy at Equitable Growth. View the program.

5 Ways Candidates Mislead You in Debates

5 Ways Candidates Mislead You in Debates

September 25, 2016

Politico | A guide to the tactics of deception and why they work—based on the research of behavioral scientist Todd Rogers, Associate Professor of Public Policy.

Companies That Discriminate Fail (Eventually)

Companies That Discriminate Fail (Eventually)

September 23, 2016

Bloomberg View | Highlights new study by sociologist Devah Pager, "Are Firms that Discriminate More Likely to Go Out of Business?," published in Sociological Science, which presents a new direct empirical test of Gary Becker's theory of the economics of discrimination. Pager is director of the Inequality & Social Policy program at Harvard and Professor of Sociology and Public Policy.
View the research

Firms that Discriminate are More Likely to Go Bust

Firms that Discriminate are More Likely to Go Bust

September 21, 2016

Marginal Revolution | Coverage of Devah Pager's latest study, published in Sociological Science, "Are Firms that Discriminate More Likely to Go Out of Business?". Pager, who directs the Inequality & Social Policy program, is Professor of Sociology and Public Policy at Harvard.

Science’s 1%: How income inequality is getting worse in research

Science’s 1%: How income inequality is getting worse in research

September 21, 2016

Nature | Wages for top scientists are shooting skywards, widening the wage gap between elite scientists and the rest. Interviews Richard Freeman, Herbert Ascherman Professor of Economics, who suggests that these trends may be driving talented young people away from careers in academic science. 

Is Political Science Too Pessimistic?

Is Political Science Too Pessimistic?

September 20, 2016

The Chronicle of Higher Education | Senior ideas reporter Marc Perry talks with Jennifer Hochschild about the themes of her American Political Science Association presidential address, which she recently delivered at the APSA 112th annual meeting. Hochschild, Harvard's Henry LaBarre Jayne Professor of Government and Professor of African and African American Studies, just completed her term as president (2015-2016).

The Best Headspace for Making Decisions: How Emotions Influence Decision-Making

The Best Headspace for Making Decisions: How Emotions Influence Decision-Making

September 19, 2016

The Atlantic | Delves into Jennifer Lerner's latest research on emotions and decision-making. Lerner, a psychologist, is a professor within the Management, Leadership, and Decision Science Area at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Co-founder of the Harvard Decision Science Laboratory.

On the role of anger in this election season, Lerner notes that anger can be beneficial during the primaries, increasing voter turnout: "Anger is the primary emotion of justice." But when it comes to the actual election, anger can...

Read more about The Best Headspace for Making Decisions: How Emotions Influence Decision-Making

Where Does the American Dream Live?

September 18, 2016

Retro Report and The New York Times | In 1976, Chicago provided vouchers to African-American families to move into predominantly white suburbs. Retro Report examines what happened, and how it influences policy today. Features Lawrence Katz, Elisabeth Allison Professor of Economics.

"In 2014 Katz decided to find out what happened to the children who moved as part of Moving to Opportunity. And now that the youngest children had grown up, he was seeing something that policymakers hadn't predicted: 'We're seeing them earning 30% more than a kid who didn't get the opportunity to move to a better neighborhood. We're seeing college-going rates increase dramatically. We couldn't see that when the kids weren't old enough....Neighborhoods and childhood development are long-term investments, and one has to have some patience. Most things that are investments take a while to pay off.”

On the costs of concentrated poverty, Katz says: "We're losing people who are innovators. We're losing people who could be artists. And we could have a much more vibrant society if we had much less concentration of poverty and of social problems."

Why So Many Poor Americans Don't Get Help Paying for Housing

Why So Many Poor Americans Don't Get Help Paying for Housing

September 16, 2016

FiveThirtyEight | Quotes Matthew Desmond, John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences. "Desmond said that by prioritizing assistance for homeownership — which mostly benefits middle-class and wealthy families — over rental assistance for the poor, the federal government is making the nation’s poverty problem worse...Desmond argues that unaffordable housing, and the subsequent instability, is often the catalyst for a cycle of poverty. And in his book, he says that instead of focusing housing policy on increasing homeownership, we should be 'pulling housing back to the center of the poverty debate.'"

Latest commentary and analysis

Project Syndicate

Whither Central Banking?

August 23, 2019

Project Syndicate | By Lawrence H. Summers and Anna Stanwbury. Anna Stansbury is a PhD candidate in Economics and a Stone PhD Scholar in Inequality and Wealth Concentration.

Khalil Gibran Muhammad

The Barbaric History of Sugar in America

August 14, 2019

The New York Times | By Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Professor of History, Race, and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School. This essay is part of the 1619 Project examining the legacy of slavery in America.


Is President Trump’s rhetoric racist? It depends on whom you ask.

August 12, 2019

Washington Post | By Meredith Dost, Ryan D. Enos, and Jennifer L. Hochschild. The authors' research suggests a deep moral and perceptual divide among Americans on what is and isn't racism. Stone research scholar Meredith Dost is a PhD candidate in Government & Social Policy and a Stone PhD Research Fellow. Ryan Enos and Jennifer Hochschild are professors in the Harvard Government Department.

Lawrence Katz

Lawrence Katz on researching housing and economic mobility to create moves to opportunity

August 7, 2019

JPAL | A new paper summarizing preliminary findings from the Creating Moves to Opportunity (CMTO) study was just released. Results demonstrate that helping low-income families overcome barriers to moving to higher-opportunity areas may be a promising strategy for reducing residential segregation and promoting economic mobility. We sat down with Lawrence Katz—Co-Scientific Director of J-PAL North America and one of the authors on the CMTO study—to collect his reflections on the preliminary results, how this study builds upon his previous research, and how these and future results may inform housing policy moving forward. 

Scientific American

Do Prisons Make Us Safer?

June 21, 2019

Scientific American | By David J. Harding (PhD 2005). How much safety does the high rate of U.S. imprisonment buy us? Very little, according to a recent by the author published in Nature. Harding received his PhD in Sociology and Social Policy from Harvard and is now Prodessor of Sociology and Director of the Social Science D-Lab at the University of California, Berkeley.

View the research ►

The dilemmas for Democrats in three past visions for the party

The dilemmas for Democrats in three past visions for the party

June 13, 2019

Vox | By Sam Rosenfeld and Daniel Schlozman PhD 2011. Daniel Schlozman received his PhD in Government and Social Policy from Harvard and is now the Joseph and Bertha Bernstein Associate Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of When Movements Anchor Parties: Electoral Alignments in American History (Princeton University Press, 2015).

Brookings panel on the racial wealth gap

Racial wealth inequality: Social problems and solutions

June 3, 2019

Brookings Institution
Harvard's Alexandra Killewald, Professor of Sociology, joined an expert panel with Rashawn Ray, Thomas Shapiro, Tonia Wellons, and moderator Camille Busette on the racial wealth gap. Co-sponsored by Contexts Magaine. [Video + transcript]

Christopher Wimer

What States Can Do to Drastically Reduce Child Poverty

May 6, 2019

Governing | By Meg Wiehe and Christopher Wimer PhD 2007. Building on the federal Child Tax Credit would yield dramatic results, Wiehe and Wimer argue. Christopher Wimer received his PhD in Sociology and Social Policy from Harvard and is now Co-Director of the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University.

Anthony Abraham Jack at TEDxCambridge

Anthony Abraham Jack delivers TEDxCambridge talk

May 3, 2019

TedxCambridge | Anthony Abraham Jack, PhD '16, delivered a TEDxCambridge talk at the Boston Opera House [video available soon]. Jack is a Junior Fellow with the Harvard Society of Fellows and Assistant Professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education. He also holds the Shutzer Assistant Professorship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. He is the author of The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students (Harvard University Press, 2019).

Latest academic articles — By doctoral fellows

Jurors' Subjective Experiences of Deliberations in Criminal Cases
Winter, Alix S., and Matthew Clair. 2018. “Jurors' Subjective Experiences of Deliberations in Criminal Cases.” Law & Social Inquiry 43 (4): 1458-1490. Abstract

Research on jury deliberations has largely focused on the implications of deliberations for criminal defendants' outcomes. In contrast, this article considers jurors' outcomes by integrating subjective experience into the study of deliberations. We examine whether jurors' feelings that they had enough time to express themselves vary by jurors' gender, race, or education. Drawing on status characteristics theory and a survey of more than 3,000 real-world jurors, we find that the majority of jurors feel that they had enough time to express themselves. However, blacks and Hispanics, and especially blacks and Hispanics with less education, are less likely to feel so. Jurors' verdict preferences do not account for these findings. Our findings have implications for status characteristics theory and for legal cynicism among members of lower-status social groups.

The fading American dream: Trends in absolute income mobility since 1940
Chetty, Raj, David Grusky, Maximilian Hell, Nathaniel Hendren, Robert Manduca, and Jimmy Narang. 2017. “The fading American dream: Trends in absolute income mobility since 1940.” Science 356 (6336): 398-406. Abstract
We estimated rates of “absolute income mobility”—the fraction of children who earn more than their parents—by combining data from U.S. Census and Current Population Survey cross sections with panel data from de-identified tax records. We found that rates of absolute mobility have fallen from approximately 90% for children born in 1940 to 50% for children born in the 1980s. Increasing Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rates alone cannot restore absolute mobility to the rates experienced by children born in the 1940s. However, distributing current GDP growth more equally across income groups as in the 1940 birth cohort would reverse more than 70% of the decline in mobility. These results imply that reviving the “American dream” of high rates of absolute mobility would require economic growth that is shared more broadly across the income distribution.
Does Consumer Demand Reproduce Inequality? High-Income Consumers, Vertical Differentiation, and the Wage Structure

This article considers the effects on the wage structure of the U.S. economy’s growing reliance on demand from high-income consumers. Relative to the mass consumers that defined the post–World War II U.S. economy, high-income consumers are willing to pay for high-quality and high-status products. These spending patterns split producers into up-market and down-market segments and stoke winner-take-all dynamics among up-market producers. Economic dependence on high-income consumers could thus lead to a new form of industrial segmentation, based on vertical differentiation by product quality or status. To test these predictions, data from consumer expenditure and wage surveys are linked using input-output tables and used to fit variance function regressions. Results show that industries more dependent on high-income consumers have greater wage inequality. This analysis identifies a new structural source of wage inequality not considered in previous research: the increasingly unequal composition of consumer demand reproduces wage inequality.

Police Reform and the Dismantling of Legal Estrangement
Bell, Monica C. 2017. “Police Reform and the Dismantling of Legal Estrangement.” Yale Law Journal 126 (7): 2054-2150. Abstract

In police reform circles, many scholars and policymakers diagnose the frayed relationship between police forces and the communities they serve as a problem of illegitimacy, or the idea that people lack confidence in the police and thus are unlikely to comply or cooperate with them. The core proposal emanating from this illegitimacy diagnosis is procedural justice, a concept that emphasizes police officers’ obligation to treat people with dignity and respect, behave in a neutral, nonbiased way, exhibit an intention to help, and give them voice to express themselves and their needs, largely in the context of police stops. This Essay argues that legitimacy theory offers an incomplete diagnosis of the policing crisis, and thus de-emphasizes deeper structural, group-centered approaches to the problem of policing. The existing police regulatory regime encourages large swaths of American society to see themselves as existing within the law’s aegis but outside its protection. This Essay critiques the reliance of police decision makers on a simplified version of legitimacy and procedural justice theory. It aims to expand the predominant understanding of police mistrust among African Americans and the poor, proposing that legal estrangement offers a better lens through which scholars and policymakers can understand and respond to the current problems of policing. Legal estrangement is a theory of detachment and eventual alienation from the law’s enforcers, and it reflects the intuition among many people in poor communities of color that the law operates to exclude them from society. Building on the concepts of legal cynicism and anomie in sociology, the concept of legal estrangement provides a way of understanding the deep concerns that motivate today’s police reform movement and points toward structural approaches to reforming policing. 

Wealth Inequality and Accumulation
Killewald, Alexandra, Fabian T. Pfeffer, and Jared N. Schachner. 2017. “Wealth Inequality and Accumulation.” Annual Review of Sociology 43 (1). Abstract
Research on wealth inequality and accumulation and the data upon which it relies have expanded substantially in the twenty-first century. Although the field has experienced rapid growth, conceptual and methodological challenges remain. We begin by discussing two major unresolved methodological concerns facing wealth research: how to address challenges to causal inference posed by wealth’s cumulative nature and how to operationalize net worth, given its highly skewed distribution. Next, we provide an overview of data sources available for wealth research. To underscore the need for continued empirical attention to net worth, we review trends in wealth levels and inequality and evaluate wealth’s distinctiveness as an indicator of social stratification. We then review recent empirical evidence on the effects of wealth on other social outcomes, as well as research on the determinants of wealth. We close with a list of promising avenues for future research on wealth, its causes, and its consequences.
Autocracies and the international sources of cooperation
Mazumder, Soumyajit. 2017. “Autocracies and the international sources of cooperation.” Journal of Peace Research 54 (3): 412-426. Publisher's Version Abstract
Under what conditions do autocracies peacefully settle disputes? Existing studies tend to focus on the domestic factors that shape conflict initiation. In this article, I show how domestic institutions interact with international institutions to produce more cooperative outcomes. Particularly, this study argues that as autocracies become more central in the network of liberal institutions such as preferential trade agreements (PTAs), they are less likely to initiate a militarized interstate dispute (MID). As a state becomes more democratic, the effect of centrality within the PTA network on the peaceful dispute settlement dissipates. This is because greater embeddedness in the PTA regime is associated with enhanced transparency for autocracies, which allows autocracies to mitigate ex ante informational problems in dispute resolution. Using a dataset of MID initiation from 1965 to 1999, this study finds robust empirical support for the aforementioned hypothesis. Moreover, the results are substantively significant. Further analysis into the causal mechanisms at work provides evidence in favor of the information mechanism. Autocrats who are more embedded in the PTA network tend to have higher levels of economic transparency and economic transparency itself is associated with lower rates of conflict initiation. The results suggest that an autocrat’s structural position within the international system can help to peacefully settle its disputes.
One Egalitarianism or Several? Two Decades of Gender-Role Attitude Change in Europe
Knight, Carly R., and Mary C. Brinton. 2017. “One Egalitarianism or Several? Two Decades of Gender-Role Attitude Change in Europe.” American Journal of Sociology 122 (5): 1485-1532. Abstract
This article challenges the implicit assumption of many cross-national studies that gender-role attitudes fall along a single continuum between traditional and egalitarian. The authors argue that this approach obscures theoretically important distinctions in attitudes and renders analyses of change over time incomplete. Using latent class analysis, they investigate the multidimensional nature of gender-role attitudes in 17 postindustrial European countries. They identify three distinct varieties of egalitarianism that they designate as liberal egalitarianism, egalitarian familism, and flexible egalitarianism. They show that while traditional gender-role attitudes have precipitously and uniformly declined in accordance with the “rising tide” narrative toward greater egalitarianism, the relative prevalence of different egalitarianisms varies markedly across countries. Furthermore, they find that European nations are not converging toward one dominant egalitarian model but rather, remain differentiated by varieties of egalitarianism.
Urban Income Inequality and the Great Recession in Sunbelt Form: Disentangling Individual and Neighborhood-Level Change in Los Angeles
Sampson, Robert J., Jared N. Schachner, and Robert L. Mare. 2017. “Urban Income Inequality and the Great Recession in Sunbelt Form: Disentangling Individual and Neighborhood-Level Change in Los Angeles.” RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences 3 (2): 102-128. Abstract

New social transformations within and beyond the cities of classic urban studies challenge prevailing accounts of spatial inequality. This paper pivots from the Rust Belt to the Sunbelt accordingly, disentangling persistence and change in neighborhood median income and concentrated income extremes in Los Angeles County. We first examine patterns of change over two decades starting in 1990 for all Los Angeles neighborhoods. We then analyze an original longitudinal study of approximately six hundred Angelenos from 2000 to 2013, assessing the degree to which contextual changes in neighborhood income arise from neighborhood-level mobility or individual residential mobility. Overall we find deep and persistent inequality among both neighborhoods and individuals. Contrary to prior research, we also find that residential mobility does not materially alter neighborhood economic conditions for most race, ethnic, and income groups. Our analyses lay the groundwork for a multilevel theoretical framework capable of explaining spatial inequality across cities and historical eras.

Labor Unions as Activist Organizations: A Union Power Approach to Estimating Union Wage Effects

Amid the long decline of US unions, research on union wage effects has struggled with selection problems and inadequate theory. I draw on the sociology of labor to argue that unions use non-market sources of power to pressure companies into raising wages. This theory of union power implies a new test of union wage effects: does union activism have an effect on wages that is not reducible to workers’ market position? Two institutional determinants of union activity are used to empirically isolate the wage effect of union activism from labor market conditions: increased union revenue from investment shocks and increased union activity leading up to union officer elections. Instrumental variable analysis of panel data from the Department of Labor shows that a 1 percent increase in union spending increases a proxy for union members’ wages between 0.15 percent and 0.30 percent. These wage effects are larger in years of active collective bargaining, and when unions increase spending in ways that could pressure companies. The results indicate that non-market sources of union power can affect workers’ wages and that even in a period of labor weakness unions still play a role in setting wages for their members.

Can States Take Over and Turn Around School Districts? Evidence From Lawrence, Massachusetts
Beth E. Schueler,, Joshua S. Goodman, and David J. Deming. 2017. “Can States Take Over and Turn Around School Districts? Evidence From Lawrence, Massachusetts.” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 39 (2): 311-332. Abstract

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states to identify and turn around struggling schools, with federal school improvement money required to fund evidence-based policies. Most research on turnarounds has focused on individual schools, whereas studies of district-wide turnarounds have come from relatively exceptional settings and interventions. We study a district-wide turnaround of a type that may become more common under ESSA, an accountability-driven state takeover of Massachusetts’s Lawrence Public Schools (LPS). A differences-in-differences framework comparing LPS to demographically similar districts not subject to state takeover shows that the turnaround’s first 2 years produced sizable achievement gains in math and modest gains in reading. We also find no evidence that the turnaround resulted in slippage on nontest score outcomes and suggestive evidence of positive effects on grade progression among high school students. Intensive small-group instruction over vacation breaks may have led to particularly large achievement gains for participating students.

Voting But For the Law: Evidence from Virginia on Photo Identification Requirements
Hopkins, Daniel J., Marc Meredith, Michael Morse, Sarah Smith, and Jesse Yonder. 2017. “Voting But For the Law: Evidence from Virginia on Photo Identification Requirements.” Journal of Empirical Legal Studies 14 (1): 79-128. Abstract

One contentious question in contemporary election administration is the impact of voter identification requirements. We study a Virginia law which allows us to isolate the impact of requiring voters to show photo identification. Using novel, precinct-level data, we find that the percentage of registered voters without a driver's license and over age 85 are both positively associated with the number of provisional ballots cast due to lacking a photo ID. To examine the law's impact on turnout, we associate precinct-level demographics with the change in turnout between the 2013 gubernatorial and 2014 midterm elections. All else equal, turnout was higher in places where more active registered voters lacked a driver's license. This unexpected relationship might be explained by a targeted Department of Elections mailing, suggesting that the initial impact of voter ID laws may hinge on efforts to notify voters likely to be affected.

Surprising Ripple Effects: How Changing the SAT Score-Sending Policy for Low-Income Students Impacts College Access and Success
Hurwitz, Michael, Preeya P. Mbekeani, Margaret M. Nipson, and Lindsay C. Page. 2017. “Surprising Ripple Effects: How Changing the SAT Score-Sending Policy for Low-Income Students Impacts College Access and Success.” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 39 (1): 77-103. Abstract

Subtle policy adjustments can induce relatively large “ripple effects.” We evaluate a College Board initiative that increased the number of free SAT score reports available to low-income students and changed the time horizon for using these score reports. Using a difference-in-differences analytic strategy, we estimate that targeted students were roughly 10 percentage points more likely to send eight or more reports. The policy improved on-time college attendance and 6-year bachelor’s completion by about 2 percentage points. Impacts were realized primarily by students who were competitive candidates for 4-year college admission. The bachelor’s completion impacts are larger than would be expected based on the number of students driven by the policy change to enroll in college and to shift into more selective colleges. The unexplained portion of the completion effects may result from improvements in nonacademic fit between students and the postsecondary institutions in which they enroll.

Cities as Lobbyists
Goldstein, Rebecca, and Hye Young You. 2017. “Cities as Lobbyists.” American Journal of Political Science 61 (4): 864-876. Abstract

Individual cities are active interest groups in lobbying the federal government, and yet the dynamics of this intergovernmental lobbying are poorly understood. We argue that preference incongruence between city and its parent state government leads to under-provision of public goods, and cities need to appeal to the federal government for additional resources. We provide evidence for this theory using a dataset of over 13,800 lobbying disclosures filed by cities with populations over 25,000 between 1999 and 2012. Income inequality and ethnic fragmentation are also highly related to federal lobbying activities. Using an instrumental variables analysis of earmark and Recovery Act grant data, we show that each dollar a city spends on lobbying generates substantial returns.

Effects of a Summer Mathematics Intervention for Low-Income Children: A Randomized Experiment
Lynch, Kathleen, and James S. Kim. 2017. “Effects of a Summer Mathematics Intervention for Low-Income Children: A Randomized Experiment.” Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis 39 (1): 31-53. Abstract

Prior research suggests that summer learning loss among low-income children contributes to income-based gaps in achievement and educational attainment. We present results from a randomized experiment of a summer mathematics program conducted in a large, high-poverty urban public school district. Children in the third to ninth grade (N = 263) were randomly assigned to an offer of an online summer mathematics program, the same program plus a free laptop computer, or the control group. Being randomly assigned to the program plus laptop condition caused children to experience significantly higher reported levels of summer home mathematics engagement relative to their peers in the control group. Treatment and control children performed similarly on distal measures of academic achievement. We discuss implications for future research.

Concentrated Foreclosure Activity and Distressed Properties in New York City
Perkins, Kristin L., Michael J. Lear, and Elyzabeth Gaumer. 2017. “Concentrated Foreclosure Activity and Distressed Properties in New York City.” Urban Affairs Review 53 (5): 868-897. Abstract

Recent research suggests that foreclosures have negative effects on homeowners and neighborhoods. We examine the association between concentrated foreclosure activity and the risk of a property with a foreclosure filing being scheduled for foreclosure auction in New York City. Controlling for individual property and sociodemographic characteristics of the neighborhood, being located in a tract with a high number of auctions following the subject property’s own foreclosure filing is associated with a significantly higher probability of scheduled foreclosure auction for the subject property. Concentration of foreclosure filings prior to the subject property’s own foreclosure filing is associated with a lower probability of scheduled foreclosure auction. Concentrated foreclosure auctions in the tract prior to a subject property’s own filing is not significantly associated with the probability of scheduled foreclosure auction. The implications for geographic targeting of foreclosure policy interventions are discussed.

Does Your Home Make You Wealthy?
Killewald, Alexandra, and Brielle Bryan. 2016. “Does Your Home Make You Wealthy?” RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences 2 (6): 110–128 . Abstract

Estimating the lifetime wealth consequences of homeownership is complicated by ongoing events, such as divorce or inheritance, that may shape both homeownership decisions and later-life wealth. We argue that prior research that has not accounted for these dynamic selection processes has overstated the causal effect of homeownership on wealth. Using NLSY79 data and marginal structural models, we find that each additional year of homeownership increases midlife wealth in 2008 by about $6,800, more than 25 percent less than estimates from models that do not account for dynamic selection. Hispanic and African American wealth benefits from each homeownership year are 62 percent and 48 percent as large as those of whites, respectively. Homeownership remains wealth-enhancing in 2012, but shows smaller returns. Our results confirm homeownership’s role in wealth accumulation and that variation in both homeownership rates and the wealth benefits of homeownership contribute to racial and ethnic disparities in midlife wealth holdings.

Greenberg, Claire, Marc Meredith, and Michael Morse. 2016. “The Growing and Broad Nature of Legal Financial Obligations: Evidence from Court Records in Alabama.” Connecticut Law Review 48 (4): 1079-1120. Abstract

In 2010, Harriet Cleveland was imprisoned in Montgomery, Alabama for failing to pay thousands of dollars in fines and fees stemming from routine traffic violations. More than thirty years after a series of Supreme Court rulings outlawed debtor's prisons, Ms. Cleveland's case brought national attention to both the sheer amount of lega lfinancial obligations (LFOs) that could be accrued, even in cases without a criminal conviction, and the potential consequences of non-payment. But it has been nearly impossible to know how common Ms. Cleveland's experience is because of a general lack of individual-level data on the incidence and payback of LFOs, particularly for non-felonies. 

In this vein, we gather about two hundred thousand court records from Alabama over the last two decades to perform the most comprehensive exploration of the assessments and payback of LFOs to date across an entire state. Consistent with conventional wisdom, we demonstrate that the median LFOs attached to a case with a felony conviction nearly doubled between 1995 and 2005, after which it has remained roughly steady. But a felony-centric view of criminal justice underestimates the extent of increasing LFOs in the United States. Our systematic comparison of LFOs in felony, misdemeanor, and traffic cases across Alabama demonstrates how the signficant debt Ms. Cleveland accumulated for a series of minor traffic offenses is not such an aberration. We show that only a minority of LFOs are assessed in cases where someone was convicted of a felony and incarcerated. Rather, most LFOs are assessed in cases without an imposed sentence, in cases with a misdemeanor or traffic violation, or even in cases that did not result in a conviction at all. These case records also reveal substantial heterogeneity in the assessment of LFOs-both within and across local judicial districts-even in cases in which defendants were convicted on exactly the same charge.


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.

Creative Destruction and Subjective Wellbeing
Aghion, Philippe, Ufuk Akcigit, Angus Deaton, and Alexandra Roulet. 2016. “Creative Destruction and Subjective Wellbeing.” American Economic Review 106 (12): 3869-97. 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. 

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.

Latest policy, research briefs, and expert testimony

The Gains of Greater Granularity: The Presence and Persistence of Problem Properties in Urban Neighborhoods

The Gains of Greater Granularity: The Presence and Persistence of Problem Properties in Urban Neighborhoods

September 5, 2017
Boston Area Research Initiative | In a recent paper, BARI Co-Directors Dan O’Brien and Chris Winship demonstrated the presence and persistence of ‘‘problem properties’’ with elevated levels of crime and disorder in Boston. Importantly, they find that this additional geographic detail offers a wealth of information beyond the traditional focus on at-risk neighborhoods, and even the more recent attention to hotspot street segments. (Continue reading)

Chris Winship is the Diker-Tishman Professor of Sociology at Harvard University and a member of the faculty at the Harvard Kennedy School. The paper was published in a special issue of the Journal of Quantitative Criminology on the Law of Concentration of Crime. 
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Jeff Liebman

Using Data to Make More Rapid Progress in Addressing U.S. Social Problems

August 30, 2017
By Jeffrey Liebman, Malcolm Wiener Professor of Public Policy.

From the Government Performance Lab at Harvard Kennedy School:  In a new piece forthcoming in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (Jan 2018), Professor Jeffrey Liebman describes how high frequency use of data can move agencies from static evaluation of programs to real-time improvement in outcomes and to solutions to challenging social problems.... Read more about Using Data to Make More Rapid Progress in Addressing U.S. Social Problems
How the government can help simplify personal financial decision-making

How the government can help simplify personal financial decision-making

August 29, 2017

Harvard Kennedy School | "Low incomes, limited financial literacy, fraud, and deception are just a few of the many intractable economic and social factors that contribute to the financial difficulties that households face today...But poor financial outcomes also result from systematic psychological tendencies," some of which may be countered with government interventions that are both low-cost and scalable," Harvard Kennedy School Professor Brigitte Madrian and co-authors write in the latest issue of Behavioral Science & Policy. Their article outlines a set of interventions that the federal government "could feasibly test or implement to improve household nancial outcomes in a variety of domains: retirement, short-term savings, debt management, the take-up of government benefits, and tax optimization." 
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Carola Frydman

Why Has CEO Pay Grown So Much Faster Than the Average Worker’s?

August 3, 2017

Kellogg Insight | Based on the research of Carola Frydman (PhD 2006) and Dimitris Papanikolaou. Carola Frydman is Associate Professor of Finance in the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University. View the research: “In Search of Ideas: Technological Innovation and Executive Pay Inequality.” Journal of Financial Economics (Oct 2018).

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Education Next

2017 EdNext Poll on School Reform released

August 1, 2017
Education Next | By Martin R. West, Michael B. Henderson, Paul E. Peterson, and Samuel Barrows. This article appears in print in the Winter 2018 issue of Education Next.
Scientific American

Natural Disasters by Location: Rich Leave and Poor Get Poorer

July 2, 2017
Scientific American | Each big catastrophe like a hurricane increases a U.S. county's poverty by 1 percent,  90 years of data show. By Leah Platt Boustan (PhD '06), Maria Lucia Yanguas, Matthew Kahn, and Paul W. Rhode, based on the authors' research. Leah Platt Boustan is a Professor of Economics at Princeton University.
Carlos Lastra-Anadon

Technological Change, Inequality, and the Collapse of the Liberal Order

June 17, 2017

G20 Insights | Carlos Lastra-Anadón, PhD candidate in Government & Social Policy, has co-authored a policy brief that has been selected to appear in "20 Solution Proposals for the G20" to be circulated to summit participants at the G20 Hamburg summit, July 7-8, 2017. Theirs is one of 20 policy recommendations "chosen for their novelty, implementability, and relevance to the G20 during the German presidency."

The brief is co-authored by Manuel Muñiz (Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University), Karl Kaiser (Harvard University), Henning Meyer (London School of Economics), and Manuel Torres (Accenture).

Microeconomic insights

A most egalitarian profession: pharmacy and the evolution of a family-friendly occupation

June 8, 2017

Microeconomic Insights | By Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz. "How much of the earnings gap between men and women is because the latter choose jobs and occupations that enable flexibility in their work, predictability in their hours and bounds on their work schedule?," ask Harvard economics professors Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz. Here they summarize their recent article by the same title, pubilshed in 2016 in the Journal of Labor Economics.
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How “the community” undermines the goals of participatory democracy

How “the community” undermines the goals of participatory democracy

June 5, 2017
Work in Progress | By Jeremy R. Levine (PhD '16), Assistant Professor of Organizational Studies, University of Michigan. Discusses the findings of his academic research, "The Paradox of Community Power: Cultural Processes and Elite Authority in Participatory Governance, published earlier this spring in Social Forces. 'Work in Progress' is a public blog of the American Sociological Association (ASA) for 'short-form sociology' on the economy, work, and inequality.
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How tax rates influence the migration of superstar inventors

How tax rates influence the migration of superstar inventors

May 24, 2017
Microeconomic Insights | By Ufak Akcigit (University of Chicago), Salome Baslandze (Einaudi Institute for Economics and Finance), and Stefanie Stantcheva (Harvard University). The authors summarize the findings from their recent American Economic Review article, "Taxation and the International Mobility of Inventors." Stantcheva is Associate Professor of Economics (effective 7/1) at Harvard.
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International Ladies Garment Workers Union

Does union activism increase workers’ wages?

May 22, 2017
Work in Progress | By Nathan Wilmers, Ph.D. candidate in Sociology. Research findings from his recently-published article in Social Forces. Work in Progress is the American Sociological Association's blog for 'short-form sociology' on the economy, work, and inequality. 
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Annual Review of Sociology

Wealth Inequality and Accumulation

May 12, 2017

Annual Review of Sociology | By Alexandra Killewald, Fabian T. Pfeffer, and Jared Schachner. Alexandra Killewald is Professor of Sociology at Harvard. Jared Schachner is a PhD candidate in Sociology and Social Policy.

Undergraduate Financial Aid

Toward a New Understanding of Financial Aid: Analysis from the Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education

May 11, 2017
American Academy of Arts and Sciences | The Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences released a new publication: Undergraduate Financial Aid in the United States, authored by Judith Scott-Clayton (PhD '09), Associate Professor of Economics and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University.
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